All I ever wanted to be was a wife and a mother. Call me old fashioned but I totally bought into the whole ‘homemaker’ vibe. However, fate had other ideas and when my then husband became ill. I had no choice but to work part-time to makes ends meet. One of my jobs was a school caretaker. Yes, school caretaker! Not all school caretakers look like Argus Filch!
Some are 5ft 1″, brunette and wear Reeboks innit?
The school was purpose built in 1939, just before the second world war broke out. The Anderson shelter wasn’t dismantled and filled in until the 1980’s. That’s one of the things I loved about the place, it’s history.
When I started working there in 1995, it had hardly changed at all since it was built. Part of my job was to maintain an ambient room temperature which is sort of impossible when you have menopausal staff who are shivering one minute and flinging off their cardies the next. Nightmare!
Although most of my work was mostly done around school hours, sometimes I’d nip down to do some gardening and it was a joy to listen to the children singing nursery rhymes. It was hard to believe that one day those little angels would become moody, acne-ridden, angst filled arse-holes, like I was.
The downside to the job was having to deal with vandalism..
Each Monday morning I’d apprehensively open the gate and hope that the local louts hadn’t been up to their usual tricks of kicking in fence panels, or worse, smashing in windows. Once, I found an old mattress and some used condoms behind the shed.
The. Dirty. Bastards.
Shagging someone on a stained mattress in the grounds of a nursery school?
The empty cans of Tesco Value lager gave some clue as to the level of ‘chav’ I was dealing with. That said, at least they were using condoms so I suppose there was some degree of intelligence in there.. After a minute of intense effing, I snapped on several pairs of Marigolds, scooped up the offending ‘joy bags’ with a shovel and marched across the playground in the direction of the bins. As soon as I got home, I plunged my hands in disinfectant. The council came and carted away the mattress of shame and we planted the area with prickly shrubs as a shag deterrent. Only a complete idiot would risk puncturing his clackers on that lot!
My strangest find were some photographs of a lady that I found scattered over the grass one morning. I couldn’t go around the neighbouring houses knocking on doors asking who they belonged to cus, well, they were a bit saucy, innit! I decided to take advice from the head teacher, who almost choked on her Polo mint when she saw the lady resplendent in her suspenders and DD peep-hole bra. She concluded that it was best to deny all knowledge of them and fed them through the shredder.
One of the cutest moments was when I was changing the paper towels in the toilets and one cute little boy held out his painting to me and said. ‘Hold this, Mrs lady, I’m going for a poo!’
Originally, the school had three intakes of forty children a year but nursery classes being opened within nearby primary schools meant that numbers started to dwindle. The council took the decision to close the school when the intake dropped to 25 saying that it was no longer financially viable. Despite a petition put forward from thousands of people, many of whom had attended the school themselves, the council pressed ahead with it’s plans to close and on a summer’s day in July 2005, after 66 happy years, the nursery closed.
During the big ‘clear out’ the head called me into her office and showed me some of the log books she’d found from during the war. Everything was written down. The nit nurse was mentioned a LOT. But one entry stood out to me the most. It simply said, ‘The children had their tea in the air raid shelter’. Imagine that?
I felt emotional as I stood looking round the empty building on that last day. A building which for so many years had been full of life and laughter. The walls, once adorned with paint (and dried pasta), were now stripped bare and there was an echo to the room that only comes with emptiness.
As I walked through each room, I could hear children’s voices (not literally, I’m not that bonkers, yet) I could hear their squeals of joy as they sped around on the trikes and the ear-piercing shrieks as they shoved each other over on the playground. I heard the rumble of the prams and the shrill sound of the teacher’s whistle. I saw my eldest running with his egg and spoon on sports day looking as camp as a row of tents with his floppy wrist. I saw my middle son sat there with a tea-towel on his head – picking his nose through the ENTIRE nativity play!
I was a good caretaker. I was proud of what I’d achieved and having a touch of OCD came in especially handy when it came to locking up. There were no unlocked doors or windows on MY watch, ever! However, it did take me about an hour to do my checks and re-checks…
With a heavy heart, I closed the gate for the last time and I allowed myself one last look before another chapter in my life closed.
I doubt that I will ever find a job like that. I loved every second of it. Going to work in the morning was never a chore. I loved the building. I loved the people I worked with. I loved how I ended up on the annual school tea-towel, standing there with my tiny broom and enormous arms poking out of my head..
The building sat empty for quite a while. The privets became overgrown and the cherry blossom leaves blew around because I wasn’t there to pick them up. It was sad to see. Then one day I noticed that the privets had been cut and a shiny new sign was in place of our old one. It had been bought as a private day nursery! I TOTALLY love that the building still knows the sound of children’s laughter. A new chapter in it’s life and long may it continue…I am proud to be part of it’s history.
A pity they let the old punishments die. Was a time detention would find you hanging by your thumbs in the dungeons. God, I miss the screaming ~ Argus Filch ~ Miserable git caretaker in Harry Potter