My parents are moving house, so I’ve been taking all my crap off their hands. It wasn’t long before sorting through the piles turned into nostalgic archaeology. Lots of the things I found were from my schooldays, which prompted an extended bout of angst best worked out by telling the entire internet about it. Obviously.
Last weekend, I found a yellowed local newspaper at the bottom of a box, with photos of the new Primary 1 classes. The girl with the rictus of terror, bottom row, second from the right, next to the girl with her head bowed sadly? That’s me. We were unlucky enough to be in Mrs. Peters’ class.
Let’s talk about Mrs. Peters. Mrs Peters didn’t like children. They talked too much. They didn’t do what they were told. They got stuff wrong sometimes. Now, you might say she doesn’t sound like ideal teacher material, and you’d be right. She used to stalk about the classroom yelling like a banshee. She’d keep a lot of us behind to make sure we learned maths properly. In one of these sessions, where by huffing and moving coloured plastic cars around I was meant to learn addition and subtraction, she grabbed my arm and shouted at me. No, it was all wrong. When I finally got home- being shouted at by the resident playground bully this time- I showed the huge bruises to Mum.
Shortly after this, we learned my friend Katy was being hit on the head with a textbook whenever she was wrong. Her mum discovered this when she observed her sitting in a corner of the house, hitting herself with a book when she didn’t understand maths questions.
Fortunately, there’s nothing like the tigress-like wrath of a mother. Or rather, a group of them. Five of them descended one day in the middle of the morning session. Mrs. Peters was furthering the cause of pedagogy by filing her scarlet nails and looking bored. Several hours later, and a conversation with the head, a family friend who ummed and ahhed and said ‘oh well you see it’s a delicate situation’ a lot, five pupils moved to the other school in town.
Mrs. Peters left shortly after to lecture at a well-known Scottish university, an institution where I would seriously hope her wards hit her back if she tried out the same routine from our class. And I don’t wish violence on a lot of people. Not the entire class at the next school who chased me round the playground, before I was hauled in front of the head with his ‘comedy’ ‘Pobody’s Nerfect’ sign for a bollocking, presumably for bringing it on myself by breathing. Not the kid with the rich family who bribed the teachers to mark my correct spelling exercises as wrong. Not even the girl who punched me in the stomach and forged letters threatening to kidnap me. But if that one teacher turned up in town tomorrow, I’d shove those plastic cars somewhere creative.
I’m not really writing this for sympathy. Cheap therapy, perhaps. Showing it’s not always the kids at school that are the wrong ‘uns, maybe. It probably goes some way to explaining why I’m always reluctant to ask for help with everything from schoolwork to editing. Because it’s all wrong, and I’ll never get it right. And if there’s any anger simmering to the surface in my characters, you don’t need to look far to find it in the creator.
Sorry, that was a bit grim, wasn’t it? Good job I also dug out a bunch of schoolwork. Let’s have a look at one of my senior school creative non-fiction efforts:
Actually, that’s a bit depressing too. Shout out to the loner girl! How about my lucid review of James and the Giant Peach instead(click to view the larger image):
I had it in for the earthworm. Elsewhere in this rambling review I branded him a ‘coward’ for refusing to be bait for the seagulls. I preferred my novels hard-hitting, innit. Oh, and did anyone else learn the Nelson school of swirly joined-up handwriting with those weird ending ‘s’-es, and have to do it in fountain pen, only to ditch both things when you hit the big school, because writing neatly at speed with a nib is a bit like serving a Pot Noodle on a porcelain plate with a posh garnish because you think it’ll make the contents look far classier? Gel pens for life, yo.
Yeah, it seemed I was always destined to study Classics at uni, and delve into the murky world of mythological creatures. I don’t know about panpipes inducing panic in mortals, but for 90s comedy aficionados it can only conjure up images of that Fast Show sketch with the crap South American buskers (who pop up about 4 minutes into this excellent episode).
Finally, arguably the most harrowing picture of them all. I went on many a school trip in my time, but none more grim than a visit to the cement factory in Dunbar:
To be fair to the school, that year we also saw such glittering sights as Cockenzie and Torness power stations, and the Grangemouth refinery, where the bosses oddly got quite shouty when young schoolkids asked them about pollution. You tell young people nowadays that all we had was bad teachers and cold gravel, and they won’t believe you. Pfft.