Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


February 21, 2019

Distressing news from back home this week: my elementary school has gone into administration. An independent school in a converted family home, Buckholme Towers was the place that taught me how to pull off a straw sunhat and blazer while conjugating French verbs in a squeaky voice.

Nobody seems quite sure what happened to this institution of my own learning. The announcement was made out of the blue last Friday, coming as a surprise even to the current crop of parents.

I heard tell there is a plan to revive the school as a nonprofit, which is a relief. Along with my old classmates, I have been reminiscing about those halcyon days when school was about simple sums and storytime and I should be sad to see it disappear.

I have so many fond memories of its creaky stairs that wound in circles as they led to the headmistress’s office and the distinct smell of crash mats down in the gym. I will never forget the distress of being the last person to sit down on the bench for assembly, which meant I was stuck on the end part where the leg fixtures were and had to balance on the uncomfortable knobbly bit.

I will always remember my penultimate year, when we were awarded the privilege of helping Mrs. Cake (which is still the best name I’ve ever heard for a cook) dole out lunches to the smaller students.

My memories of the dining area are particularly fond because supervision was lax, which meant my best friends and I could concoct plans to reserve an unbalanced number of roast potatoes for ourselves. Mrs. Cake’s chocolate desserts were divine, so of course we soon figured out how to steal an extra portion.

I also recall that what passed for salad at Buckholme Towers was a combination of lettuce, processed meat and shredded cheese with no other ingredients. This was Mrs. Cake’s one transgression when it came to cooking because I don’t think she believed salad was a thing worth eating in the first place.

We didn’t care much for lettuce either, so we would pile cheese on our plates and hide our sins with a single leaf of Iceberg. Never trust a child to portion out their own vegetables.

I also liked our school nurse very much – he was a kind man who fussed over you when you felt under the weather. I believe I faked at least one earache just so I could spend an hour in his office, which was only slightly more virtuous than the classmate who kept stabbing herself in the nose with a compass.

Our teachers were wonderful, from Mrs. Clarke helping us read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in English to the slightly batty lady who taught us French one sound at a time, shrieking “eeeeeeeee” across the classroom before making us recite every word she could think of that contained a similar noise. Then there was Mrs. Bexon, who was known by her imaginative students as “Bossy Bexon” because she was the strictest of them all.

I will always remember Speech Day, which was both the parents’ chance to see their younglings awarded prizes and an opportunity for us to put on a show for them. I’m not sure it was always as entertaining as we kids assumed.

For instance, I took ballet when I was very small, but you haven’t learned to pirouette by the age of four, so instead we sat in a row and pointed our toes repeatedly for what seemed like hours. One year, though, we reenacted the entire Battle of Hastings with wooden swords and tinfoil helmets, which surely must have been fun to watch.

Buckholme Towers was tiny compared to most. Even now, its classrooms only hold around 125 kids in total, which is miniscule compared to your average British primary school.

It couldn’t have held any more if it tried, located, as it was, in an old Victorian house. This was part of the reason my parents chose it for me, though it would be many years after I graduated that my mother would admit the real reason.

She liked the hats. Yes, you heard me correctly. The Buckholme Towers uniform is green and gray, with a hat for the winter and another for summer. It was the latter version, a “boater”, with a thick green ribbon tied around the brim, which would be responsible for shaping my education right out of the gate.

When the news of my school’s demise broke, I’m sad to say that, though some kind soul immediately jumped on GoFundMe in an attempt to gather enough money to keep the school open, it didn’t do very well. When last I looked, it had only raised £35, or about $50. I suppose the kids can buy a box of crayons to keep themselves out of trouble while they sit in the playground wondering where all the teachers went, but that’s going to be about it.

I know the world moves on and nothing stays the same forever, but I do hope they find a way to keep my school open. Not because I would like to see my own past preserved, though I’ll admit that plays a part, but because I’d like new generations to keep making memories of their own.

The building was gutted by a fire a few years ago and then rebuilt, so it doesn’t look the same as it once did. By now, I would guess all our teachers have retired, so there’ll be no Mrs. Moore hitting kids on the head with rulers when they haven’t learned their times tables (which is probably a good thing).

But it’s still the school that requires its students to own a collection of hats and the classes are still small enough that there’s only one friendship clique. I’m willing to bet the older kids are still keeping the biggest slice of pie for themselves and I think the two trees are still there in the playground with a stone border that’s perfect for playing “the floor is lava”.

Buckholme Towers was a unique experience, much closer to the small classes and homely feel of Crook County’s schools than most of its city alternatives. I would love to think there are kids not even born yet who will follow my footsteps into an old, converted house just because their mothers were enamored with a summer hat.


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