Susan Morrison: My milk-snatching, jannie-sniffing school days

Susan Morrison has issues with the 1960s attitude towards health and safety
Susan Morrison has issues with the 1960s attitude towards health and safety
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They’ve flattened my old primary school, the swines. It must have been a while back, because there’s an entire housing development on my old playground.

Very nice it is too, said mum as we drove past. She says Sandra McKechnie’s mum got one, but she’s been in getting her hip looked at and after that she’s thinking of getting it laminated.

No idea who Sandra McKechnie is, but I hope her mum is fine and I ­assume it’s the floors that’ll get ­laminated and not her hip.

Like so many schools in Scotland, my primary comprised a fine sandstone Victorian building with 1950s additions, and 1970s Portakabins, of course. It had PE equipment stored under the stage and a climbing frame that swung out from the wall.

It says a lot about 1960s attitudes to health and safety that seven-year-olds were encouraged to swarm up this contraption which had been hauled out and set up by a largely untrained and totally belligerent jannie and then supervised by teachers with no ­training in climbing whatsoever.

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The hall always reeked of school dinners. You can say what you like about the nutritional value of green vegetables, but you cannot shift the smell of cabbage that’s been boiled for at least four hours prior to serving. The ming haunted the whole school like the ghost of meals past.

Every morning we had assembly. We were all marched in from the playground to the sound of Sousa’s military marches played on the old gramophone.

It was our headmaster’s idea. It made the school look like a training camp for miniature US Marines. It may have been to warm us up. I can remember the small fug of cumulus clouds above the heads of duffle-coated children exhaling warm breath into the freezing air inside the school.

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The heating system – its boilers, radiators and pipes – was the Empire of the Jannie. Its nerve centre was the old coal cellar, which every schoolchild knew harboured something nasty. It did. The Jannie.

For a man dedicated to the creation and movement of hot water, he had a peculiar aversion to its use with soap.

The only time the smell of boiled brassica was temporarily defeated was when he hove into view behind a mop and bucket.

They do look nice houses, right enough, but I rather thought they might have preserved it, if only to put up a wee plaque to say: “Susan Morrison’s career as a power-crazed loon started here when she was made milk monitor four days running in May 1967.”

Now that was a great week. I was given the sort of responsibility that would have flattened a lesser ­being. I know that, because only the week before, Sandra Milne nearly wet herself when she mislaid the golf tee we used to pierce the milk cartons. We found it by smell. We never washed the golf tee. The milk was left beside the ­radiators, which operated at sort of temperatures that they used to smelt steel. Didn’t heat the rooms, but rendered the milk warm, stinking and foul. To this day I loathe the stuff.

One of the advantages of being milk monitor was that you could gallantly give out all the milk to your comrades. There was always a shortfall, because one carton always burst in the crate. Ahem.

When Margaret Thatcher became the milk snatcher I must have been about the only person who agreed with her, a fact I still find faintly ­embarrassing to this day.

Comb-over comedy left class smelling life over-ripe cheese

To be fair, these old Victorian school buildings might have looked good, but those of us old enough will remember the lino floors, the variable heating and those high, cold windows.

The windows, of course, were always shut. Layers of cream coloured paint had sealed them tighter than Tut’s tomb. Didn’t stop the draughts, though. Mrs French had a paperweight on her desk to stop the papers blowing off.

Our headmaster, Mr Thompson, came in one day and the indoor gale lifted his comb-over clean off his scalp. It was at the start of milk time. We snorted a lot of the white stuff out.

The classroom stank like an over-ripe French cheese for days.

OK, modern schools are better

Last year I visited a local primary school. It was warm and friendly. The staff were enthusiastic and caring. Wooden desks have gone. It’s tables now, and the windows look out onto trees and can be closed efficiently. The lino has been replaced with carpet and there are bright, inviting books everywhere.

Yes, I know my old school looked great to adult eyes, and when they are slated for demolition we sometimes get nostalgic and start campaigns to save them, but new classrooms are far better suited to 21st century teaching. Hang on. Sandra Milne. She married Dave McKechnie. Now I know who she is.