The headline screamed "Coke Ring Smashed"; and immediately I was back in primary school. Every playground contained a large and challenging (to an intrepid explorer) pile of coke. Success in conquering such a slope required a high initial impetus, and it is surprising what height can be achieved, before everything collapses in a cloud of dust. Very impressive to an audience, and one that is guaranteed to bring a halt to all skipping activity. Officialdom however did not share this enthusiasm...
Although coal was delivered in serried rows of sacks on the back of a lorry, domestic supplies of coke seemed to be delivered by housewives using old prams. Coke was an unusual material. Coal was mundane (believe me, I know), and road tar could be chewed, but coke was something different. It came in regular fist-sized lumps, was extremely light, and when handled gave the impression that it was sucking all moisture from the hand.
The coke was burnt in stoves which sat at the front of each wooden classroom, surrounded by a circular cage to protect it from the children. In the back row the heat was not noticeable, but sitting next to the stove was best avoided. My seat of honour in the very front row reflected my status with Officialdom. Education consisted of writing continuous strings of a specified letter into our workbooks. I sometimes look at the handwriting in census returns, and wonder what Miss would have said. The rear cover of these workbooks contained tables of essential information, allowing us to confirm that forty poles equalled one rood, and three ricks equalled one cord. Thus we were being prepared to govern an Empire.
We walked to school; two miles there, two miles back; and others walked further. Mum was somewhere packing piston rings in oily brown paper, and Dad was locked in personal combat with Hitler. I had no worries for the future -- my skill at drawing patterns on bus ticket rolls must surely portend a successful career. Oh well.
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