25 Things from a Very 1980s Primary School Experience

With the end of the holidays fast approaching, school has been on my mind. As we’ve begun preparing Thomas for the new term, it’s given me cause to reflect on how different his school experience is from my own. There are a whole host of things we used to get up to back in the 1980s that simply wouldn’t be allowed these days, and we certainly lacked a lot of the technological advantages of current day school children (interactive whiteboards, the internet… even proper photocopiers!) But I’m a very nostalgic person, and can’t help but look back on my childhood era with immense fondness.  So here are 25 things that made up a very 1980s Primary School Experience:

1. Overhead Projectors. There were no computer projectors (there weren’t many computers) so we used these things instead. Especially for projecting….

2…. hymns in assembly. They were mostly taken from the “Come and Praise” book. Ones that particularly stick in mind include Autumn days (“So I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet, to say a great big thank you”) Cross Over the Road, When I Needed a Neighbour, The Whole World in his Hands and One More Step Along the World I Go.

3. The lack of a standard curriculum. Ah, it was a liberal time. There was no National Curriculum, and seemingly often little guidance on what we should actually be doing, with a lot of focus on creativity and “The 3Rs” (only one of which actually began with ‘R’, ironically enough!). It meant there was no levels, no SATs or formal testing. Of course it also meant that there was often no history, no geography and no science either! I remember my dad (in a science based career) coming in to do “experiments” with us once. He took small groups off to an office to show them things like vinegar volcanoes. The mum of one of my friends always came in to do “cooking” (which was always making scones anyway!)

4. On that note – whilst there was absolutely no problem with my dad – any old person could come in to the school to listen to reading, or even to teach! There were no DBS checks then and qualifications seemed to be an irrelevance. Same went for school trips. Anyone could help out and it often involved piling kids in your car with no thought to car seat or even seat belts in the back!

5. Learning to read was in an experimental phase too. Phonics was out but no one could really agree how we should learn. I fondly remember the Ginn 360 Reading scheme (more on this one soon), Bangers and Mash books, the Hummingbirds stories and Breakthrough to Literacy. The latter was responsible for the big orange “Sentence Maker” (a folder in to which you slotted pre printed cards to make stores before copying them in to your book).

6. We also had Look and Read. With classics such as Geordie Racer, Dark Towers and Badger Girl, plus the one no one seems to remember called Fairground. The TV shows had accompanying books and worksheets and we watched them on…

7…. The TV on a trolley. The TV was always strapped to a high trolley, with a video recorder underneath. We all got crick in the neck from looking up at it as we watched from a cross legged position on the floor (why was the trolley so high?!) Other TV classics included Words and Pictures (Magic E and the magic flashing pencil) and “How We Used to Live” – ha, the 80s could feature on there now!

8. SMP – The School Mathematics Project cards. Anyone remember those? The cards were grouped together by topic, and there was always a topic set everyone wanted to avoid. I remember one that was supposed to teach about negative numbers by talking about Damascus and Sea Level!

 

9. Lunchboxes. Remember these beauties?

10. Donut with a milkshake for pudding with school dinners. Usually a limited number available, so given to those who ate fastest, which meant the same kids had them every day whilst the rest of us pushed the soggy cabbage around the plate and then got given semolina or tapioca!

11. Shiny white “tracing paper” toilet paper. And the horrible smelling green sludge soap.

12. Teachers smoking in the staffroom.

13. There was possibly one computer. It was usually an Acorn or BBC Master. t was wheeled around on a trolley and you usually got to use it as a reward for being good. And then had to wait hours for a program to load from a cassette tape.

14. The school secretary had an actual typewriter.

15. There were no photocopies, only “duplicates” often made on a Banda machine and therefore purple. The copies were always a bit wonky and smelled funny!

16. As there were no photocopiers, the easiest way to draw maps in your Geography book was using a Map roller – like a rolling pin with the map of a continent embossed on it which was rolled in ink then transferred to the page.

16. Country dancing. And dancing around the maypole.

17. Being sent “to the wall” for being naughty, which involved standing with your nose pressed against the wall for a determined amount of time. If you fidgeted, it was extended. (This never happened to me, because I was an angel, natch!)

18. Blue Peter “Bring and Buy Sales” in the school hall.

19. Playing British Bulldog. And Kiss Chase.

20. Proper blackboards, that you could pull on a roller to move road. And the board rubbers that went with them with their tightly packed concentric rings of coloured felt.

 

21. No such thing as a PE kit for the girls – we did it in our vest and knickers.

22. Magic Steps Shoes…

Or before that these classic T-bar shoes from Clarks.

Or, if you were really cool, the ones where you could turn the strap to go around the back and thus make them in to slip-ons. All the boys seemed to wear those nylon parkas – Snorkels – with the furry hood and a bright orange quilted lining.

 

23. No water bottles. Just water fountains in the playground that you had to join a long queue to use.

24. The school dentist and eye checks – waiting to see if you were given “the letter” to take home. And the nit nurse, of course!

25. Bomb scares. Thankfully always a hoax, but it seemed at one point like we were herded away from the school every other week because someone had phoned in a message.

What else do you remember, fondly or otherwise, from your school days?

Cuddle Fairy

 

Topsy and Tim: The Way they Used to Be

If you talk about “Topsy and Tim” to any preschooler parents these days, it’s likely that the first thing to spring to kind will be the CBeebies television show and thus what will follow is a debate about sexism, gender stereotyping, just why it took quite so long for them to move house, mum’s double life and, well, the overall lack of realism in these super-mature preschool children (largely down to the fact that they are played by an actor and actress several years older than their characters!)

I’m not really a fan. But then, I loved Topsy and Tim long before their current television incarnations had been conceived. I loved them so much that I cannot even bear the current illustrated iteration, no matter how closely those colourful pictures resemble the illustrations I remember from my own childhood. I loved the Topsy and Tom that I knew so much that rather than let Thomas read these modern versions, I’ve dug out my own prized childhood collection, comprising dog-eared paperbacks from the 1970s and 80s, many of which were already loved by the time they became mine, picked up at charity shops and the ubiquitous 1980s staple: The Bring and Buy Sale (remember those?)

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To my great pleasure, Thomas loves them. But the truth is, I probably still love them even more than he – the books intended audience – does. They capture something of the essence of my childhood, in all it’s glorious retrospective simplicity.

There is something special about those books even for the adult me. From the humour I find in all the tissue wielding and wiping up that mummy and Miss Maypole do to the joy of reading them aloud. They have a simple sentence structure that really lends itself to easy reading and I find myself adopting the same intonation as my own mother, reading them to me three decades ago, something confirmed as I listened to her re-reading them to Thomas recently. The flow of the words is as comforting as a well worn pair of shoes.

And there’s more too. There is social history tied up in those pages. The pictures of pre-privatisation British Rail diesel trains. A visit to the cockpit of a commercial airliner during flight – we all know that it’s been well over a decade since that was a possibility.

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In Topsy and Tim goes to hospital, Tim spends a night in hospital after “bumping his head”. My own 1982 edition was a gift during my first ever hospital stay when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Nothing so serious for Tim. A bump on the head and no debate on new evidence of the dangers of cold compresses on head wounds, no simple signature of an accident form and a badly photo-copied “head injury” sheet for Tim. No, back then a full stay in hospital, despite the lack of emergency surrounding the situation as Mummy calmly packs his bag!

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And of course, he ends up “romping” around the ward with other similarly un-sick children. “Romping” was one of the words I learned and loved from Topsy and Tim, along with similar wonders such as “crosspatch”, “squodgy”, “old doesn’t-matter clothes” and, probably my personal favourite “oomfy diddlum”.

Of course, along with the aspects of life that have changed, some of the language has changed too. I’m willing to bet that Topsy and Tim wonder which “colourful”, or other such similar adjective, boat they will get to ride in more recent editions of “Topsy and Tim and the Paddling Pool” in contrast to the “gay” boats they wondered about in my 1970s version.

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So yes, the new Topsy and Tim just aren’t quite Topsy and Tim for me. The simple tales somehow belong to my childhood, and modernising them feels slightly like trampling on my memories. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and just holding those books again, nevermind reading their contents, transports me right back.

To me, Topsy and Tim will always be children of the 1970s, even though they were actually “born” long before that.

(And if anyone has a 1970s or 80s Blackie Handy Books edition of Topsy and Tim Meet the Dentist that they no longer want, please let me know! Somehow we never had that one in our extensive collection!)

The Disney Dream

I was a little under three and a half when I first went to Walt Disney World in Florida.

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And what a very different “World” it was then. The Magic Kingdom was there, of course and EPCOT (then EPCOT Center) was newly opened. But there were no other Disney parks. No Studios or Animal Kingdom. The water parks were Wet’n’Wild and Water Mania rather than the themed Disney extravaganzas that now exist. SeaWorld was there, as was Gatorland Zoo and of course the Kennedy Space Center, but there was no Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. We visited CircusWorld instead. The scale of things was big, of course it was, but it was nothing on how big it all is now.

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It still made an absolutely massive impact on me though, despite that fact that I was younger than Thomas is now.

In fact, I count a number of specific moments as amongst my very earliest conscious memories. Waking up in our hire car en route from the airport, but stopped by the side of the road, by the noise of rain hammering on the roof as a terrific Florida storm unfurled above us. Staring out in to the darkness in our beach-front Gulf Coast hotel, unable to comprehend jet-lag or why it was dark when my body was telling me the day was already many hours old. Riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with my Dad as my Mum and my brother, too chicken to try it, waved from the bridge. I still remember exactly how that very first roller coaster ride felt, with my Dad’s arm wrapped around me. I feel the grin on my face.

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I’m on there somewhere!

I may not remember every detail. And some of my memories are possibly fabricated a little from the photographs – comparatively few though they were in the pre-digital era – and family stories. But I know it was absolute magic from the moment we arrived. It was completely detached from reality, brimming with the incredible, the improbable and the impossible. It’s absolutely fair to say that no other place on earth has ever had quite the same effect on me again. Different – wonderful, awe-inspiring – yes, but pure immersive magic, not even close.

It’s for that reason that I so often tell people that you can’t really be “too young” to go to Disney, and that anytime from the age three onwards even the “they won’t remember a thing” excuse doesn’t necessarily hold true. I’ve always maintained that kids need something big to hang the first memory they’ll retain to adulthood on. And it doesn’t come much bigger than Walt Disney World.

It’s also the reason that I’ve been dreaming of Thomas’s first trip since the moment I knew we were expecting him.

I remember looking forward, during my pregnancy, to being a family and doing things as a family. Introducing our child to the world and to all the fun things it holds and taking part in activities where a child is a necessary pre-requisite to participation. And whilst the latter isn’t true for Disney, recreating those moments of magic with my own child, being the one to make them happen was always something I just couldn’t wait to do.

This is a dream that I’ve always known I would eventually realise for my child. Quite possibly the very first dream I ever had for him, long before he was conceived.

And next year, it’s happening.

The intention was always next year, before he starts school and whilst we have more flexibility on dates. It was always meant to be next year, rather than this, because I’d hoped that baby number two would be approaching the age of three, and there would even have been time for baby number three to join us (sometime about now) and tag-along as a bit more than a newborn.

Yeah. None of that worked out, of course.

But we’ve stuck to the plan for next year anyway, despite my heart screaming to take Thomas this year instead. I hope the extra time will give him the crucial few centimetres of growth he needs to meet the height restrictions for some iconic rides (I was obviously taller than my son, or the height restrictions were lower in 1983, as he currently wouldn’t make it on to Big Thunder Mountain).

And in the mean time my dreams keep on growing. The more I read and the more I research, the more I can’t wait. For the moment that he sees the Cinderella Castle for the first time and recognises it as “The Dis-in-nee castle” from the introduction to every Disney film we’ve watched. For the moment he gets to meet his favourite characters and have their enormous character hands envelope his tiny one. For his excitement at the simplest things like the Magic Kingdom Railroad and the monorail system.

It’s hard to put Disney magic in to words, and I guess that if you haven’t felt it yourself, you’re quite possibly rolling your eyes at what I’ve built this up to be. And of course, by setting the bar of my expectations so high, I’m setting myself up for crushing disappointment if the reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

I know that it won’t exactly, because nothing ever does go quite how we imagine it. But I’m still confident that the realisation of such a long held dream will be magical, in new ways that I haven’t even dreamed.

And perhaps in 32 years time Thomas will still be reflecting on it, as he prepares to take his own child or children for the very first time too.

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