TRANSCRIPT OF TALK GIVEN BY MRS MARY BROWN AT THE BYGONE DAYS EXHIBITION IN THE VICTORY HALL ON FRIDAY 21ST JANUARY 2000.

Before I ever came in to the village of Lapford I frequently passed by along the A377. At that time – early seventies – Highfield was still being built and the houses had a new, Legoland look. The view from the road reminded us of the song “Little Boxes on the Hillside” so, when I came to the school for an interview in 1973, I was amazed to drive through the village centre and find old Lapford was a totally different place, full of character.

I started teaching here at Easter 1973. The Ambrosia factory was still open then, though it did close very soon afterwards – despite cheeky suggestions, this was nothing to do with me being here! Most of the children had been born in the village, as had many of their parents. Children from Zeal Monachorum and Nymet were brought in by bus every day. No one came by car. At that time most of the houses on Highfield were being snapped up by young marrieds, just starting a family. As those babies grew up the school numbers rose rapidly to about 120, dropping to about 80 when the same families grew too old for primary school and the children from Zeal were sent to Bow school.

About a year after I arrived the parents got together to try to raise money to build a swimming pool. This tool a couple of years and at first it was surrounded by larch lap fencing and the open top changing rooms were also made of larch lap. What a pity there was a strategically placed knot hole between the two sections. The boys were forever complaining that the girls were peeping. This money raising effort gave birth to the still flourishing PTA which has done so very much to enhance the facilities at the school.

In those early days I was the technological whizz kid, often sent for by other teachers – notably Mrs Raymond, to operate the tape recorder (reel to reel of course). Pride goes before a fall. Come the computer, I had to send for one of the top class to set it up for me!

In the early days we had a nativity play performed by the reception class. Until I arrived, apparently for several years, the same costumes and props had been used, and precisely the same script and songs. Fortunately I didn’t know the words so some variety was introduced, and in a very few years with the advent of Mr Parry and Mrs Caldwell, each class produced a short performance of their own. Then for several years the oldest and youngest children combined to do one play and the middle two classes combined to do another. This naturally produced some friendly rivalry, culminating, just before the National Curriculum came along to prevent so much time being used for drama, in the unforgettable performance of Aladdin. The wicked Uncle had to dance, and Aladdin had to crawl exactly where one of the chorus had let excitement get the better of him. Amazingly neither boy said a word!

Soon after Mr Parry arrived he helped restart Lapford Revel. At that time it was just procession, dancing, Morris dancing, and then sports on Saturday. Many ideas have been added and subtracted since then, some worked, some didn’t, but Revel has become a wonderful, unifying, happy time for our village. Two excellent offshoots have been the yearly pantomime and the horticultural society – both independent now but initially under the Revel umbrella. About the dancing on Thursday evenings after the crowning and “royal” procession, Mr Parry bravely undertook to teach my entire class of 6/7 year olds. He began to go just a little grey. Then he got braver still and started them maypole dancing, look at his hair now! After his retirement I asked him if he’d like to carry on doing the maypole dancing and got an emphatic negative. Odd that, when I was retiring I was asked the same thing with exactly the same reaction. However, both of us have relented, for this millennium year only, we’ve agreed to have one more go, helped by Sue Jones who is coming back to provide the live music.

About 10 or 12 years ago the RAF had a nasty accident, they dropped a sidewinder missile on us (happily, they missed everything of importance and it wasn’t armed), but they then decided to apologise in style. On the last day of the Christmas term the rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor flew past the school windows. Naturally the children went to look, they were so close, then Santa Clause appeared in the doorway, waving cheerfully. The whole school erupted out into the playground, teachers as well, cheering and leaping about like maniacs. After they’d gone, one of my seven year olds said to me “Mrs Brown, I didn’t think there really was a Santa Claus, now I know there is.” I knew just how he felt.

Three years ago the school finally got indoor loos. First they demolished the old block where the boys toilets were, then they split the area where the girls loos were, unfortunately forgetting to switch on the anti frost device when the work on that bit was done. That was the coldest Christmas holiday I ever remember, and halfway through Christine came to tell me there was a strange hissing noise coming from the loo area. When I investigated I discovered that one high up pipe had split and was spraying a huge jet of water right across the whole area. As it landed, it froze, so by the time I saw it the ice was several inches thick. The toilet bowls were full of ice and there were cascades of icicles everywhere. I went home and wrapped up in wellies, waterproof trousers, anorak, rubber gloves, and went back to turn off the water. Of course, the stopcock had to be right next to the overhead leak didn’t it!

I was very much moved when I retired a couple of years ago after more than 24 years at the school when all the class who started at the school when I did came back, together with lots of my last class there. Heather Tucker had gone to immense trouble to contact them all, and they all took the trouble to turn out, several brought their own kids along.

In the same vein, over the years many children of children I have taught came back to the school and I became a “teaching Gran” several times over. It says a lot about Lapford that the children who grow up here so often stay on and bring up their own families here. As an incomer to the village, I have to say that the friendly, helpful welcome offered has ensured that I not only moved in to the village after I’d worked here for a few years, but I have put down strong roots here. Many of the people listening were also incomers to the village, they know, as I do, that Lapford is a friendly village which welcomes them as part of the place, and if they are even just half as happy here as I have been, they will be well blessed. God bless Lapford and all who live here.

January 2000

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