My local memories: from slates to smoky holes - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views


We didn’t write on paper when I started school in the 1950s: we wrote on slates with slate pencils made of a softer form of slate. Work was erased using sponges. Slate was considered easier for beginners than pen and messy ink. Ballpoint pens existed, but I can’t remember when we started using them in school. I remember using pen and ink and often ‘blotted my copybook’. Each desk had a hole for an inkwell located where two could share. Ink and kids are not a good mix, resulting in inky handprints, spills, and blots on books and clothes. Eventually, we transitioned to pencils and ballpoint pens, but the holes in desks remained.

The desks also had a shelf where students could store books. Smoking was still a common practice. Some teachers smoked, but students would get into big trouble (e.g., the cane) if caught smoking. (Actually, people don’t smoke. The cigarettes smoke – the people are just the suckers.) One day some boys in the back row showed off by smoking in class. They took puffs when the teacher was not looking, then held the cigarettes below the desk, out of sight. The smoke rose; the teacher got suspicious and moved closer. To avoid detection, the smokers threw their cigarettes into the shelf under their desks. Unfortunately, their books, papers and other flammable objects on the shelf caught fire, and smoke chimneyed out of the hole in the top of the desk. The more those boys tried to cover up their antics, the more they were exposed. ‘Where there is smoke, there is fire’ –
or at least naughty boys.

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