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Whanganui Midweek - 2021-11-24

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Old boy reminisces on the gift

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Comment By a Queens Park School old boy

Ibarely remember my last day at school. I had just turned 16 and it was in early December back in ‘63, but I can remember wondering what was to become of me. I know now but the question I now ask myself: what became of my classmates from the first school I attended? From my perspective, an obvious answer is that they vanished. Wherever they are, the epithet Baby Boomers is used as a pejorative term to describe them but generational generalisations are meaningless. We were simply a diverse group of individuals blessed by the social mechanisms established by earlier historical factors and by the whim of economic caprice. Later, we also had the good fortune to have the gift of the 60s. In 1953, on my first day at school, I became part of a school classroom cohort that was to transition from the 1950s into the 1960s. My recollection of that day is still quite vivid. With my mother’s determined urging I entered through the school’s memorial gates, walked across the tarmac, was led down a long passage and entered Miss Bell’s primer one classroom where I was required to read a section of a Janet and John book. I was then placed in primer 2. My classmates and I were part of what many would claim as the most privileged generation in the history of the world, but our individual circumstances varied and our experiences, even in the classroom, would differ. By individual choice or social apprehension, I had only limited association with my classmates at school and now, nearly 70 years later, the fate of most is not known to me. Circumstances after we left Queens Park school led us on different paths and a high percentage would have left Whanganui in the 1960s, yet I remember their names and hold a collective affection for those who were part of my formative years. My teachers too I remember, not with any great affection, but with no animosity (with just one exception). Their names are worth remembering because during their working life they ushered hundreds of individuals through an educational system that would inevitably impact their lives. My first teacher’s name I can’t remember but it was probably Ms Noble. There were 18 in our class and if my memory serves me well our classroom had no desks. There were individual blackboards on the room wall to which we were each assigned. Morning classes started with stretching and breathing exercises and from time to time we were required to sit cross-legged on the floor. Notwithstanding my belief that there was a lack of desks, we had exercise books in which we performed work duties that enabled us to earn one, two or three gold stars. There were silver stars too, which, if earned, may have been a way of saying, try harder. In my second year in 1954, our teacher was Mrs McCullough. The class had grown to 34 and, with some exceptions, represented the full contingent of those who would remain at the school till our senior year. In 1956 class numbers grew to 40 and Mr Bolton was our teacher. The class photograph is oddly moving. All students were apparently happy and staring confidently at the camera and, seemingly, the future. Amongst them there were two sons and one daughter of ministers of the church, two teachers’ sons, two bakers’ daughters, four sons of doctors, a daughter of the town clerk, sons of an electrician, a mechanic, and a silversmith as well as a daughter of a tailor and a swimming pool custodian; and God knows who else, maybe even the son of a city council worker. The school’s situation offered students playground views of the Whanganui River and Mt Ruapehu and, mercifully, the same view in some classrooms. From there the mind could drift silently across the region’s hinterland to some place you would rather be. Most of what influenced me at school in the mid-50s happened outside the classroom — on the playground and beyond — and, given my nervous disposition, seemingly insignificant matters became worrying in nature. At one playtime I can remember a casual conversation my brother had with a fellow student about the need, or otherwise, for polio vaccination. Polio was still in the community. My sister had to have some sort of pinprick in her arm to determine whether she had contracted TB from her teacher. He, of course, would have been isolated. So too my sister, had her test been positive. Hydatids was an ongoing problem and, in 1956, the Suez crisis was in the news. At the time I can remember wondering why it is that the other side is always so wrong and how it is that we have the good fortune to always be on the right side. The subversive seeds of doubt entered my brain. I was 8 years old. The Suez crisis worried me, there was danger in the air — and in the classroom too. Moments of pure terror when some student from another class would enter the room and advise the teacher that it is you that the dental nurse wishes to see. A district nurse regularly made threatening appearances. She personally inspected each student and had a classmate’s head doused in some horrid liquid that smelt like kerosine and made her black hair glisten. To avoid further embarrassment she was sent home, probably with instructions to avoid smokers. But not all outside influences were so threatening. The school’s large hallway was the venue for Thursday morning sermons that probably just involved the senior section of the school. Some non-staff preacher fellow would lecture us and tell stories from the Bible. Of all the classes of all the schools that I attended they were the most enjoyable and probably the only one I was interested in. I already knew that the earth was made in six days, that Adam was a somewhat hapless figure who bit off more than he could chew when he took a chunk out of the fruit of knowledge; and that evil lurks everywhere and assumes different forms. But it was the New Testament that interested me the most. Jesus was the main character. He called the Pharisees hypocrites and self-righteous pretenders, the money lenders a pack of thieves and

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