The assignment was to write about school days. I've written a series of vignettes rather than a story and I've used the material here in other pieces before. But I've tightened the prose and rearranged things a bit. So I have worked on it...
Every incident described here is the pure, unvarnished truth. I haven't invented anything. Even the names are the names of real people.
Were they the happiest days of my life as the cliché would have it? I dont think so, but they certainly had their moments. Let me tell you about some of them...
* * * *
I will never forget my very first French lesson. I was eleven years old and I was a brand new boy at a brand new school. I sat in my classroom waiting for who knew what? There was a clump, clump, clump on the stairs and the door was flung wide to the wall with a resounding CRASH. In came a begowned schoolmaster who strode to the front of the room and announced in ringing tones, "Bonjour toute la classe! Je me suis Monsieur Antoine."
For the next forty minutes he harangued us in French. Gabble, gabble, gabble. We all stared at him in complete bewilderment. Then the bell rang to signal the end of the lesson. "Au revoir!"
Monsieur Antoine strode from the classroom slamming the door behind him.
He never permitted a single word of English to be spoken in his eccentric lessons. I still treasure the memory of the day he taught us the French words for various articles of clothing. As he named an item, he would take it off and wave it at us. Perhaps I should point out that to this day I do not know the French for "underpants", but I do know "jacket", "shoes", "shirt", "vest" and "trousers". I learned far more French in that strangely wild year with Monsieur Antoine than I learned in the next four years with more conventional teachers. Clearly total immersion is a very effective teaching technique.
* * * *
Mr Brearley taught us religious instruction. In moments of stress or elation Mr Brearley would clap one hand to his cheek and suck in a hissing breath. When he spoke, he had a very broad Yorkshire accent.
On one particular day, in one particular religious instruction class, Mr Brearley was rambling on about Jesus ministry and how it might have been perceived by the society of the time. Jesus, Mr Brearley claimed, was really quite radical in his thinking, quite scandalous in his teachings. The hand slapped the cheek, the breath was sucked in with a mighty squelch and then expelled with a sigh as Mr Brearley said, "...and Jesus lowered imself to speak to fallen women!"
As he said that phrase, every eye in the classroom moved to Brian Teal, the class clown, who was sitting at his desk behind a pillar, concealed from Mr Brearley's direct view. Brian pantomimed staring down from the top of a sheer cliff and waving hello to the people who had tumbled down to the bottom.
The class erupted into hysterics. Mr Brearley looked puzzled for a moment and then slapped his hand back to his cheek again. The Yorkshire accent became particularly prominent as the stress got to him. "Is it that choomp Teal, be'ind t'pillar?"
* * * *
One term Malcolm was excused games because of illness. So instead of playing rugby, he elected to do woodwork, under the supervision of Mr Gallagher. Malcolm decided he would spend the term constructing a coffee table. He measured and marked. He cut and he planed. Every so often, Mr Gallagher would check his work. "The edge is not square. Look you can see daylight when I hold my set square against it. Plane it some more."
Malcolm planed it some more.
"It still isnt square. It has to be square. You cant make a table if it isnt square. Plane it some more."
Malcolm planed it some more. Over the course of a ten week term, he planed and planed and planed again. At the start of the term, the planks he was planing measured eight inches across. By the end of the term, they were two inches across, still not square, and suitable only for building furniture in a dolls house.
The next term Malcolm voluntarily went back to playing rugby. It didnt demand a square field or a square ball and he felt much more at home with the irregularity.
* * * *
Teenage boys, of course, are simply hormones on legs. They think about sex approximately four times a minute. When they aren't thinking about sex, they are thinking about food. And when they are thinking about neither sex nor food, they are thinking about football. This leaves almost no time left over to think about school work.
One weekend Mr Stone, our history teacher, got married. Our first lesson at 9 o'clock on the following Monday morning, was history. Mr Stone strode into class, much as he usually did, and began to regale us with an interminable discussion about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. There is absolutely nothing titillating about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. Even teenage boys cannot find a double entendre in a discussion about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. There being no immediate possibility of sex, food or football, tedium descended upon us all in thick clouds. One adventurous youth, stimulated by boredom, decided that something had to be done.
"Did you have a good wedding sir?"
Mr Stone seemed somewhat taken aback at being interrupted in mid flow, but he rallied well. "Yes thank you Withey. It was very nice."
"I bet you got really drunk on your stag night, didn't you sir?" continued my classmate. "Tell us how much you drank, sir?" We all sat up and began to take notice. This might be fun.
"I never touch it, Withey." Mr Stone sounded quite indignant. "I never touch it at all."
"No sir," said Withey in tones of wounded innocence. "I was talking about what you were doing on your stag night sir, not what you were doing on your wedding night."
There was a moment of shocked silence as we all replayed the conversation in our heads. Had he really said that? Yes, he really had. Gales of laughter swept across the room.
"Harrumph!," said Mr Stone, glowing somewhat pinker than usual. "Boy, you are a buffoon! Now, after the Corn Laws were repealed "
* * * *
Our school had its own swimming pool which was quite a novelty for those times. A curious construction of concrete slabs rose from the side of the pool at the deep end. From these you could dive or belly flop into the water, depending upon your skill level. Set up in one corner was a small trampoline (we called it a trampet) upon which the braver people would bounce up and down, going higher and higher with each bounce. Once the height and momentum was deemed sufficient the bouncer would alter the angle and project his body out into space, entering the water with a huge splash and a shriek of enormous triumph or, depending upon the angle of projection, enormous pain.
The boys changing rooms were on one side of the pool and the girls changing rooms were on the other side. A narrow corridor went from each changing room via a disinfectant foot bath to the pool. The sexes were strictly segregated and any lessons that involved use of the swimming pool were carefully timed so as to be exclusively mono-gendered. Mostly it worked as intended. But not always...
After a games period, many of the boys had developed the custom of showering and then having a swim. This was particularly their practice if the games period was the last in the day for then they could take their time over their swim and just mess around in the pool for ages. Nobody ever bothered wearing swimming costumes for these impromptu events. Wed seen each other naked so often in the changing rooms over the years that nobody gave it a second thought.
One Wednesday, after a particularly strenuous rugby game, the pool area was full of shrieking, naked young men racing around like mad things, throwing each other in the water, diving from the steps and generally having a fine old time. One boy, Andrew, was bouncing up and down on the trampet, taking no part in any of the things going on around him. Bounce, bounce, bounce, lost in a trance, deep in a world of his own. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to us, the girls were just coming back from a particularly strenuous game of lacrosse. "How about a swim?" someone suggested.
They all changed into their togs (cos thats what girls do) and padded off to the pool where they stood open mouthed with astonishment at the sight that greeted them.
Almost without exception, the boys stared for one horrified moment at the girls who were staring back at them and then, one and all, they covered their groins with their hands and jumped into the concealing safety of the pool.
Only Andrew, utterly lost in his trance, failed to notice the girls arrival as he went bounce, bounce, bounce on the trampet and with each and every bounce his little willy waved hello