Gathered round an abacus

For some reason I was thinking about when I was at junior school, and I was thinking about sitting on the floor in the classroom, all of us, at the front, gathered round an abacus on a wooden stand. I can’t remember which teacher was with us, although I do remember all my teachers, and I can’t remember exactly what she was teaching us. It wasn’t a usual thing to do, so maybe it was a student teacher with new ideas, but I remember sitting cross-legged on the old grey wooden floor, looking up, with all the other boys and girls sitting there too.

In my memory it seems like a warm , sleepy afternoon, with us all craning our necks to look up at the frame with the coloured beads, and I have a sense that we were all rather bemused by it. The air seemed full of those lazy little floating particles, slowly ascending and descending in the sunshine streaming in the window. Now I’m thinking about it, almost feeling that timelessness that children have when hours go on for ever and afternoons playing pass in a flash, I think someone came into the classroom, another teacher, maybe kindly Miss Attwood the headmistress of the infants school. The door was behind the abacus, so I can’t make her out, in her dove grey skirt and cardigan, behind the wooden frame.

I tried to find an image of an abacus on a stand like the one we had at school; I have found some pictures and the abacus is described as Victorian. Maybe the abacus in our classroom was very old, maybe it was Victorian – the school was built in 1908, so maybe one of the first teachers there brought the old counting frame with them.

The school was Milton Road Junior School and my dad and his brother and sister both went there in the 1920’s. It was built in  a warm red brick, and following my dad, my sister and I, and one of my cousins all went there and have many happy memories. Despite the building being of architectural interest, it was pulled down and fancy flats and offices were built on the site of the school, it’s playground and playing field. There was a great deal of opposition from parents and local people at the time, but of course, as is the way, financial considerations prevailed, and the local school is now somewhere else.

The old red brick school might not be there any longer, but it’s still quite fresh and vivid in my mind, along with small memories of being there, in the classrooms, in the big hall, and out in the playground with my friends.

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