Saturday, 21 February 2015

TEENAGE TALES - PREDATORS, PERVERTS & PENTHOUSE...



This is going to be a long one, so you might want to pour a cup of tea and grab a biscuit or three before you begin.  Though, truth to tell, it might not be entirely comfortable reading.  I'm now about to relate a personal anecdote of a situation from which I was fortunate enough to escape unscathed.  Physically unscathed that is, but the incident left its psychological mark on me for many years afterwards and still affects me to this day.

It all began in the upstairs cafeteria of my local Co-op store back around 1973, possibly '74.  I had just washed down a plate of beans with a Coke (hardly a good mix) and suddenly found myself in need of a visit to the toilet.  While perched on the porcelain, I noticed that the previous patron had amused himself by singeing the edges of the loo roll attached to the cubicle wall.  I'd guess it was more out of boredom than a wanton act of arson, by someone having a fly puff in the loo - probably a shop worker, in fact.

It really wasn't worth mentioning to the staff, but, on my way out, I did so anyway - more to demonstrate what a conscientious customer I was than because it was deserving of their attention.  (Or perhaps it was merely a simpering, shame-less example of ingratiation in the best Cyril Swot tradition.)  Cut to a fortnight later when I was back in the cafe, and I was suddenly detained by two members of staff while the police were called.  When they arrived, I was questioned over the events of two weeks before, taken 'round to the local nick and kept in a detention room for an hour or so, then let go.  I wasn't charged with anything, but was told that officers would be calling 'round to my house later to chat with my father.

This presented a bit of a problem for me, because my father actually worked behind the desk in that very station.  ('Twas his day off that day.)  Even though I hadn't actually done anything, I was mortified by the professional embarrassment this could cause him, so decided to side-step the situation by doing a 'runner'.  Not being a smoker I didn't carry matches, but was concerned that the mere act of being suspected of 'fire-raising' might be presumed by my father as an indication of my culpability in the matter.

So I hopped on a bus to Glasgow and took refuge in another cafeteria - this time in the basement of a cinema.  It was quite a large cafe, so I sat in a far corner and, being weary from the events of the day, I put my arms on the table and rested my head on them. I must have dozed off for a bit, for when I lifted my head, a man was sitting opposite me (at my table), stirring a cup of tea.

Believe it or not, back in the early '70s, most kids weren't anywhere near as 'street smart' as they seem to be today - and I was probably even more innocent and naive than my contemporaries.  I wasn't at all comfortable with this stranger's presence, but it was well beyond my ability or experience to conceive, never mind articulate, exactly what his motives might be - and I had been brought up to always be respectful to adults.

Mindful of the fact that I was a 'runaway', and eager to avoid arousing his suspicions and thus betray myself, I politely answered his questions as to my name and where I lived.  I lied, of course, telling him that I stayed somewhere behind the Barrowland market and that I was killing time until my father came home from work because I didn't have a front door key.  "Glasgow's not a safe place for a youngster to hang around in.  Come back to my place for a cup of tea and you can wait there until he's home - it's not far!" he said.

What was I to do?  In my over-active, 14 year old imagination, I feared that if I declined, he might devine my status as a fleeing fugitive and hand me over to the 'fuzz'.  Although my 'spider-sense' was tingling, my youthful innocence and ignorance meant that I was ill-equipped to determine any specific threat - certainly nothing of a sexual nature - that should've prevented me from accepting this apparently kindly-intentioned stranger's invitation.  And so it was that, not too long after, I found myself sipping tea in the bedsit apartment of this 'good Samaritan'.  At least it would get me off the streets for an hour or two, I thought. 

Well, you can see where this is leading, can't you?  (If only had been so smart.)  Laying on a table beside me were some 'soft-porn' mags like MayfairClub, & Penthouse, which he invited me to peruse if I so wished.  I self-consciously thumbed through one or two, thinking that it wasn't normally an activity in which teenage boys indulged in the company of adults.  Surely such pursuits were meant to be solitary, furtive and guilty pleasures?  Truth to tell, I found myself more interested in the comic strips, recognising Stingray and Captain Scarlet artist Ron Embleton's distinctive style on a strip called Oh, Wicked Wanda.

And then reality finally, inevitably, intruded.  "How often do you see to yourself?" he suddenly enquired - though that wasn't exactly how he phrased it, instead using the 'w' word.  I was shocked and stunned.  Remaining as civil as possible under the circumstances, I told him it was time for me to go, and before too long, I was on a bus home, prepared to face the music from the earlier episode that day.  It was preferable to dancing to the different kind of tune that my 'host' no doubt intended to play.

So why didn't he try to prevent me leaving?  It's obvious what his intentions were, but perhaps he salved his conscience by only exploiting youngsters who could be led, perhaps in their confusion or fear, down the route which he tried to steer them.  Then, if caught, he could claim that they were 'up for it'.  Had he mistaken my acceptance of his invitation as a sign that I was aware of what his 'game' was, and curious to discover what was involved?  Had my obvious shock at his question and stout refusal to be drawn made him realise his mistake, and that here was no potential participant?

Whatever his reasons, I avoided a terrible fate that night, but while the individual's predatory behaviour deserves nothing but total condemnation, I used to sometimes wonder if he deserved a (grudging) measure of credit for not trying to satiate his unwholesome desires by force.  But no, his reluctance to do so was doubtless nothing other than a shield reserved in the armoury of his own defence lest he ever be hauled to account, not any form of consideration for those he concluded were beyond his ability to 'seduce'.

So, physically, I was unscathed, but for years afterwards, I would sometimes have panic attacks at the thought of what could have happened to me.  I'd break out in a sweat and the room would spin;  I'd feel as if I was suffocating and gasp for air, while a sense of fear, nausea and impending doom engulfed me.  This also happened in the form of nightmares, from which I would suddenly awake as though my life depended on it.  Even today, there are certain scenes in some movies that I cannot watch without feeling distinctly uncomfortable, and I can only guess at how awful it must be for those who have actually suffered sexual abuse to see such depictions regularly on their TV screens - all in the name of 'entertainment'.

(I saw a Jennifer Aniston movie on TV recently which had what appeared, at first, to be a rape scene.  Even though it later turned out not to be as it seemed, I was quite shocked at the graphic depiction of proceedings and could see just how traumatic the scene must be for victims of such a crime.  There must be thousands, even millions, of them.  Surely it's time for movie makers to exercise a far greater degree of responsibilty - not to mention sensitivity - when it comes to what they actually show in their productions?)

Anyway, that was my narrow escape.  In the more aware times in which we live today, I would have undoubtedly told the predatory paedophile to "feck off" and perhaps even administered a quick kick in the nuts before vanishing over the horizon in a cloud of dust.  However, back then it was a different, less informed age, and while I believe that the innocence of youth should be preserved for as long as possible, I'm smart enough to know that striking a balance between the protection of youngsters' mental purity and physical safety is a difficult (and often thankless) task indeed.

My biggest regret over the incident?  I really do wish it had occurred to me to boot him right in the spuds.  Let's hope that someone else actually did so, eh?  Several times over, while wearing size ten, steel toe-capped footwear.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

LET'S HAVE SOME LIGHT AROUND HERE...



Here's a funny thing.  "About time!" you cry.  No, I mean 'funny-peculiar', not 'funny-ha ha' - although it is about time, so to speak.  You know how, when you associate a particular item with a specific place and period in your past, the association sometimes seems 'all-inclusive', whether it actually was or not?

"Good grief!  What's he wittering on about now?" you may be asking yourselves - so I'll tell you.

On my living-room ceiling are two circular fluorescent lights, which were first acquired in a previous house back in the 1960s.  I know we didn't always have them as I remember my father bringing them home one night and having to return one for a replacement the next day because it was broken.

We'd moved into the house in 1965, but it could've been anytime between 1966 and '67 at the earliest (maybe even '68?) before the lights assumed their place on the ceiling.  I can't remember the exact year we got them, but I now associate them so strongly with the house that, whenever I think back, it seems as if we had them the entire period we resided there, even though I know it isn't so.

Over 20 years ago, I visited my old home for the first time since leaving 16 years before, and was surprised to see patches over our old paper on the ceiling where the lights had once been.  (The patches were still there a few years later and perhaps might yet be there now, for all I know.)  Anyway, seeing that the lights had left their mark for so many years afterwards only reinforced their connection to the house in my mind.

It's the same with toys and comics.  Over the years, I've been lucky enough to re-acquire many items I once had as a child and have now owned them for far longer than I ever had the originals.  Some I originally maybe had for only a few weeks or months, others a year or three - and, as is the way of such things, some were consigned to history long before others made their appearance - yet somehow I seem to remember possessing each and every one of them concurrently and for the same duration.

One example I spoke about in a previous post is the first issue of the revamped SMASH! from March, 1969.  I only had it for around four days before selling it on to a classmate (it was my intention to buy another copy the next day, but I couldn't find one).  However, every page had embedded itself in my memory with such clarity that, when I tracked down a replacement copy over 15 and a half years later, it was instantly familiar - as if I'd last seen it only a few weeks before.

Here's the kicker though - whenever I leaf through its pages,  I'm instantly transported back to the living-room of the house I lived in at the time.  What's more, it seems to conjure up every aspect of that house and all the years I lived there, even though I only had the comic for a mere four days.  Uncanny!

So, I don't know about you, but I find it exceedingly strange that some items inform our recollections of a place to such a degree that they seem to represent the entire 'picture' as opposed to only a part of it (if that makes any sense).

If you've any thoughts on the subject, feel free to let rip in the comments section.  (And if you can tell me what I've just been talking about, I'd very much appreciate it.)
  

Sunday, 15 February 2015

FOUR WALLS - WINDOWS OPTIONAL...


1987, and the end windows still provide access to the view.  When
this photo was taken, things were still pretty much as they'd been
in my day.  My dog Zara (lying down on the right of the picture)
waits patiently for me to complete my task

As previously stated on this blog, when I was much younger and still at school, I was prone to daydreaming.  On pleasant sunny days, I'd sit and gaze out of the window and imagine I was flying through the clouds and soaring into the stratosphere at super-speed, doing all the things that beings imbued with the power of flight are able to.  Well, apart from pooping on pedestrians below.  I was a superhero, not a seagull.  (Yup, I was a nutter even back then.)

2010, and the windows are now blocked off.  Note also the old folks
home on the left of the picture, and the railings (with razor wire on
the roof of the smaller building on the right), giving the school a
less-than-appealing appearance
  
On rainy days I was more relaxed, preferring just to look out at the grey skies beyond, as rivulets of rain raced down the pane, leaving little trails in the dirt on the window.  As I type this, it's raining outside, and it's with difficulty that I tear my gaze from the sky to apply myself to the task of writing yet another historically accurate, rousing reminiscence with which to thrill and enthrall you.  I hope you appreciate all the sacrifices I make on your behalf.

Me in my old classroom circa 1986
  
In previous posts, I've alluded to the fact that all our horizons seem to be narrowing, as fields and play areas are consumed and crammed with sheltered housing for the elderly or squashed, teensy houses or flats for those climbing the property ladder.  For someone who grew up in a new town in the '60s, with its wide open spaces and acres of greenbelt for as far as the eye could see - and beyond - the disappearance of those green areas is casting a claustrophobic shadow over what was once an open and spacious place in which to live.

Close-up of part of the view from the back windows

My town currently has a new schools programme underway, in which a new school is built and then the old one demolished, thereby freeing up land on which to erect housing.  One thing that strikes me about these new buildings is that they have far fewer windows than their predecessors, in many cases resulting in pupils only having four walls to stare at (though no doubt the classrooms are brightly-lit), as opposed to a view beyond the windows.  It must be like living in a prison.  Even where classrooms do have windows, they're high-up, narrow ones, which allow no sight of the scenery (such as it is) beyond.

The same room as above and below.  As you can see, the pupils had
quite an expansive view before the windows on one side were covered

Take a look at the accompanying photographs of one of my old primary classrooms.  The above photo was taken circa 1986, about 16 years after I had left for secondary school.  Apart from new desks, everything was much as I remembered it.  As you can see, two of the walls have large windows, through which the pupils have a view of houses and fields outwith the school.  In the photo below, taken in the same class in 2012, one side has had its windows covered so that it can be utilised for pinning up pictures, etc.  This wasn't restricted to that one room;  that entire side of the school had all the windows blocked off, restricting the pupils' view of the wider world outside.

2012.  Dull, dreary, dismal and despairing.
I'm glad it wasn't like this in my day

Maybe there's no correlation, but I can't help wondering if narrowing people's horizons may also narrow their dreams and aspirations.  As a schoolboy, I used to explore the clouds from the comfort of my desk, and felt free and unfettered.  Just what do today's schoolkids dream of, or explore in their imagination with only the claustrophobic confines of four walls to 'inspire' them?

Any thoughts on the matter?
      

Saturday, 14 February 2015

TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DIE...



When you're young, you have absolutely no concept of never having existed.  On an intellectual level (if you ever felt disposed to consider the matter), you know there was a time when you weren't around, but you can't truly conceive what it was like because non-existence is a difficult if not impossible state to imagine.

Think of any period in mankind's history from before you were born;  the Old West, the Victorian Era, the 1920s or '30s - whatever.  Even though you never experienced them, you almost feel as if you have, thanks to history books, old photographs, artists' impressions, TV shows, movies, etc.  And because you can't remember your beginning, it seems as if you never actually had one and that you've been around forever.  At least, that's what it seems like to me.

Consequently, when I was a teenager of 14, I subconsciously laboured under the impression that I had always been.  (Though the same perception also applies to any point in my childhood from when I first became aware of my surroundings.)  It's unlikely that I was alone in that regard, and it's surely the same for 14 year-olds today.  It's only because fourteen years to someone of my age passes so quickly that I finally realized just how inconsequential such a period of time actually is.  I've got things lying around the house which have never been out of the wrappers since I bought them that are older than that.

As you inexorably inch closer to that time when the condition of non-existence threatens to once again engulf you, it's a prospect you tend to contemplate more than you did (if at all) in your younger days.  Finally, you begin to be able to nearly catch a glimmer of what extinction might be like, and the prospect isn't a pleasant one.  I recall waking up in hospital one day after a procedure which required my unconsciousness, and was alarmed to find I had no recollection of even a half-sleep-like state between being knocked out and coming to.

As I said, no half-remembered thoughts, vague dreams, or hovering on the edge of awareness to connect me to my pre-anaesthetised self - only an absolute absence of even the slightest sense of continuity between the two conditions.  It was then that I realised what oblivion must be like.  It was as if I'd been dead for however many hours I'd been out, and, although my body was still functioning, as far as my mind was concerned, there was no discernible difference between death and unconsciousness.

So, death is not merely a case of not waking up, it's also not even being aware of going to sleep or being asleep at any stage in the process.  Shakespeare was wrong; there are no dreams in the sleep of death, only a blackness and silence from which we never awaken - an eternal nothingness, an everlasting night.

That's no doubt why I often find myself wishing I was only 14 again.  The illusion of no beginning (and, by extension, no ending), while temporary, is a comforting and necessary notion, otherwise we'd probably abandon our journey before we were very far into it.  After all, what's the point of taking a road to nowhere?

Come to think of it, I wouldn't even mind being half that age.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work on that elixir of life I'm developing.  I just can't afford to relax if I want to be here in 2115.

******

We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near.

Lewis Carroll.

Friday, 13 February 2015

PAST IMPERFECT, BUT WELCOME NONETHELESS...



Here's a curious tale which I can't actually recall if I've recounted before or not, though I've meant to for a while now.  Back in August of 1999, myself and a young lady were spending the day in Glasgow and decided to drop in to the Gallery of Modern Art in Royal Exchange Square.  One of the exhibits we looked at was a 'kinetic sculpture' by EDUARD BERSUDSKY, entitled An Autumn Walk in the Belle Epoque of Perestroyka (Meta-Tinguely).  (Below.)

It was scheduled to begin at a certain time, but with a dozen or so people seated and expectant, the minutes crept past the annointed hour without the demonstration of the complex contraption commencing.  The girl I was with (who, for the purpose of this tale we'll call Sally) went off to enquire about what was happening, only to find out that it had been cancelled due to some kind of technical fault.  (A sign at the entrance informing us of the fact would have been appreciated.)

Anyway, disappointed, we filed out to look at other exhibits and soon forgot about what we'd missed.  Not long after, Sally returned to her own country for a while, although I saw her again on two more occasions when she was back in Scotland some time later.  However, she doesn't feature in the rest of this story, so exit Sally, stage left.  Well, in an odd kind of way, that's not quite true, but let's take each step as it comes.  (The best way to take steps, I believe.)


A year later to the very day, I was in Glasgow and decided to revisit the Gallery once more.  Much to my surprise, the exhibit that had been out of order twelve months before was still on display - and just about to begin.  I entered the room and, believe it or not, the exact same two seats at the far end of the row that Sally and I had occupied were empty, so I parked myself on the very one I had sat on previously.

For the next several minutes, the audience sat in rapt attention as the display went through its pre-ordained mechanical repertoire.  When it had completed its revolutions, I instinctively turned to Sally to ask her opinion of what we had just witnessed - only to be surprised for a split-second to find her chair empty.  Then reality kicked in and I realised that my mind had automatically jumped back a year, momentarily duped by the near pefect re-creation of the previous year's events.

Bizarre I know, but for a moment I had experienced something extremely akin to time-travel - even if it was only in my mind.  Has anyone else ever had a similar experience?  Feel free to share.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

IN RECEIPT OF A MEMORY...



I was cleaning out an exterior cupboard in our back porch the other day and, in a dufflebag hanging on a nail, I found this receipt from 1982, revealing the fate of various familiar household items - most of which I had grown up with.

The tea set and the cruets could well have belonged to my grandparents, recently inherited by us upon their deaths, because I'm not quite sure which ones they were.  The mirror, sewing machine, table and log box, however, had all accom-panied me in my journey through childhood and my teenage years, right up into adulthood, and are still sorely missed by me.  I have photos of them somewhere and shall dig them out at some point and add them to this post.  (The table and log box, though, have popped up in previous posts on this blog.)

However, it's strange to be able to put an exact date to their departure after all these years.  And the £40 my parents were paid for the items is nothing short of robbery, even for 1982.  I sometimes wonder where they are now.  Did someone eventually buy them from the robber - oops, I mean dealer - in a single acquisition, or were they subsequently bought separately and now residing in different homes all across the country?  I don't suppose I'll ever find out, but, if I could, I'd buy them all back again.

The survival of the receipt is surprising.  The fact that it must have come with us when we moved away in 1983, then back to this house when we returned in 1987, boggles my imagination.  Lying in a dufflebag for 30-odd years, waiting to fulfill its destiny of revealing to me the exact date when fondly cherished items from yesteryear were untimely ripped (at poor recompense) from my company.

That means, of course, that they've been absent from my life far longer than they were ever a part of it.  Only in the physical sense though, because, truth to tell, they're never far from my thoughts and sometimes, for brief periods, I forget that they no longer inhabit my home, and aren't more than just an arm's reach or a room away.

******

"Sweet is the memory of distant friends!  Like the mellow rays
of the departing sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart."

Washington Irving.

******

I should add, in the interests of historical accuracy, that the log box may not have been the large one I'm thinking of, but rather a smaller one we 'inherited' from my grandparents when they moved into an old folks' home at the end of the 1970s.  The larger one may have been dispensed with at the beginning of  '81 when I was staying down in Southsea for a few months.  Age, alas, prevents me from recalling exactly which one it was with my customary precision.  However, the smaller box was also a feature of my childhood, as it was from this that my brother and myself were each given two bars of chocolate on our weekly Sunday visits to my grandparents.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - PART EIGHT: "ANNEXED ALGEBRA"...


Annexed huts in 1984, shortly before removal.  The hut in question
was next in line to the left, but was gone before I took the photo


Algebra was never my strong point.  I wasn't helped by the fact that I seemed immutably incapable of applying myself to subjects in which I had no interest and, to me, algebra was far too abstract a concept, the academic absorption of which contained no obvious benefits that I could discern.  Therefore, mastering the intricacies of a slide-rule lay beyond the meagre limits of my interest or abilities.  I say "subjects in which I had no interest", but that's simply because they failed to interest me - the fault was therefore surely theirs (or the teachers who failed to imbue them with that particular quality), not mine.

It wasn't that I refused to apply myself in such matters, it was simply that I couldn't.  Whenever I attempted to turn on the metaphorical tap from which intellectual waters should abundantly flow, no such waters were forthcoming - only faint creaks, feeble groans and dry, dusty puffs stirred in the internal water-pumps of my mind.  Alas, I was a hopeless case;  except when it came to subjects that were accompanied by a built-in set of jump-leads to kick-start my interest (or teachers who made them interesting) - and algebra just wasn't one of them.

One day, in maths class, we were tasked with working out an algebraic equation.  I might as well have been given cuneiform tablets and asked to translate them, such was the impossibility of the enterprise set before me.  A blind and deaf five year-old infant with an IQ of minus 300 would've had a far better chance of performing keyhole brain surgery than I had of even comprehending what was being asked of me, far less accomplishing it.  The teacher passed my desk a few times in his perambulations around the room, and then, seeing my difficulty (but with no offer of assistance), made it clear to me that if I hadn't worked it out by lesson's end, I'd be in trouble.

The space where the huts had been was left bare for many years,
before, eventually, a different design of annexed 'huts' took their
place, but running 'longways' instead of 'sideways'

I was in trouble!  The switch in my brain endured a thousand flickings, but no welcome beam of light cast its illumination over the darkness of my incomprehension.  I tried staring at the problem on the blackboard in the earnest hope that sudden inspiration might strike, but it was useless.  You can't make a snowman without snow, and though, when it came to algebra, my poor brain was as cold as ice, there was just no snow to be found.  When the bell rang at the end of the period, the teacher, seeing that I hadn't completed the complex calculations, dismissed the rest of the class and then ordered me to raise my hands so that he could belt them.

I refused, of course.  To be punished for not doing what I was incapable of doing seemed immensely unfair to me, and I said so.  Not to be thwarted, the teacher took me over to the headmaster's office (Dr. COOK, as cold and as severe a man - despite his claim of Christian convictions - as any celluloid Nazi officer you've ever seen), who promptly ordered me to comply with the teacher's demands.  I was trotted back to the classroom in the annexed huts at the back of the school, where, in the cloakroom, five or six over-enthusiastic whacks of the tawse were administered upon my upturned palms.  I can only assume that he was a cricket fan, such was the run-up he took for each stroke.  Perhaps this was the part of his job that he enjoyed most;  in retrospect, a disproportionate number of these teachers seemed to be sadists.

I've related in a previous post the magnificent and unbowed manner in which I endured such punishment;  I looked the teacher straight in the eye and didn't flinch.  Not for me the dropping down or drawing back of my arms in a sad attempt to lessen the blows.  My palms remained upraised through each stroke;  and though, no doubt, my face (and hands) would've reddened slightly with the pain, unlike other pupils, by sheer effort of will I refused to be reduced to a snivelling, whimpering wreck.  I'm not too modest to reveal that I yet enjoy a sense of achievement at the way in which I thwarted such attempts to humble and humiliate me.

I only noticed the existence of these constructions in
the last few years of the school's life.  The photos were
taken in 2007, not long before complete demolition
of everything within school grounds

Anyway, it's no exaggeration to say that the teacher was simply stunned by the staunch manner in which I had withstood his assault.  (And, nowadays, that's just how it would be regarded.)  Strange as it may sound, he seemed impressed, and suddenly adopted a friendly, ingratiating manner.  Putting his arm 'round my shoulder, he walked me over to the door, saying:  "Gordon, I only did that with great reluctance and for your own good.  I don't get any pleasure out of it, but I know you've got it in you to do far better in this subject than you do.  I'm only trying to encourage you to achieve your full potential."  Okay, that's unlikely to be a verbatim account of his words (it's been over 40 years, after all), but you can be assured that it's pretty much the gist of it.

I no longer recall his name or I would readily identify him for your righteous condemnation.  He was of a slightly weathered appearance, with steely-eyes, a determined jawline and wiry hair.  I can still see him in my mind's eye, and I've a feeling that he resembled an actor, who, if I could only remember which one, I'd include a picture to give you all a clearer idea of what he looked like.  In fact, on reflection, he was roughly in the same mould as a middle-aged SPENCER TRACY, but with hair of a darker hue (with hints of grey).  I'm not saying they were twins, mind, only that they were similar.  Couldn't say whether ol' Spence likewise enjoyed inflicting pain on adolescent schoolboys, but I'd consider it unlikely.

So there you have it!  Yet another Schooltime Scandal from the dim and distant days of my journey through the hallowed halls of Academia.  Have you had enough?  Then say "We submit!" and hand over all your tuck-shop and dinner-money!

Friday, 6 February 2015

THE FORGOTTEN ONES...?


A former residence

A few years ago, a neighbour from hell moved in next door.  Parties at all hours of the night, people constantly coming and going accompanied by the continuous clinking of carry-outs in the early morning - along with shouting, singing, stomping, screaming, etc.  Luckily, he's now gone and a nice, respectable young couple have taken up residence.

They've now been in the house for almost five years, but, to me, it seems as if they only moved in fairly recently.  This has led me to consider the following curious concept which has recently crept into my consciousness.

There have been a couple of houses in my lifetime in which we lived for only four years, plus one we occupied for a mere 15 months, and despite it seeming to me as if we lived in each of those houses for a good long stretch, I've now started to wonder if, to our neighbours at the time, it seemed as if we were merely a temporary blip in their everyday lives.

If my new neighbours' nearly five-year-occupancy seems far less to me than it is, then it stands to reason that the almost similar short periods in which my family resided in some houses may likewise have appeared to others to be terms of no consequence.  Are we remembered by name by those we lived next to, or are we dimly-recalled shadows that barely register in the histories of some of the areas we stayed?

It's strange to look back on my relatively short time in those places, and to realise that, although they're well-established, carved-in-stone 'epochs' in my life - the details of which are firmly entrenched in my memory - to those neighbours who preceded us and remained long past my family's departure, our time there may be only brief, nearly forgotten interludes in their overall recollections of events.

Makes you wonder eh?  (Nah, probably not.  It does with me though.)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - PART SEVEN: GYM'LL FIX IT...



Incredibly, in my advanced state of age and decrepitude, I sometimes find myself looking back on my schooldays with a certain amount of wistful yearning.  I'm not quite sure why, because I never much liked school at the time, being an inveterate daydreamer who gazed through the classroom windows at the wider world beyond with a longing to be out there and enjoying myself.

My least favourite subject in school was PE (physical education - or exercise), and I was forever 'forgetting' my shorts or gym-shoes in order to avoid what I saw as pointless exertion.  A healthy life may be a happy life, but I was unconvinced of this philosophy, much preferring a state of restful inactivity and thoughtful contemplation.

The PE teachers were an odd mix, the chief perpetrator of officially sanctioned child torture being an overweight baldie by the name of Mr. MacDOUGAL, who had a stogie permanently protruding from his facial orifice.  He wore a blue tracksuit which showcased his distended stomach, ample and ironic testimony of his own far from ideal physical condition.  (He bore an uncanny resemblance to actor WILLIAM MERVYN from ALL GAS AND GAITERS, a once popular TV sit-com.)


Mr. MacDougal's favourite 'sport' was sadistically tweaking the nipples of any pupil who incurred his disfavour - something he seemed to take perverse delight in.  Nowadays, of course, this cruelty wouldn't be tolerated and he'd be fired faster than a fart from The FLASH, but things were different back then.  Such behaviour tends to confirm the long and commonly-held suspicion that all PE teachers are perverts of some description anyway (allegedly). 

There were two other guys (and at least one woman - to teach the girls, presumably), one of whom had a perm and moustache that HARRY ENFIELD's Scousers would be proud of.  (The other one may well have been similarly styled - they tended to conform to the same 1970s pattern of what was then considered the epitome of manliness, but now seems overwhelmingly 'camp'.)


On the particular occasion which I am now about to relate, I had recently been legitimately excused from a few PE periods on account of a sprained ankle.  One afternoon, I was limping along the corridor outside the changing rooms on my way to another class, when I was suddenly sent sprawling onto the floor by the extended foot of the moustachioed instructor - who'd quite deliberately tripped me up, the b*st*rd.

He then proceeded to berate me for wearing gym-shoes (ironic or what?), proclaiming that they weren't suitable footwear for school (outside of the gym hall, obviously), nor part of the approved school uniform.  I explained that I was wearing them because of a sprained (and bandaged) ankle and they were more comfortable to wear in my less then flexible state.

That night at home, I recounted the event to my father, who visited the school the next day to speak to the headmaster about the instructor's behaviour.  When the teacher next saw me, he summoned me over and snarled "Next time, tell your father to come and see me, not the headmaster!"  What a pr*ck, eh?

My father originated from a rough area of Glasgow, so it must have been an effort of will on his part to resist taking up the offer, but he registered his annoyance at the school.  Whether the instructor was ever spoken to about his second mis-demeanour I never found out, but I don't recall any further incident from him.

I think it's obvious that much of the trouble which teachers have encountered over the last couple of decades can be traced back to incidents similar to my own (which were by no means unique), which started a trend of resistance to any perception of unfair discipline in the minds of then-future parents, who'd be automatically inclined to take their kids' side in any confrontation between pupils and staff, due to their own experience of injustice at school.  Now, of course, things have gone too far the other way.

So what have I learned from looking back at my schoolboy escapades?  Merely that I still hate any form of physical exercise - unless it involves a nubile nymphomaniac with a penchant for old middle-aged men who look remarkably like myself.  (Although I'd probably settle for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.)

Any schooltime scandals of your own that you'd care to relate?  The floor is all yours.

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