Wednesday, 18 May 2011

High School - the smell of fear or just old baking?

Yesterday I opened Facebook to find a picture of my 11-year-old (or thereabouts) self peering out at me. In a blink, I was there in a slightly-too-big blazer, knee socks and a stiff navy skirt (although you can’t see them in the photos). I’m with my housemates Fiona, Suzie and Carolyn. Where are you all girls? We’re on our way to join the dining hall queue.

I’m only slightly older in that picture than Boy One is now, and he’s getting ready for high school – my baby a tiny fish in a huge pond again. 

But that wasn’t the only school based blast from the past on a wet Monday. As part of his preparation for the move, Boy One got a tour of Gryffe High School, Boy Two and I got to tag along too with him and the wonderful Mrs D from the Columba Unit at St Benedict’s.

The Columba Unit has an outreach support team for the area’s autistic spectrum kids. They have decided that the best use of some of their resources is to offer inreach (I’ll forgive the use of this horrible word in this case) to the kids who most need help in getting their heads round high school. So Boy One has been going one morning a week for the past two years. 

So there we were, maps in hand, navigating the corridors like extras in the unlikely to ever be made Harry Potter goes to a Modern School and Comes Away Pleasantly Surprised. Then whoosh it hit our noses – the whiff of baking mixed with cleaning products and children’s schoolbags. Mrs D and I laughed domestic science rooms still smell exactly the way they always did. 

Back in the early 80s, the only thing I ever remember making in Mrs Weir’s class was something peculiar with mince. I believe it was flavoured with Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup. Funnily enough, I’ve never had the urge to mix the two since. But the smell in the room was identical.

Science labs too still have that gassy, metallic odour you can almost taste. And they still use Bunsen burners apparently. Changing rooms pong of socks, sweat and that rubbery stuff that comes of crash mats.

The Panther of News asked: “Do they still smell of fear?”
Did they ever? Not mine, I don’t think. 

I came away impressed by a sense of busyness, lots going on, equipment well used and a place where there’s a job to be done. I think Boy One will survive there and learn something. He might even enjoy it. 

And my school days, through the telescope of time, they weren’t so bad, but, then again, I’m very, very glad it’s not me starting high school this year.

Thanks to Gillian M-H for the photo and the trip down memory lane.


  1. My school, the wonderful Halifax Catholic High School, had a smell of fear. Brutish teachers all too ready to batter someone and a streaming policy, entirely dependent on post code and how smart your uniform was, led to all the scary folk being put in together with poor people. I was among the poor people. I still remember English. It was hard to read To Kill a Mockingbird while ducking paper planes made from the pages of Shakespeare and trying to ignore someone shoving a pencil in your ear. Don't get me started on maths. People with aspergers, dyslexia and even those with severe learning difficulties were lumped in with mainstream pupils to be bullied to tears and terror mercilessly. That school ruined lots of innocent children. I had a reasonable time at school but yes, fear was the the overriding smell. There are some teachers I will never forgive and indeed would like to meet again in a dark alley to pay them back for the darkness they inflicted on so many unfortunates. See you got me started.

  2. Anon, I know you say you enjoyed school and I do know that school isn't always the easiest place to be, but I feel terribly sad for those kids you talk about.
    But it was, ahem, a long time ago and, as my walk round Gryffe showed me, things have changed such a lot.

  3. yes but their torment will not be forgotten. It was horrendous for some of them. Children that should have been given specialist care, I am talking full on learning difficulties, were abandoned. I know it was a long time ago but I thought it was truly awful then and it makes me cross now.

  4. Kevlowry, for some reason this post has only just pinged in my inbox. I have to say that the school that you and... someone I know... went to, sounds particularly scary. My school wasn't like that and I always assumed it was the slight generation difference between me and... someone I know... I don't remember ever really being scared or fights being tolerated in the way you and R do. My MiL tells me that Halifax Catholic High is closing for a year and re-branding. I hope it re-brands as something nicer!

  5. Jo, We don't have a generation difference. I think it's just their school!

  6. When I say generation differences, I mean that things like hitting kids / throwing chalk etc. had been banned by the time I was at school. Mind you, teachers were public enemy no.1 in the 80s and I suspect that was when the power balance went a bit skewhiff in classrooms!

  7. We had chalk throwing but no hitting! I got none of the sense of vindictiveness that K talks about, but, then again, maybe I just wasn't paying attention. One of the teachers was subsequently done for abusing kids and I had no idea.


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