It was on odd out of place building, not entirely fit for purpose with it's scary staircase, dark interiors and playground that could turn to sheet ice in winter. It struck me as a strange Victorian building even then. Looking back it was clearly a toy box styled school built by someone who only really knew how to build in Victorian gothic.Built out of red and black brick our school was a spanner shaped building with a long middle that was mostly assembly hall with two square buildings at either end full of classrooms.
My best friend Clemency Stourbridge and myself always entered at the left building with the word "Girls" carved in stone over the entrance. The right side had the word "Boys". It embarrassed everyone into giggles as we lined up outside the doors that someone had ever thought we might be so forgetful.
The high walled grounds they built our odd school in were odd too. Placed on two levels with a similar styled primary school on the upper level, this school held the smallest children and the kitchens. The high narrow stone staircase that was the only way to the upper level felt like a high wire act, often reducing small children to tears. The black painted safety railing was no comfort at all, it was alarming just to get near it as you could see straight through, over the edge to the sheer drop beneath.
In front of our school was a large tarmac playground but it sloped so steeply it was hard to run about on and any ball you ever let go of would soon escape through the wrought iron gates and be rolling away down the road. Yet on the front of the school building itself were faded white circles, the kind used for ball games.
My friendship with Clemency was based on her easy laughter and my agreeing to go everywhere with her.Clem had a fear and loathing of the school bathroom, which I found it hard to disagree with although I chose to ignore it myself. There was nothing to like about the bathroom. It was the complete opposite of the bright clean modern bathrooms we had at home. A dark, grey damp concrete box with all the Victorian built green painted wooden cubicle doors looking so out of place now as to be shed like. It was hard to believe it had ever been tiled . Teachers insisted it had been but no one could get tiles to stick anymore.
The schools high tall windows made sense at least. By the time you were almost tall enough to see out you were big enough to be leaving. No one ever got caught daydreaming although a consequence of the high windows was the unnecessary darkness. No matter how bright it was outside it was always overcast inside. The long dark green painted hallways were the worst.It always smelt freshly painted and yet the colour never changed. The flickering lights ought to have added a creepy air but the bad electrics were the one thing no one noticed after a while.
The dark wooden central hall with its ever-present smell of boiled cabbage had the largest windows, yet it was too dark. Our teachers were never willing to stand on or in front of the stage which always had its large velvet green curtains with a habit of falling down drawn shut. Assemblies were held with everyone sat backs to the stage, the teachers stood in front of the windows. They were often upstaged by dramatic looking weather clouds and stormy grey skies.
My life seemed to be moving very fast age eight. You try to take everything in but much of it does not mean anything to you yet anyway so you are used to the unfamiliar, the odd and the strange. Life itself is unfamiliar.
All the things you don`t know are coming up at you fast. Adults seem to forget that. Only other children your own age know how easily it is to drop the ball. They understand but they are no less forgiving. No one gets a pass on dropping the ball "Do you all want to be equally stupid or equally clever? “A teacher might ask and add;
"It`s a hard world out there"
They remind you;
"You won`t have any time to catch up later on if you fall behind now"
Added to this the adult world does not always like to let you entirely trust your own thoughts; “Why does it always smell like cabbage?" we often asked and "It`s your imagination "was the reply. We could be our own worst enemies when it came to imagination. When you get too used to not knowing things the temptation is always there to fill it in, to make it up. Even the brightest types sometimes forget the horrible pratfalls this will without doubt have you falling face first into.
Imagination is what myself and Clemency most held out against when we first met new girl Valeria. Clem`s reaction to her was so strong even I worried about her imagination taking over "Sam!" She shouted in hushed tones "Sam, whose she?" I did not catch the urgency of it till I saw her myself. Valeria was odd looking. Much odder than anyone me or Clem knew.
I tried to ignore the fuss her presence had created and carried on gluing tissue paper petals to the gaudy flower in front of me. I didn’t like the look of that much either. We always seemed to be gluing things. I made a joke about it but Clemency was not listening. There seemed to be something she could not get her head around about the new girl and looking around our table I could see she was not the only one.
I thought it would soon come to light why Valeria seemed different. Coming in during term time as she had it was surely likely I thought, someone would come along to introduce her and explain. “Best just wait" I said, so we kept waiting .Anyway in the meantime Valeria accounted for herself well enough chatting, laughing and making friends with everyone around her table.
Everyday Clemency and myself and sometimes our entire table came up with explanations of how she was just different and difference is what you are supposed to expect from those who are different "There is something to like about everyone, even if it`s just one thing" Clemency`s mother had said and we all agreed
"We`ll find it" I said to Clem.We knew we had to. Sooner or later our class would be mixed up as it often was for some activity involving groups or pairs or both "To get you away from the people you are comfortable with to make sure you can mix and get along with everybody “My mother explained.
Valeria soon sensed our concerns and took it for hostility. She sat at the far side of her table staring hatefully at anybody on our table who caught her eye. Clemency seemed to catch the worst of these and was often shaken.
There was no point appealing to MS Halisted, the most disinterested teacher I can ever remember. Everybody loved her of course. You could get away with so much so long as you were never too loud. Having learnt we liked crafts it was all we really did anymore. MS Halisted sat behind her desk pretending to be busy but she was just daydreaming in action. Her mind miles away from her desk and from us...
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