Waterproof anorak, a jumper and sandwiches. Some crisps, a juicy drink and a chocolate biscuit in a wrapper for afters. Packing for a school trip hasn’t changed for donkey’s years and possibly never will.
I’m joining the Year 6 Greens from West Hove Juniors on their trip to Brighton Museum and there’s certain giddiness about the day. No school and a packed lunch is all it needs really, to create an air of abandon. Although someone’s forgotten their packed lunch and another child didn’t bring any suntan lotion despite the letters home.
We set off about 11am on a superbly hot day led by the extremely capable Mrs Moore and her husband who has bravely turned up to help out too.
I’m there as a parent helper as my son is in her class, but also as a secret observer in my role as Blogger in residence for the museum.
We head straight to the seafront, stopping for the inevitable toilet break on the way. The kids are noisy, exhilarated, silly. The helpers carefully marshal them across the roads with slightly worried faces. It’s a big responsibility taking a group of 30 ten and eleven year olds out into a busy city. Particularly when they’re all over-excited and distracted.
Also with us are the Year 5 Greens and the Years 3 and 4s have already left for their summer jaunt first thing. Over the week, the entire school will visit the exhibition, a total of nearly 480 children in all.
A rendition of 95 million Green bottles starts off with vigour but eventually peters out. We stop at the Peace Statue in Hove and admire the beauty of the statue, discovering it was put up just two years before the break-out of WW1. Mrs Moore points out the tragic irony and they all settle down to sketch the statue.
Then we’re off, feeling hotter as the sun’s heat increases and we march along the seafront, past tourists enjoying a pint along the seafront, and toddlers paddling in the pool at the play-park. The sea looks cool and inviting. We pass the Year 4 Greens as they walk home; they’re all eating ice-creams and the Year 6s look on enviously.
Then finally we’re at the Pavilion Gardens and we all tuck into those packed lunches. They’re well-earned and delicious. Some swapping goes on and lots and lots of giggling. The grown-ups rest weary feet but the kids are up and off as soon as they’ve eaten.
Into the museum and upstairs to the War Stories exhibition. Immediately the mood changes as we enter the dark, cool room. Some don’t adjust quickly to the change and shushes ring through the gallery as they get their bearings.
Each child has been given the names of three people featured in the exhibition. They race around and find their person and begin to read. Some faithfully copy down the text, others draw pictures and a few drift aimlessly around not sure where to start.
As a helper, I talk to the children pointing out interesting facts, show them the wedding dress, point out a one-legged cricket player standing where we just ate our lunch. Most of them already know a lot about World War 1 as it’s their school topic for the term.
They’ve already learnt WW1 songs, met someone from the Blind Veterans Trust and performed a school play about a boy called Alfie during the war as well as writing poems and drawing pictures of poppies.
Too quickly it’s time to head home, this time via the War Memorial on the Old Steine. The seagulls gambolling happily in the pond make everyone smile. The sun is still boiling as we walk down to the seafront, all momentarily transfixed by a street busker, a silver painted man sitting down on nothing, apparently suspended in the air. I’m perplexed but fortunately one of the boys has worked it out, spoiling the magic for me a little but at least I know.
We spend some time looking at the Dr Brighton exhibition which celebrates the role the town played as a place for rest and recuperation and some cutting edge medical treatments as hundreds of troops were sent there from the front.
On the map the teachers proudly point out ‘Portland Road School’ now called West Hove Infants, on the same site as the juniors and where most of the children also attended. During the war it was a hospital too, specialising in TB cases. They look on the map – the school looks a long way away.
The seafront is packed as we walk back and we’re all beginning to wilt. The children gaze longingly at every ice-cream stall as we pass but we push on. There’s quite a few miles to go. Everyone’s quieter now, breaking into groups and chatting in twos and threes. Some begin to dawdle and fall behind.
We reach Hove Lawns and joy, Mrs Moore treats us all to a delicious cold ice-lolly – even the grown-ups. That bit of the walk home races but soon we’re all getting hot and bothered again. ‘Now’s the time to sing those marching songs,” I say and the kids instantly begin to sing ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kitbag’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary”. Some older ladies getting out of a car laugh and join in.
At last the school is in sight and complaints about blisters and aching feet drift away. Parents appear to take their weary, shiny, sun-baked children home and I wander home with my son to a much-needed sit down and a cup of tea.
Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence