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“To begin at the beginning,” writes Dylan Thomas at the beginning of Under Milk Wood. But where is the beginning of a school? For Time there is no Beginning because there are so many, many beginnings. And beginnings and ends are so interwoven. Perhaps T.S. Eliot is a better poet of time: ‘In my end is my beginning.’ Let us look at rooms 2 and 3. They are the beginning (where 1 might be expected) in the sense that they house the youngest classes, new to the school.
In these rooms the pupils face West, the teacher East. They see one who, like the setting sun, is already on the downward path. He sees men who, like the rising sun, have their best hours ahead. The entrance is on the North and the sun enters high windows on the South. The walls are plain and unadorned with the exception of the black-painted rectangle on which mainly white chalk will be used. Technology has as yet risen no higher than the height of coloured chalk and a large wooden pair of compasses to aid geometry on the board. White boards and electronic calculators are still in the future. The boys sit in rows of desks, two abreast, with aisles along which the master can prowl. Each desk has a lid and holds books and satchels for the day’s work. There are much-used textbooks, made personal to each new year by being wrapped in brown paper which time will see getting steadily more tattered and ink-stained. The exercise books, each printed with the school crest, are colour coded: dark red for Chemistry, pink for English, Gold for physics... Whereas the teacher still uses chalk, the boys are equipped by their parents with more high-tech fountain pens. In the mid 50s, these are still fairly new. In the primary schools it is still common to find inkwells in the desks, and steel nibs fitted to a wooden holder. Ball pens have been invented but are not in common use: would indeed be disapproved of.