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Tartan Skirts and Triangles

The following is an excerpt from my memoir Shadow Across the Sun, set in the Staffordshire Moorlands area of Stoke-on-Trent UK, at the time soon after I’d started school aged five. If you enjoy it and subsequently download the book my sincere thanks and I hope you enjoy that too. I’d be so grateful for a review on my amazon page if you do.

Out now, the sequel

Better or Dead

Now it’s Friday, the end of the week and the pouring rain has washed away the ice and snow. The skies are grey, the wind is howling all around the buildings and the rain is battering on the windows so we can’t go out to play this dinnertime, that’s why we’re sitting in the classroom where they have hot dinners now that all the tables have been cleared away. I think it’s a pity they can’t clear away the smell too; custard and cabbage all mixed together, yuk!

I stay at school for my dinner now, but I have dry dinners. That means that Mum makes me sandwiches of lemon cheese, which is my favourite. She calls them pieces, but I think sandwiches sounds much better – it sounds posh and pieces doesn’t. Why on earth they call them dry dinners I don’t know, because lemon cheese isn’t dry, it’s sticky, and some people bring tomatoes and they are wet, but anyway, we are sitting in the room that is Class 3.

I’m wearing my favourite red tartan skirt and red cardy. I like red; it makes me feel happy. Some of the junior children are in with us and they are sitting at the back because they are very big. The room is full so we’ve all got to sit still.

Oh goody, one of the teachers is bringing the musical instruments in so it looks like we might get to play something. I don’t like this teacher; it isn’t Mrs Wardle, this one has a pointed nose and glasses sitting on the end of it. Her whole face is pointed and she reminds me of Jack Frost.

She’s giving the instruments to us younger children sitting at the front and oh, I’d really love to play the triangle. I love that magical instrument with its shining, three sided silver shape and the little silver stick to tap it with.
‘Ting’ it goes. It sounds like something that fairies would dance to in the woods. ‘Ting. Ting.’

I put up my hand, reaching it as high as I can until I feel I could almost touch the ceiling.
She gives it to a girl on the front row and I put my hand down, feeling like a party balloon when you’ve let all the air out. I put it up again quickly as she holds up the tambourine. It isn’t dainty like the triangle but it has a good sound. I like the jingle jangling metal circles in the side, and the slap slapping noise it makes when you hit it. Besides, girls use them in dance troupes, and I want to be in a dance troupe when I’m older. I love dancing. One teacher, Mrs Oakley, gives us ballet and tap lessons once a week, and I wish it were everyday.

I wave my hand at the Jack Frost teacher so that she’ll give me the tambourine.
“Here you are,” she says and I’m thrilled. She’s giving it to me, but no. She leans over and gives it to Brad behind me. My balloon shrinks even more.
“You can have these.” She gives me two blue sticks. “Tap them together and keep time.”

What on earth am I supposed to do with these? What kind of instrument is two sticks clacked together? They’re the most boring objects on the music stand. I don’t want these! I give her my dumb insolence look but she pays me no attention; she’s busy giving out the cymbals. I’m not happy and start to fidget. The wooden floorboards are scratchy on the bare tops of my legs.

“Ow!” I’ve squealed it before I’ve realised I’ve opened my mouth.

“What’s the matter with you?” asks Jack Frost. She wants to get to the piano so she can plonk on it and we can all bang and crash our instruments and the older children can sing.

“Nothing Miss. Ow!” It’s there again, an awful stabbing pain in my bum cheek every time I move. “I think I’ve sat on something Miss.”

“Come here and let me see.”

I don’t really want her looking at my bottom, but I know she’ll have to. As I go out to the front every eye in the room is on me.

“Bend over,” says Jack Frost unkindly.

I really don’t want to but I have to and my face must be as red as my cardy and tartan skirt. She pulls at my arm and drags me across her knee, face down, and flings my red tartan skirt up over my back, showing my white knickers to all the children. Everyone is straining to get a better look.

“Ooh you’ve got a great big splinter in your bottom!” She bellows it like the bull in the field we walk past in the lane and her voice bounces off the walls.

The big children on the back row have necks like giraffes as they stretch them so that they don’t miss anything. They haven’t enjoyed a wet dinnertime so much in a long time.

“Hold still while I pull it out.”

I’m thinking that Jack Frost is enjoying this. She tugs at the splinter making me yell and the other children get fidgety and excited and lean up even further to get a better view. They can’t wait to see the splinter. I don’t know which cheeks are redder, my bum cheeks or those on my face.

“There!” Jack gives a smile that says she’s pleased with herself and holds the splinter high for all the children to see, just as though it’s some silver cup she’s won. There are gasps of shock as Jack puts my skirt down hiding my knickers, but as everyone’s seen them now it doesn’t matter anymore. My face still feels hot as I go back to where I was sitting, and this time I look for splinters sticking up before I pull my skirt right underneath me and sit carefully. I’ll never be able to wear my tartan skirt or play the clacking sticks again without remembering a sore bottom and a red face.


Shadow Across the Sun



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2 responses to “Tartan Skirts and Triangles

  1. When you’re a child especially a young child, some adults can be quite terrifying. I don’t think todays teachers/assistants are as bad as they once were. There seems to be more understanding of how children’s minds process actions and comments. I can remember when I was about four or five and new to school. I had school dinners too and we had to hand over a dinner ticket as we entered the dining room. There was an elderly gentleman sitting in the doorway collecting them. I was terrified of him because he wouldn’t take the ticket from you unless it was presented the right way up. He would just glare at you without speaking. At five years old I didn’t recognise which way up the ticket should be and it was hit and miss whether I got it right. I dreaded standing before the miserable old beggar in case I got it wrong. I still remember those awful dinner times to this day.
    Beautifully written excerpt Ms Lowe.

  2. Thank you Maureen, I’m glad it struck a chord with you. The miserable old beggar sounds terrifying!

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