Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris:
School life at Hunters Tryst generally followed the rhythm of the seasons and moved seamlessly from autumn through winter and spring before we broke up for the magically long summer holidays, which in my mind’s eye were always blissfully sunny.
The days had a certain pattern too. Come the dreaded Monday morning we dragged our feet from home to school. As we made our way along Oxgangs Park the bin men were usually out collecting bins. For some reason it introduced a little excitement. The bin men were always animated and loud and the air was full of dust from the ashes of the cleared fires, but I don’t recall anything ever happening, apart from an occasional car being delayed.
The snows of winter led to some excellent slides being formed on the downhill pavement outside the school entrance at Oxgangs Rise. The slides became so fast and treacherous that neighbours would eventually melt them with a liberal dose of Saxa Salt. The container had a child chasing a hen, with the slogan, See how it runs! And then it was Christmas and a New Year; a new term and learning the poetry of Robert Burns for Burns Day.
As we moved into the spring, and after Easter, the mornings became warmer and warmer and the scent of hawthorn and whin could be caught on the breeze and the cherry trees came into blossom. It was always a lovely feeling going to school in just a short sleeved top, not to mention the ever present short trousers.
Sometimes it was a different smell which greeted us on the return journey, if Mr McQueen, a keen gardener at Oxgangs Park, had taken a fresh delivery of farmyard manure for his large vegetable garden. I was always impressed at him doing this as no one else in the community did so; it struck me that he must be more knowledgeable and go ahead than any other local gardener. I liked too that an aspect of the countryside was brought to urban, concrete Oxgangs, albeit a smelly one!
Coming home from school in the afternoon had a very different feel. It was often lighter; always warmer; and you were free, even if it was only for an hour of leisure time. The afternoon departures were both more intense and crowded, with everyone trying to squeeze out together at the same time from the narrow lane exit. Once out into Oxgangs Rise the crowds dispersed quickly unless there were the cries of fight...fight... when a circular crowd would gather. Too often I found myself inside the ring!
|Old entrance to Hunters Tryst Primary School|
The days followed a pattern which was comforting. When something different happened to interrupt the general cycle of the school year it was always an exciting moment; particularly if it was unexpected. Sometimes we would get away early if the weather took a bad turn, perhaps after a very heavy downpour of rain or a deep fall of snow. Once or twice there was an occasional power cut-getting away early from school was always good news. Other variations in the year would include Harvest Festival and the School Sports Day when we enjoyed a half day.
|Hunters Tryst Primary School, boarded up before being torn down|
It was school which was the vehicle which brought us all together-to laugh, cry, fight, play, learn and get up to adventures and misadventures-the glue which held us together; and the place where we interacted with teachers who taught us and from whom we learned and with whom we had grown up and who were an integral part of our lives.
And then, come that last week of June, when the school bell rings out for the last time, for those in Primary 7 the world comes to an abrupt end and a new beginning. It happens in the blink of an eye, like a guillotine coming down hard and quick-a brutal act. And we're all knowing, but unknowing. It sounds like a normal bell, but in reality and borrowing from Donne, is more akin to a funeral bell, signifying the end of school life at Hunters Tryst and the end of the interconnectedness of social life there. We spend days, weeks, months and years sharing a life together and then it's all over and we go our separate ways.
|6 Oxgangs Avenue, Edinburgh|
Similarly, it was The Stair which brought us all together, but unlike life at Hunters Tryst, The Stair as we knew it, died a slow, insidious death rather than the cold, clean sounding of a bell. And as mentioned in one of the very early vignettes, The Gap In The Curtain, because The Stair is still there, in a strange way we feel that if we enter through the front door of Number 6, that we can pass seamlessly through to another dimension, to another world, to the world of the 1960s, which of course no longer exists.
Today, Mrs Hilda Hanlon (6/7) is the last remaining original member at The Stair-The Last of the Mohicans. For the rest of us, we went off in a new direction, to establish new rhythms, new patterns, and new friendships, blissfully unaware that for all the children at The Stair, when the bell rang out, it rang out for us all. Even for those of us who didn't hear it-it sounded out for the end of an era.