COMING HOME IN 1926 WITH A LOAF ON MY HEAD

End of term tests were over, desks cleared, cupboards tidied and wastepaper baskets filled to overflowing with the accumulated rubbish of a whole term and, at last, the day we had waited for was really here. Breaking-up Day!

The undercurrent of excitement which had been there for a week or more could be contained no longer and simply spilled over. The sun shone more brightly, the classroom became a dear and familiar place, we felt almost reluctant to leave it for so long. Quarrels were made up, sworn enemies became bosom friends, all differences and animosities submerged in the joyful anticipation we all shared. We actually discovered that we were quite fond of our teachers. Such was the magic of breaking-up day!.

There was no transport to
school, free or otherwise, and many children and teachers walked long distances to school in all weathers. No hot dinners to sustain them either for the school meals service was still in the future. We did have our third of a pint of milk each morning although, at first, we had to pay for this.

I remember winter mornings when welcoming coal fires burned brighdy behind old fashioned fireguards and rows of litde milk botdes were put to warm so that the milk wouldn’t chill our stomachs at playtime.

Regular pocket money was the privilege of the few but we didn’t let that worry us too much. We brought cocoa and sugar in a screw of paper to eat at playtime. By dipping a wet •fore-finger into the mixture and then sucking it, we could make this last quite a long
time. The less fastidious among us simply opened out the paper and applied tongues direcdy to the contents. When we did have pennies to spend, tiger nuts and liquorice sticks were cheap and popular.

Money prizes were given by the local authority for regular attendance and on these days we were expected to be very clean and tidy for the benefit of the two local councillors who came to present the prizes. Owing to a number of childish illnesses, I never qualified for a money prize and this was a great disappointment to me. I longed to hear my name called out and find myself walking up to receive a much-coveted few shillings from a local councillor.

But I did once have something unexpected to take home to my mother. During the miners’ strike in 1926, free loaves were issued to the children of miners. My dad was not a miner but, when I saw other children standing in a queue, I joined them and was duly presented with a loaf. Very proud indeed I felt when, to my mother’s surprise, I arrived home carrying a loaf on my head!

There was something else I envied too. Clogs! Most children wore clogs and I envied the satisfying clatter they made on the schoolyard flags and pavements. I longed to be able to make showers of sparks on the flags like the big boys did on the way home from school – an ambition I never did realise.

But I did remember this -and understood years later when my own children expressed a preference for shoes that clonked!

Mary Cuckson