Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

September 2013

Here in the northern hemisphere, or in the Greek part of it, summer seems to linger on: it is still very hot. But leaves are beginning to fall from trees, and spirits are beginning to drop with those same leaves. At least mine are: the melancholy fit tends to strike at the first sign of autumn.

But that’s life, and that’s the turn of the seasons.

Autumn means it’s Back to School time. My eldest grandson, Nikitas, is now seven, and likes school so much that in June he announced he didn’t want holidays; after three fun months of sea and sun, I have an idea he may have changed his mind. But off he and his younger brother will trot in a spirit of anticipation, while their parents worry about the continuing Greek krisi and what may happen in Syria.

It is a very long time since I was seven, since my sister and I set off to school together, and walked across the Adelaide- Melbourne Highway, looking left, right, and then left again as we had been taught to do. In the southern hemisphere it was, of course, February, and our parents were very probably worrying about the Cold War and the cost of living.

Nikitas and Maximus will have doubtless plagued their mother with requests for new school bags. Jacqui and I had leather satchels, and we had them for years, as those were the days when things were expected to last, and mostly did. N and M will also slope off in their very casual gear, but their grandmother and great-aunt lived in more formal times. Socks and sandals and short-sleeved cotton frocks (I remember one of mine as being of a dark green plaid design) were the order of the day. It had been decided that we had passed the stage of needing our handkerchiefs pinned to our fronts, but we could never escape the hair ribbon ordeal.

Mothers then seemed slaves to hair ribbons, all of which had to match dresses, and to be washed and ironed regularly; in the days before steam irons, all those fiddly items had to be damped and rolled up before being pressed. Mum tied our bows, slid each result on to a bobby pin, which was then scratched along our respective scalps.  We had to be careful: woe betide the owner of a bow that slipped, or worse, fell off and returned home dirty, crumpled, and in a pocket.

Our school supplies were very modest, and the book list had gone home with each child before Christmas. I remember the two HB pencils for the dread drawing lessons, and the piece of green cesarine for the even more dread embroidery lessons: cross-stitch, satin stitch, boredom and blood, since I was forever pricking my finger. Although, as already stated, I was not good at drawing, I loved my box of Lakeland coloured pencils, I suspect because the scene on the box was an indication of other and very different places, a suggestion that the world was in fact a far bigger place that I could then dream of.

Grade 3, the class I began that February, was a big year: this was the year we left our writing pencils behind, and began to learn copperplate, the year we learned about ink wells and steel nibs, and the need for blotting paper. We all had to take our turn at being ink monitor, which ideally meant no spillages in our efforts to keep the inkwells topped up. We had to write Australia, the island continent endlessly, taking care to be light on the upstrokes and heavy on the down ones. And now I read that in some American states handwriting is no longer taught. Presumably the children learn to sign their names for bureaucratic purposes at some stage.

I nearly forgot to mention the item of the tin mug that was on the book list. When starting at our new school in the Wimmera, and having come from a school with bubble-taps, we had no clear idea what the mug was for. All was revealed mid-morning on that first day, when children were lined up at a corrugated iron tank and instructed to fill their mugs. The water was warm, tasted of dust, and doubtless had its share of wrigglers. A while later, a possum had the cheek to drown in one of the tanks, and the teachers had to deal with the problem: in those days, teachers were expected to cope with anything.

Well, I eventually got to places I had never really dreamed of: the first one was Greece. Fast forward to 1980, when my eldest son, then also aged seven, had to start Grade Three at the school in his father’s village. He took on the religious ceremony of being blessed with holy water with great equanimity, as I recall. But the issue of books was another matter. He staggered home under the weight of at least ten thick volumes, and very frightened he looked. And very frightened I felt, although I tried not to show it.

Somehow we both survived. 

Gillian Bouras

 

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