26 june 2018
All original writing
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Ian McLauchlin
SCHOOL part 1
I'd often wondered where that path went. Now's my chance to find out. Climbing over the gate wasn't too hard, even when you're only 4, but escaping from your mother was, when you were just trying to find how many alternative ways to school there were. I’d assured her that I knew the way and she could go home now. She didn’t trust me and followed me to check I'd gone the right way, hadn't she. It took me years to admit that she was right.
We were so young that we had to have a sleep in the afternoon. On sisal mats, the itchy and 1940s sort. And the school milk came in bottles with cardboard inserted lids. In winter the milk froze and lifted the lids. Robins used to queue up for an iced drink.
The churchyard opposite the house had many old trees and the nesting rooks used to keep us awake at night. After a few sleepless nights the men of the village decided that enough was enough and fashioned long poles with oily rags on the end. The rooks were gone long before the nests set alight. Strange that I remember that even though I was ill with measles and couldn't stand the daylight.
It was sports day and, despite a lifelong natural disinclination, I found myself running in a race. The sports field flew by in a blur and there was only one boy in front of me. Clearly a budding naturalist as, just a few yards from the line, he stopped to pick a daisy. I won, the daisy came second and he was a poor third.
On the way home from another school there was a disused quarry, colloquially called 'The Delph'. It was a wonderful combination of cliffs, hillocks, secret pathways, allotments and old huts, just right for 6 year old red indians and secret agents. You could hide, sneak up on enemies, and throw stones down onto old huts. One of them belonged to an old man known as Morris. One day he happened to be in it and angrily threatened us. The mixture of fear, guilt and excitement was quite exhilarating and frightening at the same time. He never caught us.
I know, let's make some lead soldiers. So John and I found some lead from somewhere, made a mould somehow and set about melting the lead. He decided that his mother's only frying pan was perfect for the job. Onto the gas ring with it and fill it with lead. Nothing happened. Turn up the gas. Ah, it's melting at last. Just about ready to pour it and the bottom fell out of the pan and the gas ring was sealed for life with lead. I didn't hang around for his mother to come home . . .
The school boiler was playing up. We all felt a bit ill and were sent out into the playground. I saw the sky and everyone gathered round peering down at me. The ground was cold, wet and smelly. I'd passed out on the urine soaked floor of the boys outside toilet. Carbon monoxide poisoning. An occupational hazard in those days, a criminal matter today. I've had an aversion to lying down on toilet floors ever since.
First day at Grammar School. Boilers again. The steps down to the boiler house were commandeered on that first day by all the others who were thrilled to find that it wasn't their first day. They decided to celebrate that by throwing the newcomers down those steps which, in homage to Calcutta, they'd renamed the Black Hole. An initiation rite, very like every other initiation rite -
Flash. That was the nickname of our English teacher. He was bald and drove a Bond Minicar which had a motorcycle engine and no reverse gear. If you wanted to go backwards you got out and lifted the front round. They later allowed you to start the engine in reverse so that you then had three reverse and no forward gears. We learnt from Homer that the Greeks made a present of a wooden Bond Minicar to the Trojans, crammed with a normal sized and a diminutive soldier, so that they could enter Troy in reverse. (I might have confused the stories a bit there . . . . )
A Maths teacher was famous for adopting teaching aids ahead of their time. He'd grab your attention by saying "Watch the board while I go through it". An absolute showstopper was "Euclid couldn't do it, Pythagorus couldn't do it, Newton couldn't do it. Watch me do it".
A Latin teacher was utterly determined that our Latin exercise books should be uniformly neat and properly titled. So at the beginning of term, he got out his ruler, graduated in thousandths of an inch, and instructed everyone to write their name in letters EXACTLY a quarter of an inch high. Satisfied, he marched around the class and slowly became utterly horrified to find that letters of that size were much too large on an exercise book. He gave himself 100 lines: "I must write names in letters about an eighth of an inch high."
History lessons consisted of the teacher's brown leather case being placed on the desk, today's supply of cough sweets being extracted and placed strategically next to it, the first of about 20 being noisily unwrapped and sucked, and the smell of menthol permeating that class room all day. How many wives did Henry VIII have? About 20, each noisily unwrapped.
You notice things, well I do. One day a teacher turned up wearing a particularly distinctive pair of shoes. Brown leather with new-
French was a sort of maths lesson in disguise. The French teacher was permanently depressed and fiercely angry at the same time. You didn't want to cross him by answering incorrectly or the sky would fall in and you with it. Luckily, W F Whitmarsh had written text books with numbered questions. You just knew that the teacher would angrily start at the back and work forwards, asking each question in turn. So, automatically, you'd count how many questions you were from the back and work out your answer, ready for when the spotlight of impending doom fell on you. And then relax. Every now and then, in a fit of gloom and despondency, he'd start at the front of the class. Oh no. Calculations suddenly awry, panic setting in and detention looming. Funny how prayers can be answered and the bells for the end of the lesson and the end of torture can both ring at the same time . . .
To be continued, unfortunately.