How We Enjoyed Ourselves
Whenever the day was dry and the time of year was appropriate, we would leave home for school as soon as possible, run to school with our girds (hoops) and play 'bools' (marbles) or conkers when we got there. Market Day was on a Tuesday and then the early risers could help the cattlemen and shepherds to herd their animals towards Cupar, for it was on the way to school. Most village boys and girls worked also in market gardens during April to October after school hours, Saturdays and in school holidays. In many cases, children from poor families had to leave school and they, like the men, worked full-time on local farms and market-gardens and in mills - but for a fraction of the men's rates of pay. I cannot recall ever hearing of school inspectors following up truancy cases; the school authorities were not strict. It seemed to me that any twelve-year-old or over pupil from a poor family who could satisfy the local inspector that they had reached a coping standard in reading, writing and counting were given 'Nelson's Eye' approval to miss school and take up full-time jobs instead. I knew that my parents and my elder brothers made sacrifices to keep me at school full-time.
Children not only worked hard in and out of school, they also played hard at all kinds of sports and games in their spare time. April was the month for making our own kites and flying them, cutting willows to make bows and arrows for games, also going over fields, listening to larks, cuckoos, bleating lambs and for the elusive corncrake.
In the spring and early summer it was grand fun, guddling in burns for minnows, eels, baggies, tadpoles and catching other insects such as bees and butterflies in jam jars. During our guddling we sometimes became so excited that we got our clothes and shoes wet chasing after creatures, and other highjinks usually led to tears in our pants. All of this usually earned us smacked bottoms, because clothes and shoes were expensive items. Our samples were proudly presented to our teacher after the weekend. They were usually fulsomely praised and used as the basis for natural history lessons which I loved. Sometimes the teacher had to find shelf space for a dozen jars, from our weekend guddling. At the end of Monday classes the 'catches' were all put into a pail and poured into a large stream which flowed to the Dura Burn.
In the growing season we were encouraged to examine the roadside carefully on our way to school for wild plants and animals and roadside gardens for signs of vegetable and fruit development. In the hedges we looked for every kind of nest and did not rob eggs or forage amongst growing crops. We reported what we had seen and heard to our teachers verbally and in essays, poems and pictures. They, to their credit, missed no opportunity to help us learn from and build upon our everyday experiences. This also gave me things of common interest to discuss with my family and so draw upon their rich fund of, and love for, all things natural.
From May onward to August for most youngsters, it was short periods at market garden work outside of school hours, then mid-June to end-July, full time work. No one grumbled, we felt we were earning to get new clothes and shoes. We also made short train trips to Dundee from Leuchars, walking six miles to Newport Ferry to cross to Dundee, with a precious shilling to spend, or six miles walk to St Andrews, or Cupar, to spend or not to spend our hard earned shilling.
After school I took part in most sports - football, cricket, running, general athletics, but I admit I was not very good.
Regular talent concerts were held in Dairsie School. I enjoyed watching or entering every event, sometimes winning prizes in poetry, yodelling, whistling and miming. I had special classes in elocution, so it was natural I had a great love for poetry and an 'edge' over my competitors. My sorties into the musical world proved hopeless. I had a bad ear for music, singing was out, except for church hymns and psalms on Sundays which I sang joyously - but not melodiously.
Occasionally a friend and I saved up enough to hire cycles. They had hard tyres as the roads were rough, no brakes and a fixed wheel. We cycled mile after mile, in fact twenty-five miles. We did enjoy ourselves. One place we had a drink of water, another a cup of milk from a farmer's wife, another a Jam-covered scone, all from strangers who admired our novel way of transport. On getting home, we cleaned our cycles, took them back and paid our one penny hire charge. By the time I was about ten years of age, my brother had quite a good cycle, with good brakes and tyres. For keeping it bright and clean and well oiled, I sometimes had the use of it. I could now enjoy many long tours around the countryside with my friends. We were interested in churches, old castles, all ancient buildings, smiddies, rivers, streams and all types of wild life. Everywhere we noted down all that we saw and, speaking for myself I later wrote essays on my adventures.
During the autumn months we played football, cricket, quoits and rounders in fields, skated or pretended to curl on frozen ponds or helped local craftsmen. Our jackets acted as goal posts or wickets and as points for bowlers and batters. Footballs were made from pig's bladders or from odds and ends of cloth, taken from old scarecrow jackets - much to the annoyance of the farmers. Cricket balls were only soft ones borrowed from the girls who used them for their ball games. Bats were home-made from the local carpenter's waste and cut and shaved by ourselves as he instructed. We really had excellent games. We had no skates, but we enjoyed sliding on ponds and even curling ponds. We really worked ourselves into sweats and rubbed the tackets and studs on our shoes and boots down to the leather.
Another fine colder-day frolic was to play in a large wood of pines and hard woods, ash, beech, oak etc. We could climb up them like monkeys. We had grand swings, made from the coconut fibre ropes used to build haystacks. Our mums often had something unpleasant to say when we got home with scratched knees, swollen fingers, limping and exhausted in scuffed boots. No wonder we were tired, the wood was over a mile away. The Blacksmith's shop attracted many boys. I loved blowing the bellows, poking the fire, watching sparks fly and horn burn as horses were being shod, tightening up harrow bolts, sweeping up the floor and picking up horse shoe nails, tools and waste. These adventures seemed to end up with me and my friends getting very dirty! All of these escapades usually ended in a smacking for someone.
In deepest winter we followed the snowploughs - or farm servants - digging paths through deep drifts to get us to school and keep essential traffic moving. We also had fun with snowball fights, building snowmen, igloos and clearing paths for elderly people.
We village children were encouraged to keep pets and to learn how to look after them in all types of weather. These included dogs, cats, white mice, rabbits and hedgehogs and were never allowed indoors. There was a fund of knowledge in the village about animals and their care amongst the farm servants who were more than willing to share it for the asking, and I asked! Most people had a hen run and always had lots of eggs and were able to sell some.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.