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.  Although,
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 today.

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, shameless example of ingratiation
in the best Cuthbert 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 any-
where 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 Barrow-
land 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 ap-
parently kindly-intentioned stranger's invitation.  And so it was that,
not too long after, I found myself sipping tea in the bed-sit apart-
ment 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 - although 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 cir-
cumstances, 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 noth-
ing 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 physi-
cal 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 livingroom 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 con-
signed to history long before others made their appearance - yet
some- how 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 livingroom 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 had 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  he left of the picture, and the railings (with razor wire on
the roof of the small building on the right), giving the school a less
than appealling 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 rain-
ing 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 win-
dows 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 win-
dows 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 imagi-
nation 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 - what-
ever.  Even 'though you never experienced them, you almost feel as
if you have, thanks to history books, old photographs, artists' impres-
sions, 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.  (Although
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 un-
consciousness, 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 hov-
ering on the edge of awareness to connect me to my pre-anaes-
thetised 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 function-
ing, 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, although 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 realis-
ed 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...



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 grand-
parents, 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 accompanied 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 acrosss 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 re-
calling exactly which one it was with my customary precision.  How-
ever, 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 by the time 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 con-
cept, the academic absorption of which contained no obvious benefits that
I could discern.  Therefore, mastering the intricacies of a slide-rule lay be-
yond 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 metaph-
orical 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 hope-
less 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 per-
ambulations 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 although,
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 head-
master'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 as-
sume 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 sniv-
elling, 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 around 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-estab-
lished, 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 some-
times 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 prefer-
ring 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 sum-
moned 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 misdemeanour 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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