Wednesday 7 December 2011


I was lucky enough to go to a kindergarten
that fostered an appreciation of each season.
Nature tables were preceded by nature walks
through open fields now overbuilt.

We germinated runner beans in snug
cocoons of pink blotting paper
coiled into jam jars.
About now we would sit a fat hyacinth bulb
in its jar and hide it in the cupboard.

The school garden provided chinese lanterns, honesty,
conkers, sycamore seeds, and sticky buds to unfold
in the warm classroom.

Most of the classrooms were just the 
large reception rooms of an old house
and on each landing there was a grandmother clock,
which, should we need to go to the indoor loos,
we had to run past. 
They had faces and anything might be hiding in the long case.
The bookshelves smelt peppery and I quickly exhausted them. 
Only Greyfriars Bobby was left to read
and I knew better than to open that.

In the basement kitchen, Minnie the cook 
laboured over the boiling cabbage,
and set out the milk crates with 1/3 pint bottles for break time.
I went home for lunch and was spared the cabbage
and the after lunch sleep, but there was no escaping
 the slightly curdled milk on a warm day.

The bread man called at the back door
with his basket of loaves
and called me Lucinda.

Fire drill meant climbing out of the huge sash windows 
into the front garden.
One of the classrooms was outside in a pre-fab
and the walls were soft gloss painted asbestos boards.
The main block of miniature toilets 
was no more than a glorified shed 
smelling wonderfully of creosote.
The Health and Safety brigade would have had conniptions.

There was a rose garden with a stone bench
 (on which we sanded and smoothed our hands)
and an arbour of New Dawn.
A slope in the lawn was there for rolling down
in our brown gym slips.

The formal playground had three graduated metal climbing bars
on which we dangled and perched, 
two legs over and swinging forward terrifyingly 
towards the unforgiving tarmac,
or for the more circumspect, one leg hooked over
and swinging backwards which for some reason 
was called a strawberry basket.

There was a sand pit and a wildly dangerous rotating see-saw.
One new girl was a fast runner and we would call her:
'Dido!' 'Dido!'
'Come and push us.'
And she did. With her skinny legs and her skinny plaits.
But one day she tripped and fell and was badly hurt.
We spun giddily over her prostrate body.

Miss Gwendolyn Harris played the piano and taught us our tables
which we chanted.
Six sixes are thirty six.
Six sixes are thirty six.
Miss Macpherson was stern and told me to sit still
when a wasp came into the room.
I did and it stung me on the knee under the desk.
When I screamed she made me stand in the corner of the room.

We had 'News' once a week.
You could bring 'Showing News' or 'Telling News'.
One girl brought a different foreign doll 
from her vast collection each week.
You waved your hand urgently to be chosen to go up.
I waved my hand stretched as high as it would go
and never expected to be chosen.
Fatally one day, I was called to front.
I had nothing to say and nothing to show,
but I fished desperately in my blazer pocket
and found an elastic band.
I produced it with a flourish.
'It's magic,' I said.
'It will fly to the back of the room and return to me.'
The class looked impressed.
Miss Macpherson looked dubious.
I pinged it and it landed at my feet.

Miss Marjorie Butler was tall and gentle. 
She gave me mental arithmetic sums to do
because I begged her to on walks.
She read to us and let us draw.
I remember loving Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh.
I never wanted it to end.

And what has opened these flood gates?

The cool, fresh air smell,
of mimosa.


  1. What a glorious post, which has brought back fond and not so different memories of my own first experiences of schooling. And your photographs are a treat as always. Thank you x

  2. Precious memories, isn't amazing how one scent or sight can trigger a whole raft of reflection. And I loved Carbonel as well, must have been a favourite with teachers back then! Thanks for invoking so many memories, the milk! I'd forgotten.

  3. My memories of Kindergarten are not nearly so vivid or tactile...I don't think the teacher and I were anything resembling kindred spirits :) However, I loved reading your memories and hope there are more of them (please?)

  4. I much enjoyed this piece, which had that childhood sense that a place is a world in itself and that things just happen, often with a slight fog surrounding them.

  5. It's always a smell, isn't it, that unleashes such a flood of memories? The strange institutional smell of school lino, with a touch of cocoa, turns me into a 4-year-old again in a tiny school with Mrs Collins.....

  6. No wonder I'm always in a hurry to get home from work....

    There is a chance I might find something magical like this to read.

    Thank you.

    xo Jane

  7. How lovely, but me for it's the smell of Plasticene (a big brown ball with all the colours mashed together).

  8. You had a wonderful early education.
    You also have fond memories of these early years.

    Helen xx

  9. Such wonderful memories, beautifully written. The sense of smell is so very powerful.

  10. I didn't get to escape the boiled cabbage............ and grew to hate the warm milk. What a superb post, like others who have commented it brought memories flooding back.

  11. A smashing read, beautifully evocative, thank you.

  12. What a lovely post Lucille, such memories. I can recall very little of my schooling and I certainly didn't go to kindergarten, I don't think I had even heard the name until I was in my twenties. I do remember the milk though.