The thing with Catholic primary schools is that a lot of time is spent on religious instruction, such as the Catechism and the Creed; initiation into the Sacraments, such as Holy Communion and Confession, and the celebration of feast days and festivals, such as Christmas and Easter. I remember having to learn the Catechism by rote. It taught us things like Baptism enables eternal life, and the Blessed Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. (These are such difficult concepts to comprehend as a child, and it is no wonder I was highly susceptible to that ghost in my house.) We also had to learn the Times Tables and spelling words by rote. It’s easy to repeat something mindlessly, but the information just doesn’t sink in. Thank goodness they caught on that this method of teaching is not conducive to learning. However, learning lines is something I’ve always found problematic. I recall many a tortuous hour I spent years later trying to learn quotations from Shakespeare for my English literature ‘A’ level: ‘I am more sinned against than sinning’ is one that springs to mind. I greatly admire those who act in the theatre, who learn hundreds of lines for one production, then move on to the next job and have to start over. When I started school I could read and write quite well, having been taught by my mother at home, but at school they had those Peter and Jane books which were based on phonetic learning. These set me back. It was like looking at another language, and I felt stupid until the rest of the class caught up and we went on to ‘proper’ books.
Christmas at school was lovely. I have fond memories of assembling the huge Crib, making decorative stained-glass windows out of coloured transparent plastic and glitter, constructing angels’ wings out of cardboard and tin foil for the nativity play, and singing in the Christmas carol service. The highlight was the Christmas Fair. It was held on a Saturday afternoon, and was open to the public. The school hall was packed with various stalls and games: the bottle stall where you could win anything from a bottle of tomato sauce to a bottle of whiskey; the pick- a-straw stall where you win everything else; the guess the name of the doll stall, the guess how many sweets in the jar stall, and numerous cake stalls. Santa (St. Nicholas) paid us a visit, and at the end of the day there was a big raffle.
Easter wasn’t as much fun. Easter is the biggest feast day in the Catholic calendar, and it is marked by sacrifice, suffering and sadness – and, of course, Salvation. In the period leading up to Easter, otherwise known as Lent, we had to give up something. Since I had no particular notable vices at this age I invariably plumped for chocolate. It’s surprising how much chocolate a child can acquire without actually spending any money, much by way of grandparents. By the time Easter arrived, I had usually accumulated a sizable stash: Mars bars, Marathons, Maltesers, Freddos, Wagon Wheels etc. I must admit the frustration of abstaining from these sweet delights was eased somewhat by the knowledge that I would soon be able to gorge on them to my hearts content. Apart from this relatively small personal sacrifice made in honour of Jesus, Lent also involved having to do the rather more emotionally harrowing Stations of the Cross. There are fourteen of these in all, and they are situated at regular intervals on the interiors walls of the church. Each station depicts a scene in Jesus’ life; from when he is sentenced to death leading up to when he is laid in the tomb. In our church these scenes are depicted in framed wooden carvings, with gold Roman numerals indicating the number of the Station. We, the class, would walk round the walls, stopping at each station where one of us gave a brief reading, describing the scene. We would say a few prayers, and then move on to the next Station. Apart from our young hearts being wracked with sorrow at the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, it was also a physically painful experience having to stand around for ages in the freezing cold church - you could see your breath. All in all, it was quite an ordeal, which I suppose is fitting regarding the subject matter.
To cut a long story short: