Saturday, October 21, 2006


Emily has backache from time to time. This is partly because she’s the long thin type and they tend to be prone to backache, and partly because she’s had to carry about eight tons of school books most days of her life since she was eleven.

In classrooms in the Olden Days when I was at school there were wooden objects called desks. In form period first thing, you sorted out the books you needed and put them in your brown leather satchel, and left the rest in your desk in your form room. In the afternoon you did the same. So, although you had to carry your satchel about, it was never too heavy.

Just occasionally there was a big hoohah when something went missing from a desk, such as a geography book or a packet of Polos: there was rarely anything more exciting to steal because nothing more exciting had been invented. No Walkmans, no iPods, not even a digital watch. Stealing a slide rule just didn’t give the same buzz.

The thief was generally tracked down and caught and, after a quick show trial, formally beheaded out on the tennis courts. That stopped them, oh yes.

After desks came lockers, and these were in general use when I was teaching in the eighties. These were a bit more of a pain because their keys were always getting lost and the occasional locker inspections showed that lockers were usually found to contain cannabis and whisky as well as school books: but even so, they did mean that the teenagers didn’t have to carry everything about with them. Once teachers got wise to the ever-present “Ooh, Miss, I’ve left me book in me locker, can I go and get it Miss?” then lockers were in general a Good Thing and there were many happy teachers who had confiscated the whisky and the cannabis.

When Emily started secondary school it was a split-site school with neither desks nor lockers. Bent double under their huge piles of books, the children – especially slightly-built ones like Emily - tottered from one site to the next. Her bag was often so heavy that I could barely lift it. But never mind, the school was about to be rebuilt and surely then they would have somewhere to keep their books?

No. No lockers at all in the new building because it was “too expensive” to provide them for all the students, apparently, so nobody got them.

From time to time there is a big fuss in the newspapers about how thousands and thousands of working days are lost every year because of back pain.

I wonder how the cost of the lost working days plus the cost to the NHS of treatment for back pain compares with the cost of providing lockers in schools?


Blogger John said...

Ah, yes the formal executions and ritual torture in the Deputy Head's office, happy days...

A form being a bench, where you sat for your lessons - no chairs in those days, no backs to lean on and drift into a partial slumber by the cast-iron radiator looking out at the leaves chasing each other scurrying across the long shadowed tarmac of a late autumn afternoon as Mr May went on about subjunctives - so the room they were kept in was the form room.

Nowadays it's class rooms and desks with no lids to hide behind as the Rawlinson twins pelted you with half-chewed scraps of foolscap paper [thirteen and a half inches by 17 inches] propelled inbound by rubber bands stretched twixt the thumb and identical forefinger.

No wonder the country's in the mess it's in!

10:25 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

We had desks like that in primary school. The lids were screwed down and the front panel removed so that we could store books in them but not hide behind them.

6:17 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

We had desks like that in primary school. The lids were screwed down and the front panel removed so that we could store books in them but not hide behind them.

6:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, today there was a group of students with forms and scales, accosting people as they were walking past.

They intercepted myself and a friend, and explained that they were final year physiotherapy undergrads, and they were working to disprove the current claim, that as long as your bag is under ten percent of your body weight they you are unlikely to have skeleto-muscular problems. They want to prove that the value is a lot less than this and then try and get something done to reduce the amount that school and University students carry.

Unfortunately I had just returned about 8lb of library books and hadn't brought my laptop, so even though I have back and neck pains a lot, alas my bag only weighed about 4lb.

9:55 pm  
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