From The Bottom Of My Pencil Case

I left school thirty years ago. Thrown on life’s waves – that’s how I looked upon it. It was a fracture, something daunting, a major life change to be survived rather than to be relished. At least that’s how I think I felt, memory does play funny tricks on the truth. I loved school; I was lucky that way, but I understand how many didn’t love their school years. Horses for courses. I think I struggled to move away from the familiar and out into the ‘real world’ because of how happy I was there. The school I went to looked dramatic: a commanding castle on a cliff that defiantly surveyed the crashing swell of the Atlantic Ocean below. It was bounded by a high wall and could so easily have felt like a place of incarceration, but for me (and I can only speak for me) it was a safe, enfolding place. I felt bizarrely secure on that high rock on the edge of Northern Ireland when, at that time, Northern Ireland was hanging off the edge of sanity.

Every year at this time, when the exam results come out, I think about the young people who are leaving school and I wonder how they feel about moving on. I imagine most of them will relish it; that they will be keen to step out, break out, hang out. And I wish them well on this important rite of passage. For my class, the class of 1990, there was to have been a reunion this year marking the thirty years since we’ve left. I would have gone (which is easy to say about something that has been cancelled) but I would have, honest. And what would we have remembered? What would we have talked about? Going to Higgins’s bakery for iced fingers at lunchtime and to Buds for filled rolls. And heading off around the cliff walk after school to snog boys (me? – of course not!). And planning what we were going to wear at civvies day and to school discos. And seeing just how far you could push the boundaries of the uniform policy without getting reprimanded (those rolled-up short skirts!). And huddling around radiators in winter to keep warm, and the certain radiators that belonged to a particular ‘couple’, and my favourite radiator on the way up to the biology lab that overlooked the tennis courts. And having every door of the school locked on the days the gales were so ferocious that the teachers were afraid we might get blown off the cliff. And burnt knees in summer when we sat outside to eat our sandwiches, and we knew nothing of sun cream so that the little strip of skin between sock and skirt got scalded. And the farmyard, a relic from the past, still tended by two old men with a tractor and a greenhouse filled with tomato plants. And kind nuns who spirited you off for a cup of tea and aspirin at the mention of a sore head. And the smell of wood polish in the convent if you were sent over there to deliver a message. And snowball fights in the far field on the rare occasion it didn’t melt away. And the common room near the study hall that forever smelt of stale milk no matter what cleaning product was applied to the carpet. And the study hall filled with light and illuminated dust motes that were more studied than the books on our desk. And a satellite art room that was appended to the main building so that going there was like being exiled to Siberia – to a room that almost extended out into the sea and we had no idea how stunning this setting was. And portals in stone walls that opened up exposing breathtaking vistas of rock pools a and three-mile long stretch of deserted beach, a glorious landscape that made you believe everything was all right in this wee part of the world. And Desiderata, urging us to go placidly.

Earlier this year I saw an old promotional film that had been made of the school from sometime in the mid-eighties but somehow it seemed even older than that. In the film, the school came across as a place that time forgot; it captured an essence of innocence and simplicity. And, yes, I’m probably wearing rose coloured spectacles, but I’m not going to take them off at this stage. The school has much bigger intake now, but back then I think everyone knew everyone else’s name, and some were special enough to be written on pencil cases, inside a heart.

Class of 1990, maybe we could try for a reunion next year instead – see you then?


Song for Whoever, The Beautiful South

I love you from the bottom, of my pencil case

I love you in the songs, I write and sing

Love you because, you put me in my rightful place

And I love the PRS cheques, that you bring

Cheap, never cheap

I’ll sing you songs till you’re asleep

When you’ve gone upstairs I’ll creep

And write it all down, down, down, down

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane

I wrote so many songs about you

I forget your name, I forget your name

Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too

I forget your name

Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too

I forget your name

I love you from the bottom of my pencil case

I love the way you never ask me why

I love to write about each wrinkle on your face

And I love you ’till my fountain pen runs dry

16 thoughts on “From The Bottom Of My Pencil Case

  1. I went to this school too and can confirm it was a very special place. Special not just for its beautiful views (no other school could compete with that!) but also for the community that went with it. I remember Higgins bakery, Sally’s sweet shop, Morrelli’s cafe and also the other wee cafe at the end of the promenade and all the shops in between. I’m grateful to the teachers and the nuns who made it such a special place too and I apologize profusely for giving you all such a hard time. 😉 Thanks for the fond memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this. I was, 40 years ago, but same memories.
    I too loved my school days. I miss that view towards Donegal.
    Thank you.
    Enjoy your reunion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have the same memories it was our class who did the promotional video we were living an idyllic life back then! I left in 95. Thanks for putting our memories into words.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just read this so a little late, so lovely… brings back so many happy memories. My son has just left school, I’m hoping he has as many happy memories in 30 years… hope all well Eimear x

    Liked by 1 person

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