Whoever it was that said the young don’t feel the cold had obviously never experienced trailing through knee-high snowdrifts wearing the cheapest of gym shoes. I stayed less than a mile from the school but it might as well have been the distance between base camp one and the summit of Mount Everest. Once or twice I even looked behind me just in case my Sherpas were in trouble. Nor was it any comfort to arrive at the classroom itself, filled with a certain amount of pride in having got there in one piece, only to be met by a fog of intensely distasteful odours as soon as the door was opened. The trenches in France were probably more bearable though, the men at least had a war to distract them.
I looked around at the motley crew that had sojourned here in expectation of receiving an education and I could already see the look of abject misery being written on their frozen faces. No more than fifteen hardy individuals had made it; five, now six, boys and the rest girls. The girls had sensibly dressed for winter. Rows of brightly coloured wellingtons with thick socks and large mittens draped over their ends were lined up against the wall to my left. Alternative footwear was worn by each of them. Duffle coats were stowed behind each girl’s seat. I quickly scanned the boys and was not too shocked to note that many had come without jackets altogether and were now shivering in their drenched white shirts. Ties, once worn with dignity, were now hanging around their owner’s necks like limp lettuce leaves.
Some of the lads had taken their shoes off and had parked them rather precariously at the top of the single radiator that passed for warmth in the class. A few were even barefoot having obviously gone to the back of the room to wring out their socks. I presumed that they had all reached some consensus in doing this as there appeared to be a puddle on the floor, the size of which an Olympic swimmer would happily have practised a few lengths in. Filthy feet danced uncontrollably below their desks on the cold linoleum. The aforementioned socks now decorated many of the remaining seat backs, steam seemingly rising above them.
Crowded into the far left of the Commonwealth Pool perched a gaggle of girls who were simultaneously trying to avoid the stench that now emanated from all corners of the room by waving handkerchiefs under their noses whilst trying to maintain a cool detachment from what was, after all, a ludicrous situation. Thus far no teacher had arrived. The time was 9.06 am and the bell for the first period was due to ring. I quickly sat down at the front of the first column of seats as my arrival was met by ironic cheers from my fellow students. I said nothing in return as I concentrated instead on sliding my sodden gym apparel into position below the desk and with the least noise possible.
Outside, the snow had returned with a vengeance and a three inch ridge had formed on the window ledge. The dreaded bell tolled. Glancing around the room I could sense that no-one really wanted to be here but then no-one was in the mood to go outside again either. Just as we began to rise there was a hiss and a crackle from the intercom – the voice unmistakably that of the feared Mr Morrison, the Vice Principal, in charge of torturing all first and second year students:
“Students – please can I have your attention. It is Mr Morrison here. I am sure that you like myself, will be disappointed to learn that the school authorities have decided to close the school today due to the inclement weather we are having.”
There was a pause that lasted just long enough for the cheers of both students and staff to die down and then he continued.
“For those students who cannot return home for any reason there will be a meeting in the main hall so that you can be made aware of further arrangements. Students should leave in an orderly fashion. Please remember to collect all belongings. Further information will be made available through television and radio channels. Thank you.”
There was no great excitement in the room at the prospect of trudging home once more. Turning out the Sunblest paper from the depths of my schoolbag I looked at my meagre rations: one banana, a small packet of peanuts and a sandwich of discoloured luncheon meat. I hoped that my Sherpas were fond of Plumrose Chopped Ham and Pork.