miscellany

26 june 2018


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WISH I’D WRITTEN THESE

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           All original writing

           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin

AND THESE

SCHOOL part 2


We weren't taught any music in music lessons. Nothing about musical notation, scales, keys, types of clef, chords, how to play an instrument, tuning, voice categories, opera, construction of symphonies, popular music, jazz, musicals. Nothing. In fact I can't remember how the time was filled, but I can remember the homework. When was Mozart born? Name all the Beethoven symphonies. Where in the town Reference Library can you find Grove's Music Dictionary? Extra marks if you don't pass out from the all pervasive fumes from the lavender polish on the wooden parquet floor.

Ah, the Reference Library. There was a town scheme that put on films and lectures for schoolchildren and you could buy a season ticket (pink) by going, clutching money, to the Headmaster's office. The school functioned partly by scaring the hell out of you. And entering the Headmaster's office was near the top of the scary list. An old man with grey hair, a mortar board and a black gown that he'd swirl around in front of you, for extra effect. Before you were allowed to leave, you had to swear that you'd attend the lectures as well as the, more popular, films. When you eventually escaped, you'd tread carefully round the stains on the corridor floor that less fortunate boys had left, involuntarily, while waiting to go in.

One film stuck in my mind. There was a scene in which someone's mother had died. That was the first time I was forced to consider the mortality of my parents and it frightened me. Considerably less frightening was a popular Physics lecture by a Professor from Manchester University. The first of many times I'd witnessed the effects of liquid nitrogen on rubber tubing when you hit it with a hammer. That was an extreme demonstration of the cause of the NASA Challenger disaster many decades later - brittle O-ring seals. If only the NASA managers (not the scientists -they'd issued a warning and been overruled) had been to our Library Lectures.

A younger music teacher eventually came along. A more modern approach and he even let us bring our own records in to play and discuss. One day, reluctantly, he played Buddy Holly's 'It doesn't matter any more'. I wish I'd had a camera. His face contorted into an excruciating grotesque expression, tempered at the last minute by a softening at the edges when he remembered he had to appear slightly sympathetic.

Woodwork and the making of the nailbox, a pressing requirement of every young lad. Without it, where would you put your nails, if you had any?  A teaching ploy that they hoped you wouldn’t notice: Having carefully planed the ‘face side’ and ‘face edge’ and having sanded the piece of wood solidly for 15 minutes, you were told to go away and sand it some more. It was absolutely smooth but he didn’t want disturbing . . .

"That boy! You're trying to kill those sheep aren't you."  We were on a Geology field trip and someone had accidentally dislodged a stone which careered downhill. This teacher showed his paranoia at every opportunity. In class he'd exclaim "Is that somebody muttering? I know who it is. Who is it?"

First year French and everybody but me seemed to know what was going on. "First person, third person etc." Who are all these people? No thought had been given to the possibility (in my case, the fact) that your Primary School had never mentioned any of this. It was a school, so they teach you, right? Wrong. I hated sport and always ended up in the Remnants - the football team from hell that nobody wanted. We'd go out onto the field, in the freezing cold, and were expected to play football. But how do you play it? What are the rules? We were expected just to know . . .

Further Maths. "You talking or sump'n?" You knew it was the Grammar School as he was wearing those ubiquitous soft soled shoes. His nickname was Tag. Stood for Trigonometry, Algebra and Geometry. Wish there'd been a C in there. We were taught Calculus by someone else. You know that they don't really understand it themselves when they can't teach it. If only he'd told us what it was all about and why these methods of solving differential equations were useful. Why differentiate and why integrate? But he didn't. We had to find out the answers to those legitimate questions ourselves, later in life. I guess most couldn't ever be bothered. He wore a dog collar so I guess he had an ingrained attitude - "I'm telling you so it MUST be right."

That reminds me that there are some people who should have been prevented from ever teaching. One in particular missed his calling as a traffic light. If there's a weakness you can bet that a class of teenage boys will find it. And they found it. Somehow this guy embarrassed easily. He'd be unable to carry on and he'd turn scarlet from the neck up, causing an unfortunate clash with his red hair. They were merciless. The more he reacted, the more they'd pile on the pressure. I was never in his class but his fame spread. Eventually he left, poor chap.

Another English teacher was nicknamed Bill Spew. If there was justice in the world we'd all have been issued with blotting paper. He got so excited that eventually every word was accompanied by fine jets of saliva. Yet I don't remember him ever quenching his thirst . . .

Our first Biology lesson. In would totter a little old woman, grey hair, arthritic fingers. "You boy" she'd point. Who did she mean? Those in the general direction of pointing would move left and right to see if they might possibly be in line with her crooked finger. Nobody was.  Notable were her pained pronunciations of spir-o-gyra and chlamy-do-monas while finger was pointing in the general direction of the blackboard, or the floor. Maybe the ceiling.

School. Happiest days of your life. Probably. If you say so . . . .