Things That Only Kids Who Went To School In The '90s Will Understand

I was chatting to a school go’er the other day when the talk turned to lunchboxes and tuck-shops. I guess in the back of my mind I’m already worried that I won’t be able to match my mom’s school lunch boxes – those things were legendary – and the talk of the quadrangle.

Did you know that some schools these days have in-campus restaurants and that the tuck shop menu features more than just a Piemans Pantry Cornish Pasty and a soggy salad roll?

Listen up, kids – we had it hard in the 90’s. I’ve heard talk of school tuck shops (are they even called tuck-shops anymore, or are they now referred to as ‘Student Lounges’?) serving sushi, hot meals and coffee.(Coffee! I guess ADHD isn’t a thing anymore)

This blog post is inspired by the almost slave labour like conditions that most C level schools provided in the 90’s.

Things that only kids who went to school in the 90’s, will remember.

Tuck-shops and school food

  1. In Primary School a R2 note at the tuck-shop could buy you half a Chelsea Bun, a large guava roll and a toasted mince sandwich.
  2. Tuck-shop ladies were always your mom and other moms. If you knew your mom was on tuck-shop duty you were in luck – as it meant getting to the front of the queue faster.


3. A handful of coins was always enough to get you something. It was perfectly acceptable for the Grade 1’s and Grade 2’s to open a grubby fist, full of bronze coins, and ask “what can I get for this?”

4. Woolies did not sell cute snack sized, pre-cut, low carb, banting friendly treats (these were the days before Woolworths was aspirational). Our moms would pack our food (high-carb-what-the-hell-is-a-gluten-intolerance-anyway jam-sandwiches) in an empty bread packet, a Checkers packet, or in my case a 2 litre ice cream tub. Sandwich swopping was up there with marbles during break time.


  1. In Primary school, uniform regulations were strict. There were dedicated shops (I think called Step Ahead) which sold school authorised uniforms and accessories. Think navy blue scrunchies, padded alice bands and matchy matchy hair clips.
  2. In Winter, knee high socks were mandatory, and if you happened to have twig legs like me, your mom would have to sew you 2 elasticated bands to help them stay up.
  3. If you partook in a school sport, school colour and brand approved underwear was compulsory. Before every match or game the girls would line up in the quadrangle while the teachers lifted our (knee high) culottes and inspected our panties. Not school regulation grey or navy? Sorry, no sport for you.
  4. Refreshments during a school match were always the following: A slice of orange still in its peel during half time, and a packet of Fritos and a frozen Take 5 after the game.

Take 5 Fritos

Teachers and Classrooms

  1. For the longest time I thought every desk I sat at belonged to a boy named Ted. It was only in my later more intelligent tween (also, not a word that was around in the 90’s) years that I realised the permanent marker “T.E.D’s” stood for ‘Transvaal Education Department. (T.O.D in the Afrikaanse onderwyser se klaskamer)

School desk

  1. You don’t know what true claustrophobia is until you’ve sat in a pre-fab classroom with the windows closed.
  2. There were no cell phones in schools (they didn’t exist until I was in Standard 9) so the only piece of technology that was always being confiscated by the teachers was the Tamagotchi. Highly upsetting to all Tamagotchi owners, the confiscation of these always resulted in a “But Mrs de Bruyn it was going to die, I had to feed it!”


  1. There was no such thing as a Typo Stationer in the 90’s. School stationery was standard issue HB pencils, Bic pens (after a certain age) and feint lined exam pads. The only stamp of personalisation that one was allowed was a Space Case in which to keep it all.

Space Case

  1. If you saw a teacher out of school it was big news. We could never quite believe that Mrs so and so had a life outside of her classroom.
  2. Each child had a chair bag – a material item that draped over your school chair with a large pocket – useful for storing your stationery and lunches. God forbid you forgot your lunch there over a weekend or even worse – school holidays. Mom would get out the wooden spoon. (if you’re not afraid of the wooden spoon, even to this day, then you definitely weren’t a 90’s school’goer)

chair bag

  1. All class photos looked like this:

school photo

School grounds and facilities

  1. The quadrangle was the equivalent of the starting block in The Hunger Games. Most days ended and started there. Come rain or shine, hundreds of little children’s delicate bottoms grew haemorrhoids from sitting on the concrete listening to the headmaster read out roll call.
  2. School assembly’s marked a sign of seniority – the smaller you were, the closer you sat at the front. The older kids always got to sit at the back. Teachers flanked the perimeter of the school hall like soldiers at a prison camp. The floors were always dusty and one child would always puke near you.
  3. Toilets were revolting. The doors always started half way up the wall, and there was no such thing as a soap dispenser – only a soggy round white soap that sat in the ceramic indentation of the sink. To use this was a risk not many were willing to take. There was no such thing as hand dryers or paper towels- instead archaic machines were mounted from the walls from which white and blue striped material was dispensed. To get a clean portion of said towel one had to manoeuvre the round lever until the dirty section disappeared and a fresh section was revealed. To this day it is still a mystery as to how these towels cleaned themselves.

towel dispenser

So yes, schooling in the 90’s was not glamourous, but then I became an adult and realised… I would give anything to go back.

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  1. Under the Tuck-shops and school food section, point 3…My younger sister stole money off my dad’s bed one day and ended up at the tuck shop with an outstretched grubby paw clenching a R200 note and asked the very same thing “what can I get for this money…Sour worms?” Needless to say, we BOTH got an express appointment in the principal’s office! hahaha… Awesome post Kate 🙂

    1. Hahaha Jen! That was a small fortune back in the day – she could have probably bought all the sour worms, and then some! I remember my mom had a hippo shaped money box filled with R5 coins – which she used as tuck shop money.

  2. HAHAHAHA!!! I used to love the orange wedge at half time….. and we would get a big bucket of water with a couple of polystyrene cups to share amongst your team mates. Now, I am sure they get electrolyte infused energy drinks at half time and a protein shake after the game…

  3. How weird! I was talking about school today. Mrs de Bruyn’s uniform inspections were among the topics discussed. Do you remember the art of getting your shirt just right? Also do you remember the uniform change consultation? We asked for trousers for winter, but were told that they would have to be tartan like the skirts. Oh, the skirts! Box pleats that caused the skirts to fly up around you at the slightest hint of a breeze.

  4. I was at a very old and prestigious boys only school for the end of my school career. R200 notes weren’t that uncommon but one kid actually stabbed another one for pushing into the tuck shop queue and we had regular fistfights when one boy bought the last of something and someone else felt they deserved it more.

    Some kid dropped a rotten egg at the back of the hall during assembly once and all of us (about a 1/4 of the Std. 5 class) got shifted to sitting on the floor next to the chairs on the opposite side of the hall from the drop site. This was also where all the kids who misbehaved during assembly got stuck. So the principal, who was a bit dim and appeared to have no sense of smell, thought he was witnessing a massive insurrection and ordered all of us to present ourselves for caning directly after assembly.

    Everyone in my class always had a 2 cent piece in their blazer pocket. It was used to torture any kid who happened to piss you off for some reason. If your class was after break you and your friends would sneak into the class before the bell and using the 2 cent piece as a screwdriver, remove all the screws in the victims desk then carefully balance everything so that nothing looked out of place. As he sat down the world would fall apart around him depositing him on the floor and while everyone else laughed their heads off at him you would give them a meaningful look.

    If things really needed to be sorted out you’d offer to meet your foe behind the basketball court. That was also where you went to smoke during break and if there was a school dance you’d hide your booze there.

    The girls school and the boys school would hold combined disco’s from time to time and my sister couldn’t attend if I didn’t go as well. I hated going and she hated me going even more. I’d stand in the corner glaring at people and watch as some boy plucked up the courage to ask her to dance. Halfway through the dance they’d get around to asking each others names at which point things always went wrong for me poor little sister. As soon as she told them who she was the dance would end with him turning very white and yelling: “HOLY SHIT! Are you Ogre’s sister?” Then he’d turn and see me glaring at him and after that my sister didn’t get asked to dance again for the rest of the evening.

  5. You are unlikely to find anyone who would agree with you. Your blog posts are the highlight of my day whenever they appear and my lack of brevity when responding stems from childish exuberance at having something to relate to, which results in a rhapsodic but ultimately verbose submission. 🙂

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