The End of an Era

“Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.”

John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris:

School life at Hunters Tryst Primary School generally followed the rhythm of the seasons and moved seamlessly from autumn through winter and spring before we broke up for the magically, long summer holidays, which in my mind’s eye were always blissfully sunny.

The days too had a certain pattern. Come the dreaded Monday morning we dragged our feet from home to school. The bin men were usually out collecting bins as we made our way along Oxgangs Park. For some reason it introduced a little excitement. The bin men were always animated and loud and the air full of dust from the ashes of the cleared fires, but I don’t recall anything ever happening apart from an occasional car being delayed.

Like sheep we all went to school by going up Oxgangs Street, along Oxgangs Park and down Oxgangs Rise whereas on reflection it would have been quicker and shorter to have gone along Oxgangs Avenue and up Oxgangs Rise.

As the autumn progressed, the mornings became cooler, but pleasant, before becoming cold, as we moved into the dark months of November and December when the first frosts appeared. The route to school was short for those of us from The Stair and relatively sheltered. Whilst for pupils from Oxgangs Farm Avenue and its branch roads off, they had to walk three times as far as us. In inclement weather they were much more exposed and often arrived at school badly soaked. And whilst we all had friends across Oxgangs Road North, generally these friendships happened at school, with relatively little mingling out-with the school day – even at weekends.

The snows of winter led to some excellent slides being formed on the downhill pavement outside the school entrance at Oxgangs Rise. The slides became so slippy, fast and treacherous that neighbours would eventually melt them with a liberal dose of Saxa salt. The container had a child chasing a hen, with the slogan, See how it runs! And then it was Christmas and a New Year; a new term and learning the poetry of Robert Burns for Burns Day.

As we moved into the spring, and after Easter, the mornings became warmer and warmer and the scent of hawthorn and whin could be caught on the breeze and the cherry trees came into blossom. It was always a lovely feeling going to school in just a short sleeved top, not to mention the ever present short trousers.

Coming home from school in the afternoon had a very different feel. It was often lighter; always warmer; and one was free – even if it was only for an hour of leisure time. The afternoon departures were both more intense and crowded with everyone trying to squeeze out of the narrow lane exit together. Once out into Oxgangs Rise the crowds dispersed quickly unless there was the cries of fight… fight… when a circular crowd would gather. Too often I found myself inside the ring!

The days followed a pattern which was comforting. When something happened to interrupt the cycle of the year it was always an exciting moment; particularly if it was unexpected. Sometimes we would get away early if the weather took a bad turn – usually after a very heavy downpour of rain or a deep fall of snow. Perhaps there was a power cut once or twice – getting away early was good news. Other variations in the year would include Harvest Festival and the School Sports Day, when we enjoyed a half day.

Hunters Tryst Primary SchoolIt was school which, of course, was the vehicle or the glue which brought us all together to laugh, cry, fight, play, learn, and get up to adventures and misadventures: the place where we interacted with teachers who taught us and from whom we learned and with whom we had grown up and who were an integral part of our lives.

And then, come that last week of June, when the school bell rings out for the last time, for those in P7 the world comes to an abrupt end and a new beginning. It happens in the blink of an eye – like a guillotine coming down hard and quick – a brutal act. And we’re all knowing, but in reality, unknowing. It sounds like a normal bell, but, in reality and borrowing from Donne, is more akin to a funeral bell, signifying the end of school life at Hunters Tryst and the end of the interconnectedness of social life there. We spend days, weeks, months and years sharing a life together and then it’s all over and we go our separate ways.

Similarly, it was The Stair that brought us all together, but unlike life at Hunters Tryst, The Stair as we knew it died a slow, insidious death rather than the cold, clean sounding of a bell. And as mentioned in one of the very early blogs, ‘The Gap In The Curtain’, because The Stair is still there, in a strange way one feels that if we enter through the front door of Number 6, that we can pass seamlessly through to another dimension, to another world, to the world of the 1960s, which of course no longer exists.

Today, Mrs Hilda Hanlon is the last remaining member at The Stair from that time – ‘The Last of the Mohicans’. For the rest of us, we went off in new directions, to establish new rhythms, new patterns, new friendships, blissfully unaware that for all the children at The Stair, when the bell rang, it rang out for us all. Even for those of us who didn’t hear it, it sounded out for the end of an era.

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