Village School was fun. Although almost all who attended knew each other, it was still a brand new experience. I remember having open roofed toilets, something which was new to me. When you needed to go you would put up your hand, then go to the front
where the teacher would ask you what kind of business you envisaged being engaged in - then she would reach into her desk drawer and tear you off anything from two to five sheets of Izal non absorbent paper to meet the size of your needs. Clutching this we
would then make our way across the yard to sit in full view of all the heavens until we had finished.
The boys, beside an open air long urinal,had four sitting down toilets all with an uninterrupted views of the sky. I remember the end one was
never used as this was set aside as the 'Fever', toilet, only to be used by those with an overactive bowel, crabs or such like. No one ever used this one, except if the village was affected with the 'Gallop', then it was everyman for himself, no one cared
where they went - this was when the open air aspect came into its own and the rain was welcomed.
School comprised of two classes, the first being the Infants - that was the basic starter class where you learnt how to read,write,draw and recite
endless times tables that were scattered about on the walls, together with pictures of things like a big red Apple with 'A is for..' going right through to a dippy looking stripped horse that bore the name ' Z is for..'
As we learnt the basics
of writing we graduated to using a quill pen, dipping its scratchy nib into a little inkwell on the corner of our desk. I progressed quickly, copying the exercises was boring and I reached the Z horse at record time. It was then, during those moments of unemployment
that I discovered that if you broke off the pointed nib end of your pen,it would reveal two sharp prongs, immediately converting a simple pen into a spear that would stick into wood. This amused me, I remember looking over to Podgy, who had made the
same discovery. Of course being a young lad of around 6, having such a formidable weapon in my possession was too much and within a short time I was completely corrupted and sold into mischief.
Our school believed in integration so each double desk
housed a boy and girl.I sat next to a girl called Susan, who was rather long timid soul who wore an oversized skirt that often flowed onto my part of the seat. I quiet liked her, as a girl she was okay - it was her skirt I didn't like. it just took up too
This irritation combined with my boredom became a dangerous combination. I discovered I could redress the balance by throwing my newly made ‘Assigi’ and pinning her skirt to the bench. This made me feel good. Susan was
okay at first, but then as I got a bit more daring with my aim, she somehow lost her sense of humour and would yelp out loud from time to time. Now this caused me to wonder about two things in life. The first being how quickly the female species can
loose their sense of humour, the second how quickly a good idea can catch on!
Within a short time Podgy was pinging away at his allotted girl. Sadly for him he sat next to Georgina, a strapping lass from the fens, with no sense of humour at all. Although
only 6, she towered above Podgy. As he threw his pen and pinned her dress to the bench, she glared at him,snarled and clouted him with such force on the back of his head that his face banged on the desk which must have started his nose bleeding and the force
of it shot the inkwell out of its socket into the air, spraying ink all over and landing on Patricia Pilsworth in the row in front. Podgy. against his better judgement, attempted to defend himself against his oversized assailant, but with a nose bleed,
a sore head and bruised ego, was no match for the towering threat from the fens. Georgina snarled and pushed him off the bench seat right into the isle crashing into the next desk.
We might of gotten away with it, had the shock disturbance not caused
Gerald Hethersump to swallow his rubber and stop breathing. He coughed it up eventually, but not after turning an odd colour for a few seconds. Of course it was all traced back to the source and I experienced my first taste of school discipline in front
of all the class.
Soon, however time would come when you had mastered all the basics and you graduated to the Senior class, where we got to go on Nature rambles, listen to the schools broadcast on the old wireless in the corner and try to identify bird
and country noises. Being a small village school of no more than 50 children, the emphasis was upon our rural skills. Hardly anyone got a job other than something to do with the land,so it was crucial to know what animal would bite and what such and such a
beast sounded like.
Our classroom was full of wild flowers and Newts in tanks,water soaked blotting paper with Cress seeds scattered on it. We had bits of trees everywhere, all labelled. Smells too were important the classrooms reeked of the earth.
In each room were two enormous Egg shaped coke burners, surrounded by railings. The smell was wonderful and comforting - they were always stoked up until their bell-like bottom glowed red. On a cold day,the teachers taught with their nether regions propped
against the railings. At break times we would all gather around them and entertain ourselves by spitting onto the top hot plate and watching the spit bubble and bob and spin round till it disappeared. What surprises me now is that no one was every burnt or
hurt by these things! But the smell was wonderful, flowers, trees,Newts,burning Coke and occasionally wood burning combined with Mr Pantlin's Diggers Shag to create a smell that made a small child fee safe and very secure. Even as mature as 9 years old we
still loved the smell.
One thing I have observed about life is that often whenever you feel secure and comfortable, things happen to shake you. It was one Wednesday morning we were drifting off listening to Nature Ramble on the wireless, that suddenly
an ear-piercing scream, like we had never heard before shook the room. It came from the behind a large heavy usually bolted door that led to the PT store, one of the rooms off the main classroom. We all feared for our lives. It was a if a great animal was
locked in their and was about to burst out and devour us all.
Then when you think it can't get any scarer, it does, the great door burst open, banging against the wall and revealing a white, trembling thing, that we though it resembled Rex. From
top to bottom it was quivering, its eyes bulging, its hair standing almost straight up. A closer examination from behind a desk revealed that it was indeed Rex! The creature at first couldn't speak in a rational manner, it must have used up all its
speech powers in the scream. At about the same time his hair returned to its place on his head, his power of speech returned.
'I saw it...it's in there..'
'What did you see..what are you talking about boy speak up!!' retorted Mr. Pantlin.
'The ghost, the ghost of the Polish Pilot' replied Rex
Now I should at this point explain the Polish Pilot was a well known ghost, who had been seen from time to time in various places around the village. During his earthly existence he was a bomber
pilot flying out of one of our local airfields. Badly shot up,his crew bailed out over the fens and he manfully tried to make Waddington airfield by following the river and then turning left. Sadly he turned too early and he and his battered Wellington crashed
in a field near the village. He was killed instantly but since then he is said to wander the village asking for directions to Waddington. I had never seen him, I know those who have, and now Rex it appeared had joined the elite band of those who had met the
I should also explain how Rex got into the PT store. Earlier that morning he had been talking during registration and was sent there to tidy up the Raffia matts and put all the balls and rackets etc in order. Everyone forgot he was
in there. Apparently he had settled down on a pile of mats and nodded off. The PT store was dark dismal place not unlike a cellar. It had one small window at the top of its external walls which let in precious little light.
As Rex drifted off the light
from the small window changed with course of the sun and alighted different parts of the store. Piecing his story together - we can only assume that he had awoke in a disoriented state. As he fought to remember where he was and to focus on the world
again, the changing light picked out a scary apparition. There he was, the Polish pilot.
On his head his leather flying helmet,his large goggles and coming from his face a large elephant like rubber tube with a tin box on the opposite end. He was shorter
than imagined and his body was very thin, Rex said that he thought all his flesh had burnt away leaving only a bone upon which his head rested. Seeing such a sight is not usual for someone on waking and it hadn't taken Rex long to realise this was not normal,
this resulted in his reaction, he was cornered, the grizzly thing was picked out by the beam of light and seemed to be mocking him.
Rex was up in record time, scattering the Raffia mats, trying to get traction to increase the speed of his exit.
He banged about a couple of times bouncing off what he thought was the door in an effort to escape. He told how he placed his hands over his ears in case the Pilot asked him to the way to Waddington as he tried to make his getaway. Finally he found the great
wooden door and flung it open into the light leaving the apparition behind.
We were all amazed and still trembling with shock. No one would go near the PT store. Everyone felt uneasy about the cold dark place before, but now the Polish Pilot had put
in an appearance no one would go near it.
That is, except Willy Wilfred and me. We were keen to get into the room and we had our reasons The rest of the school didn't understand and thought we were very brave
The day before we had been stowing
away the football equipment and after the usual root around to see what was in there, we came across two boxes of old gas masks, it was too tempting to resist putting them on and groaning at each other hunching our backs and dragging a leg and trying to look
scary. We thought about bursting out into the playground with them on and chasing the girls. This appealed for a while, but better judgement decided against it. However Willy had a brainwave. He took a broom handle placed one of the larger gas masks, the ones
with a trunk and tin box, on the top of it and propped it up in the far corner.It looked weird - and it still did when we entered the store watched by the whole school. We took the Polish Pilot down from his broom handle and quickly hid him in a box containing
the rest of his squadron. We then,slowly, opened the large door, milking the occasion and appeared ‘unkilled’, with our hair flat before the amazed and admiring school.
We never told anyone why we were so brave, Rex to this day believes
he met the Polish Airman and so do all the school. It would have been unkind to tell him and rob him of his status of being pointed at by folk in the street saying
'Look there he is, he's seen the Pilot - go ask him
Then Rex would recount
the amazing encounter in the PT store.'
We, however, enjoyed basking in our hero status and Rex enjoyed his new standing - so everyone was happy.
I would also add that Rex spent some weeks after memorizing the quickest way up the heath
to Waddington. just in case the Polish Pilot paid him another visit. He never did - as shortly after that event all our Gas masks were called in by the government.
© john cropley