2002 – A School’s Eye View

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THE new queen has been crowned, the champion has delivered his challenge, the presentees have performed and everyone has left the platform – another year – another successful fair. You can hear the comments of the people – what a lovely fair – wasn’t so and so lovely – the girls are just a picture. Isn’t the fair a really feel good day?

As retired head teacher of Bo’ness Public School where I worked for over thirty years, I agree with the sentiments of the spectators and then I think back to different Fairs in which I have been heavily involved.

The schools are of course always the pivotal part of the fair, but when yours is the queen’s school then the fair is not just the fair day or the fair week. It becomes the “Fair Year” or should I say the “frantic, frenetic Fair Year?”

Let me just run through the year of the Fair.

The P7 children are very much aware that this year is their year and from the onset of the new school year in August you can feel the undercurrent of latent excitement of all the P7 girls and boys. Obviously the staff and children progress with their school curriculum as normal but you can sense the simmering anticipation of that day in June.

During this year, before the Queen or Retinue is elected, meetings with staff and parents are taking place, decisions having to be made as to what the school should have as a theme for the presentees as this sets the tone for the whole school decoration.

This aspect of the Fair has grown very much in importance over the years. When I first went to the Public School there were two presentees who bowed to the Queen and the one memorable year Mr Alex Ritchie’s Grange School presented Dr Who and the Daleks and this was the beginning of presentees as we now know them.

Very soon all schools had a number of presentees who danced or performed in some way for the Queen and public. I was P5 teacher at this time and was roped in by the then Head Teacher to train the presentees. Just why he asked me remains a mystery to this day. I was able to do a quick step, tango or even rock and roll, ( although the children would never have believed it as sometimes very young children then seemed surprised to see teachers shopping or even out of school, never mind dancing for goodness sake ) but I really did not know how to do Indian War Dances etc.

However we did train the presentees, I always remember one presentation we had – ‘The Vikings’, In one part of the presentation the children had to put their spears up and form an arch, count to three then thump them on the ground. I would be standing there saying, one, two, three thump, and every time all the spears would thump in unison, then a second later would come another thump – the old saying everyone’s out of step by me!!! We eventually got it right however.

As the years passed the presentations become more and more slick and we then asked Jennifer Cummings to train our presentees. She did so voluntarily giving up a lot of her time and during those years we, to my mind, ( not biased of course ) had some fantastic presentees, the most memorable being New York, New York.

When your school has the Queen, the choice of subject for presentees is most important as you have to aim for something which will be primarily a colourful presentation and also lend itself to decorating the school and be used as a part in the retinue and presentation.

After the theme has been chosen the next criteria is to form committees of parents willing to help design and decorate the school and of course the all important fund raising. The parents always come up trumps in these departments.

After this has been decided there is a lull and before we know it, Christmas is upon us and the underlying excitement that has been prevalent since August starts bubbling to the surface.

Everyone is aware that within weeks the Queen and retinue will be chosen and there is of course the inevitable question “Who do you think will be Queen?”

I can honestly say that neither the Head Teacher nor the staff know. We obviously have our thoughts as to who it might be but can I say, nine times out of ten, we’re wrong. The children vote. The Queen elected is the children’s choice and through the years I have found the children have proven their choice to be the correct one. They never let us down.

The week in February arrives when the voting will take place. Fever pitch is the only way to describe the atmosphere in the school. We always tried to hold the voting on a day before the weekend or as the case was this year, the day before the schools were closed to the children for teacher in service training. By doing it in this way everyone has a chance to calm down as it is back to school and back to work. Everything returns to normal in the school as all the preparations and meetings are held outwith school hours.

It is not until around the middle of May that we start the actual training of the Retinue. The presentees have been practising and perfecting their routines, but the Retinue don’t start until about the middle to the end of May.

I remember the first time I trained the Retinue. I received all the instructions of what happens and when – all the protocol – where you stand, when to bow etc. If perhaps, one day, you started without your instruction sheet it was a case of when in doubt bow – until a child who had been despatched to fetch the instructions returned.

At last the Fair week arrives. All your preparations are done, the school frontage is finished, the dresses are ready and the children are all word perfect.

It is the Fair E’en. The rehearsal takes place in the Glebe Park. Everyone anxiously looks skywards. Will it rain? Will it not?

Fair Day dawns. When it is not your school’s year for the Queen it is still a very exciting day. The atmosphere is electric and although, on that morning, it is not imperative for the children to be at school exactly on time. I found that most of the children arrive earlier than usual all looking excited and so smart in their ‘ Fair clothes ‘.

Every year at our school we always had the presentees perform there dance in the playground for the benefit of the rest of the school and the many parents who came on the Fair morning.

However, when it is your school who has the Queen , when the Fair Day dawns there is an atmosphere in the school that is unique. It is frantic. It is bedlam. It is mayhem. It is fantastic.

The school hall, where the Queen and her retinue, fairies and flower girls and presentees gather, is full to over flowing with proud parents and grandparents.

Everyone is milling around admiring and commenting on dresses and costumes of the main characters. The atmosphere is wonderful. However when it is time to go about of the school everyone moves to the playground to watch the presentees.

Now comes the time to leave for the Glebe Park. The big moment has arrived. Everyone knows exactly what to do. The training is finished. Nothing can go wrong – can it?

One year I remember we were all lined up to march from the school to the Glebe Park when the herald said – ” Mrs Andrews – where’s the Proclamation”? Can you imagine the herald with no proclamation? No doubt he could have recited it off by heart but I don’t think that would have struck the right note. But the big question was – where was the proclamation?

Panic reigns. Who had it last? Where had they been? The answer was – me! I was the culprit. I had been to Miss Stanners’ room just before to see to some last minute problem and had left it on the window ledge. Talk about relief. The proclamation was retrieved and handed to the herald and we were off. One more little hiccup over.

Another year the procession reached Cadzow and was ready to turn down the hill to the Town Hall so the retinue could have there lunch before proceeding to the Douglas Park for the revels, one of the little page boys was crying saying he had a sore tummy.

Bearing in mind that the page boys are only five and it is a long day for them. I, at first thought he was missing his mummy, and tried to console him. He went to the town hall where his mum collected him and later we found out that the wee soul had appendicitis.

Another time my niece, Dawn Galloway, who was Public School Queen in 1977 was almost in tears during the procession. It transpired that the inside of the watch presented to her had fallen out – not a catastrophe you would think – but to an 11 year old on such an exciting but nerve wracking day it was. However, all’s well that end’s well. One of the page boys found it and the Fair Committee ensured it was replaced and returned to her.

The crowning is over and you have that great feeling of relief that everything has gone well and only the procession to come. You feel you can at last relax.

I must say I always enjoyed walking the procession route with the children although sometimes that also was not all plain sailing.

I remember one year our presentation was Elvis Presley. In school we had made flower garlands from brightly coloured crepe paper. On our way round the town the presentees were draping them round some people’s necks as Elvis Presley did. I wore one and I also had a white dress that year. What happened next? Torrential rain!! In fact that year the sky was so black when we were going up Harbour Road that some of the younger children thought it was night and quite a few were crying because they were afraid. How it rained!!!

The result of the rain was that all the colours from the crepe flowers ran and by the time I reached the Douglas Park my dress was no longer white but multi coloured, that did not worry me. What did was the fact that we had draped these garlands round quite a few people’s shoulders. I shudder to think what happened to their outfits and what their reaction was.

All the worries, accidents and mishaps that inevitably happen are more than made up for by the excitement and happiness on the faces of the children on the Fair Morning.

If I were to give an equation to sum up the Fair from someone heavily involved in the school preparations, it would be something like this – Hardwork and frenzy = Fair + Magic.

Long Live the Fair.

CATHERINE ANDREWS

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