Wonka’s Golden Ticket

It’s hard to recall your happiest childhood memory. Childhood is being left further and further behind me as I stare down the barrel of popping my mortal clogs.

Fortunately there were a lot of happy childhood memories. I can’t say that I had one that stood out more than the rest, more of a (T.V.) series of them.

The earliest one I can recall was from Kindergarten, when aged about 5 I’d observed that on your birthday you were given a large intensely, brightly-coloured cake that most definitely piqued my fancy. Brightly coloured as all the late 1960’s-70’s psychedelically coloured rooms, clothes, T.V. and movies seemed to be around that time.

I couldn’t wait for my birthday but when it rolled around after time dragging the more I thought about it (as it invariably does), I was bitterly disappointed to find that it was made of Play-Doh.

I’d assumed that the cake we were served up to eat at other kid’s Kindergarten birthday parties and the vividly coloured obelisk that sat in the centre of the table with candles ablaze were one and the same. They weren’t. My happiness was intense but fleeting and illusory. I even took a big chunk of it into the locker room and tried really hard to swallow it but there was just nothing there that gave me the will to chew and swallow. It wasn’t like I was asking for much. Just some small spark of hope that there was something infinitely small but pleasurable from getting it down my gob. But there wasn’t. So there was no cake on that fateful day. Mum hadn’t made me one to take into Kindy as I’d assured her that we were going to be given a “Huge One” on the day. Sigh.

Why they put so much effort into a Play-Doh cake and not into making a real one was beyond me even at that young age. It made no sense I remember thinking. I guess it had to do with health and safety reasons, food allergies and those sorts of things. Although I can’t recall food allergies back then, just the occasional bee sting allergic reaction.

Another childhood memory was in reverse from that one in that it started a bit dodgy but had a happy ending.

My brothers and I had just finished a stint of Kung Fu Fighting inside the house.

Back then in the early 70s, Bruce Lee was the man and “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting”. Caine (David Carradine), the peace-loving Shaolin monk, was on T.V. in Kung Fu the series. There was the Kentucky Fried Movie Kung Fu spoof. Cato Fong, Inspector Clouseau’s Chinese manservant from the Pink Panther film series. Also I had a really good friend from school called Eddie from Hong Kong.

Chinoiserie was the flavour of the times.

After my brothers had taken their rough medicine from me, Enter the Dragon style, and yielded before my mighty strength, I’d wondered later on during the course of the day about scenes I’d seen of Bruce kicking where his foot would twist to seemingly right angles in between someone’s crotch and also just his sheer power at being able to go through a wall with a kick. So because T.V. reality and reality were one in the same to me at that age, I decided to kick the wall Bruce style not expecting my foot to actually go through it – but it actually did !

Bloody hell I thought, my parents are going to kill me !

But I thought fast on my feet, martial arts are about improvisation I surmised, and I found an old magazine that I put down on the floor just as my mum rounded the corner to see what the hell the bang was. I then sheepishly looked and acted as though I’d gotten myself up off the floor. “What the Hell’s happened!” she said. “Mum”, I answered. “I’m really sorry but I’ve slipped on this magazine while going too fast down the hall and put my elbow through the wall…I’m really sorry.” She didn’t look too impressed but my acting was good and she bought it.

Phew, I got away with that and learnt about consequences I remember thinking.

A couple of weeks later with the hole in the wall still there (in fact it was never fixed), my brother saw something on T.V. about time capsules in walls and an idea was born.

Soon he had written a long note about his life that he read aloud to us. It was for a school project he said – “An experiment”. He was keen on adding some biological material, a “human cellular sample” to the note like blood. However he decided instead (and this was typical of my brother, and the reason we never ate any of his food. He who had a poster on his wall next to his bed that he put his nose pickings on and graded from small – big before he went to sleep at night) that he didn’t like the idea of pricking himself for blood, so went for a hunk of snot instead that he drew ball point pen around with arrows pointing to it having affixed it to the note.

In those days science hadn’t miniaturised like it is now, or else he would have added a strand of hair or something like that I guess. Somehow he also got mum and dad in on the act having seen an old banknote on the time capsule story on T.V. and roped them into giving him a $2 note to put in with his capsule. How he wrangled that much money out of them we couldn’t work out, but he may have played on it being educational – which is always a good ploy.

Anyway in it went into the wall and nothing happened for a few weeks. But I’d been thinking about this $2 note in there. I’d also been watching T.V. and a story about a stash of old Roman coins being dug up in Britain. Metal lasts longer than paper I thought. So it made more sense for me to put a 5 cent piece I had in there and get the $2 out. It didn’t harm and in fact furthered the chances of the scientific experiment succeeding. A noble thing to do.

But how to get it out?

I spent a good day, making an improvised World War 1 trench periscope to look into the darkened narrow hole using a flashlight to illuminate the cavity and also fashioned (half-snapped through sawing and taping it up for strength) an old rim gouged drum-stick of my dad’s onto something else so that I had length and angularity to stick down the hole. Then I started saving my wads of chewing gum & on the day of the op I chewed it all up so it was as sticky as I could get it and wrapped it around the broken drum stick concoction. I waited until my brothers went out to some friends having encouraged them to leave in a non-descript way and then got to work.

It took ages but I got it all out, including the note with my brother’s dried snot that I then put back down into the hole having exchanged the $2 note for a 5 cent coin.

I then went down to the corner dairy to buy chocolate with the $2. I saw big King Size bars that I could have had all for myself but my developing conscience part of my brain, dormant for so long began to whirr into life, so I bought 3 smaller bars of chocolate for we three boys.

When my brothers got home, they were thrilled when I gave them a chocolate bar each. Found some money I said between a crack (“hole”) in the pavement.

Eating chocolate with ill-gotten gains with my brothers while none were the wiser was one of the memorable moments of my childhood.





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Corporal Punishment and the Lance corporal Who Lived Behind Us

My brothers and I liked to push the boundaries.

I well remember our chain-smoking suburban mum and neighbour Mrs Johnson, whose husband a cook did a runner with some sweeter ingredient – can’t say we blamed him, telling her brow-beaten son Jeffery (pronounced as “Jeff-errr-reee”), to leave fumbling around with their garden hose and just let our garage burn down.

The garage was on the boundary of both of our properties. This was after my brother playing with matches accidentally? set fire to the hefty pile of newspapers from his part-time job that he’d dump down the back of our garage rather than delivering.

“Let it burn Jeff-errr-reee, let the whole goddam place burn down” she said emotionless and expressionless with her emphysema-like ‘kicking a can down the road’ rattle-chest drawl, while drawing away on a ciggy that was permanently stuck in a long plastic cigarette holder that she flourished. That together with a permanent hairnet that seemed to have melded with her scalp was the image I have of her. I guess she liked burning things.

Somehow we put that one out ourselves, before Mum & Dad got home.

Speaking of down the back of the property, the other neighbour immediately behind us was an Australian back from Vietnam and somehow we’d gotten into his garage courtesy of an invite from his son, so that we could examine his various militaria collection, ammunition belts, canteens, guns etc. Irresistable to young boys. Anyway, he suddenly burst in on us and chased us out brandishing a World War 2 bayonet from his collection and we’d leapt / rough scrambled over the 2 metre back fence that was behind the garage with this mad fucker after us. We ended up hiding statue-like in disparate neighbour’s properties under steps, in the gardens etc. while he hunted around shaking his fists, calling, shouting and looking for us before finally giving up and going home to give his poor old son a walloping. I think he’d been on a bender with the turps. The wife was nowhere to be seen. Not sure what the whole family dynamic thing going on there was, but I’d hazard a guess that it was an emo-hazard.

Anyway, when we did get found out for our various misdemeanours (rather than felonies I like to think), the immediate reaction in those days for discipline with kids was to give them a whack.

We had two options punishment-wise.

The first was with Mum, who if we were in trouble would brandish and then use a wooden spoon against our butts. But dear old Mum being Mum, could never bear to actually hurt us – so the thing was about as heavy as balsa wood and she would more tap our behinds than take a good swing at it. Of course, we’d plead with her “for the love of God and sweet Jesus too and all that is holy, good and pure in the world. AMEN !” to be spared the horrendous pain of that wooden spoon, knowing that if we played up with crocodile tears and the works we’d avoid the other much more serious option that was my Dad and his drum sticks from Hell. We’d feign lameness with Mum and drag ourselves pitifully across the length of the hallway for effect to our bedroom in order to lie down and “let the healing process begin.” Poor old Mum, she always looked terribly upset and the hamming it up overacting had an added bonus that remorseful, she’d often appear later on with a plate of ice-cream and peaches for us.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dad joined a band as a drummer with the drawback being that he developed a penchant for using drum sticks on the backs of our legs for discipline purposes. He’d started with the lighter 7A jazz drumsticks for his Ginger Baker (of Cream, lighter more reflective period) and that wasn’t too bad but then he got into the heavier rock ones, the John Bonham’s I think of them as now, and they hurt like hell. We’re talking big welts.

He’d make us turn with our backs to him, while we jumped or crumpled forwards at our knees, trying to anticipate the blows and in doing so lessen their directness and effectiveness so they didn’t hit straight on. Then just as we turned over our shoulders, unsure at what was happening, he’d strike and then the whole thing would be repeated for the dozen or so whacks he figured we deserved for whatever mortal sin we’d committed.

He was like a stumbling, crazed cymbal-crashing toy monkey on autopilot – to use a drumming motif with the cymbals, as is the fact that Micky Dolenz was the drummer with the Monkees. He just kept hitting, and the stumbling came about when he’d take a flying leap in order to ensure he connected with us when we managed a decent squirm sideways. Cold fish eyed, he had some sort of bulls eye in his mind which was the inside centre part of our calves.

Anyway, my brothers and I now give my Dad ‘stick’ for that. He honestly looks surprised and tells us “Aw you’re kidding me” when we explain to him just how violent he was.

To be honest though, we do take the opportunity to ham it up with him like we did with Mum.

Kids have the advantage of being able to play the long game…












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“Shooting The Breeze”

It’s a hot night here tonight and I bathe by moonlight in jungle sweat ooze dampened sheets. Like a pitted juicy prune leaving behind its stone, I sink deeply into the mattress weighed down by my internal organs rather than the enticing weight of Morpheus’ sweet dreams and whispers. My Somnus has been Nyxed (nixed). My top bedding sheets have been kicked away and it’s times like these I surmise that people probably go au naturel not for kinky reasons but through sheer necessity. Although I’m half naked barring my shorts, exposure of my nether regions to elemental forces isn’t exactly going to bring about an arctic breeze to rapidly drop the temperature of my body.

Which causes me to ponder the cooling effect (fallacy or phallusy) of one’s nether regions being exposed and the link with a particular pyjama manufacturer of years gone by who produced not so much of a fly (that can be zipped up or fastened as such), but a 10 inch slit with ineffectual small buttons at either end.

Well do I remember a similar summer night in days gone by, having been invited around to my friend’s house. We’d changed into our pyjamas for a late dinner given the jungle heat and after meaningful conversation at the dinner table with his family (including his 3 sisters), we retired all of us to the lounge for a civilised game of Yahtzee with ice cream and fruit dessert.

With a goodly number of points on my side, nature called and I visited my friend’s toilet. As I twisted the door knob, my hand brushed against something unexpected. To my horror I discovered that part of my anatomy was hanging free and poking through the slit so thoughtfully created by the makers of that particular brand of pyjama.

Jesus !! I thought to myself, and began posing a series of rapid-fire, panicked  questions to myself inside the psychadelically-lit colour schemed bathroom that was the fashion in those days.

How long had the big fella’ been out there ?

Had it just happened ?

It must have just happened. I answered my own question. Stay cool…keep it real Mark. I would have noticed it before now if it had been loose for any length of time.

Nah, that’s it, it’s just happened now. I reassured myself. I’ve reflexively reached down there for the task at hand being the call of nature and it’s made a dash for freedom.

Christ !! that was a close one I thought.

I could hear my name being called from the lounge through the toilet door by my friend to: “Hurry up, we can’t finish the game without you !”

So rather gingerly, I wandered back in and as the remainder of the evening wore on and what with the heated game of Yahtzee and the ice cream and prunes, I slowly cast aside all doubt.

It was only after my friend and I had been tucked into our beds by his mum, that I confided in him about these “Shitty pyjamas” that I’d gotten and my “predicament” that I’d found myself in when I’d used the bathroom and the thing had slid out.

He laughed, a not so reassuring laugh, and replied “Not to worry”.  Adding disconcertingly hysterically that I’d had the thing out for the entire night. They didn’t have the heart to tell me !!!!

I never lived it down and always had an awkward feeling around his sisters. Can you blame me ?

But for the love of God, why would you make men’s cotton pyjamas with a slit that has no effective way of being fastened ! A 10 inch gap between the top and bottom buttons!

If the object was to cool, then it had exactly the opposite effect of causing one to die of acute red hot embarrassment.


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“Fridge Over the River Kwai” or “Kwai Me a River”

The fridge was my BMX bike. The stifling heat was the jungle. The neighbours were the neighbours but laid out in deck chairs.

It’s been a while and I’m back in the spare room again with a deeply aching arm that brings back more memories of jungle life around the late 1970s / early 80s. Pan to images of motocross barrel jumping, cars and flaming hoops.

I’d somehow gotten a BMX bike for a birthday present that was a BMX bike in name only and was as heavy and about as aerodynamic as a fridge, but the image they sold me on as a kid was of soaring across the sky, jumping barrels, cars and flaming hoops. Also “Cousin Daisy” from the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ T.V. series. Although that was much later on I think – mid-80s, so I may be splicing and dicing my memories. E.T. (the movie), Elliott and the bike silhouetted against the moon was also later on come to think of it.

Anyway, the “Good Ol’ Boys” from the Dukes of Hazzard made it a habit to jump over lakes and bodies of water in the “General Lee” (a Confederate Dodge Charger) and their “Cousin Daisy” was hot. Uncle Jesse, not so much.

The link was as clear as mud, propel yourself over water in something steel framed (ideally with an air horn) and you got the girl (although that doesn’t quite work as “Daisy” was the “Good Ol’ Boys” cousin) but there was enough there for my brain to make the synaptic leap.

Somehow with my brothers help, we built a wooden ramp on a cleared area of our jungle orchard home beside what we called the “River Kwai” but what was mostly an overland flow path for septic tanks. A trickle of tinkles. This was the stream that an eel swam up by mistake and died a while later in, that my brother afterwards wore as a belt until the smell got too much for him.

The idea was that I would ride as fast as hell from the top of our bowl-like steeply inclined jungle orchard down to the stream edge, hit the ramp at speed, and clear the bubbling (rather than babbling) brook landing heavily yet composed and at all times in control on the other side.

It must have become clear to the neighbours what we kids were up to as they brought out deck-chairs to watch the show from their deck. They had a double-storey house that looked down on us. I remember feeling a bit uneasy at being trapped now with this audience along for the ride but there could be no going back. No retreat, no surrender. Besides one of the neighbours was a cute girl – fait accompli !

Anyway I pedalled like hell from the top of the arched hill and managed to hit the ramp but there was zero lift from the fridge and I propelled hard into the “River Kwai”, its septic contents, and the bank like a bird that just hit a glass window mid flight. Smack ! and then kind of slid down the side into the steaming morass.

This wasn’t how it should be I thought as I tried to make sense of what had happened and dragged myself up onto the bank noticing that I had a crap load of pain coming from my arm. I glanced up at the neighbours who looked pretty disgusted (even the cute girl) with the show – I was too ! – and they started folding up the deck-chairs and moving back inside probably to watch the T.V.

The pain in my arm was now so bad I really felt like crying but I held it in while briskly retrieving the bike with its tangled handlebars and twisted front and rear brake cords, while my brothers solemnly got the ramp and we dragged it all and myself back home. I’d realised at this point that I must have broken my arm as the bone was poking out of my skin – but no need to compound the misery and I managed to get inside without a fuss in as dignified a fashion as possible.

And that was the inglorious end for this Rough Rider for anything intentionally airborne, freestyle or fancy on my BMX (aka the lead fridge).



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Pissing ‘Bloketiquette’

Forget feminism. Men are chained, shackled and ‘man’acled when it comes to public pissing etiquette or ‘Bloketiquette’ in the “Big House” or alternatively the “Little Boys’ Room”.

I’ve heard the phrase “Rat Up a Drainpipe” applied to it before, but have started calling a public lavatory – the “Rat On a Hot Tin Roof”. Why ? – because I once happened to glance up in a public lavvy while taking a piss and saw a rat and nest of babies sandwiched between chicken wire mesh and a hot corrugated steel roof above me. Ah…the serenity of that particular moment.

From an early age it’s instilled into males to stand rigid at a urinal, eyes transfixed forward, boring into the obligatory white tiled mouldy lime grout wall. No acknowledgement of the bloke next to you who’s trying to get the piss out in as short a time as possible. There’s communication generally, but it’s a monosyllabic grunt of acknowledgement at the start. Nothing midstream mind you and no eye contact – that’s dodgy.

If the bloke alongside you spontaneously combusted, you might notice out of the corner of your eye at the absolute extreme edge of your peripheral vision but even then you wouldn’t turn ever so slightly to try to douse the flames with a trickle. Eyes straight ahead thank you very much.

I was once in a rundown pub a bit worse for wear after a pub crawl and the door was busted. This was prior to my beer, Italian and Brazilian vino rosso with a pizza chaser moderating dotage. From the corner of my eye I noticed someone watching but carried on. Once I’d finished – a dozen or so girls’ were having a laugh looking at a few of us lined up through the half open broken door. None of us had turned to look at them. Not the done thing you see. Eyes straight ahead.

The big stainless steel plates as urinals are there because once you start there can be no correction in trajectory. We’d rather piss over our trousers and shoes than try to correct things. Anything other than a microsecond of correction is just not okay. Certainly no lingering fine motor skill adjustment. Looking upwards at the ceiling where I spied my furry friends is acceptable but it needs to be a quick look upwards, not head in the clouds, star gazing stuff. None of that spinning around like on the deck of the Titanic in the movie.

The difficulty of not being able to talk in a toilet got to me when I worked at McDonalds after school as a youngster. In between preparing fine food I cleaned the toilets.

One day I was changing toilet paper and someone went into the cubicle while my back was turned. Unfortunately for them though there was no toilet paper as I hadn’t gotten round to replacing it before they went in there. It soon became clear they weren’t taking a piss. However there was no toilet paper and this they would soon discover to their horror.

But I couldn’t exactly call out, “Excuse me, are you having a crap or a piss ? If the former is the case, unless you’re accomplished at using your hand, you should know there’s no paper. You should stop now if you can. If you’re too far gone I’ll send some over – Bombs Away !”

I couldn’t do anything other than watch the poor bugger emerge walking like he’d been in the saddle for a month, and amble his way out of the family restaurant at a brisk pace.

Speaking of McDonalds, I should have known something was up when I walked in as a customer one day and lamented the fact that there were no urinals – that and the eye contact I was getting at the hand dryer. Not the done thing.

Out of the corner of my eye, someone was looking straight at me as I stood drying my hands with my gaze transfixed on the wall in front of me as is the male custom. The extreme edge of my peripheral vision though told me  that someone was staring intently and seemingly malevolently at me. You don’t stare at someone in the “Rat On a Hot Tin Roof”. Bugger that I thought, bloketiquette is to hold one’s ground no matter what and I wasn’t going to be pushed off the hand dryer until my hands were baked in dried soap.

Only then did I turn to let them use it and looked into the eyes of a woman.

Something didn’t make sense I thought. My first reaction was that this bloody pervert woman has gone into a male toilet !

But I said nothing. No talking is the rule, and I nonchalantly turned and strolled out the door.

It only became clear later on that the toilets had been switched following renovations and I’d just assumed they were in the same place and walked straight in there without looking for any signage on the door. It became clearer in those stunned few seconds that I was the one in the wrong as the lack of urinals hit home.

I duly registered a complaint at the counter to establish an alibi and after that legged it.

I saw a cop heading towards McDonalds outside and thought for a brief moment I was going to be done for loitering with intent or something – the bloody injustice of it all ! Anyway the cop went past me and I got the hell out of there. Blended into the crowd.

My point of all of this is – sure we piss standing up, but it’s not all milk and honey.

Whereas woman are so liberated they can have a telephone conversation on the toilet. We males are imprisoned in our four walls and have a long, long way to go…









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A Stag To-Do

I don’t know why I keep returning to my childhood in my posts.

Maybe its cathartic I ponder, as I look up at a huge full moon tonight with my Rescue dog “Mr Lee” tugging at the end of his leash to edge closer to the neighbour’s letterbox and rubbish bin so he can piss over them.

I guess I have a gob full of mortality in my mouth and feel the need to leave something behind, however inane.

Many moons ago as young kids we moved countries and went to live in South East Asia on the outskirts of a city on an abandoned Dutchman’s orchard surrounded by jungle. My memories are of hot summer nights and days spent knocking ‘Black Doris’ variety plums out of mature trees with bamboo poles and subsisting on plums for days on end.

There were new creatures to discover in this strange new land, including snakes.

A vivid memory I have is of my brother finding an eel in the creek that had died and him wearing it like a belt around his waist for weeks until the smell got too much.

Also of me finding a dead Stag Beetle (Dorcus species). A truly impressive creature it seemed to me. So much so that rather than letting the ants carry it off to their ‘All You Can Eat Buffet’, I felt it deserved to be exhibited.

So I took it inside and put it all the way down the bottom of my parents’ bed.

Pack as many critters in there, I thought at the time. I couldn’t help laughing to myself as I thought about their shock at encountering this primordial whopper.

Nothing happened though after 3 days or so, and I actually forgot about the Stag.

However I awoke one morning to find my dad prostrate on the couch applying some sort of salve to an elevated leg.

Apparently the barbed bits of the Stag Beetle’s legs had somehow gotten caught on the skin or hair of Dad’s leg on the 3rd night of sharing his bed with this bedfellow. He’d woken up with a start, couldn’t shake it free and assumed it was alive.

According to Dad it had gotten such a hold and bitten so deeply in the middle of the night that if he ripped it off his leg it would, “open him up”, he’d “bleed out” and, “require a multitude of stitches.” So he’d pleaded with my Mum to get it the “hell off him !” and she’d grabbed the first thing to hand, that happened to be a can of fly spray.

As Dad said, “I don’t know if it said it killed Stag Beetles on the little illustrations on the side of the can, but that bastard was so big it made no difference whatsoever. If anything it made it madder and it bit down harder.”

“Your Mother”, he said, “Unloaded half a can of that stuff into him and it did nothing. Didn’t even touch the sides.” In the end Dad said he wielded Webster’s Illustrated Dictionary like a brick and crushed the thing and his leg in the process, before it would let go.

By this time of the night apparently my Dad was starting to feel dizzy and wondered, “If this tropical devil had injected him with a paralysing neurotoxin” and it was starting to kick in.

Meanwhile I was suppressing my laughter and feigning deep concern as he related the night’s events. Trying to throw him off, I asked him why we’d moved to this godforsaken place where such things existed.

“I’m sorry”, he said, “But we just have to get on with things.”

I couldn’t let on that the Stag had been dead for about a week.

Dad had taken up drumming in a band and had developed a penchant for using drumsticks on the backs of our legs when we kids played up. So I stayed shtum.

Dad put salve on his leg for weeks afterwards to stop, “Necrosis of the skin, the flesh eating bug thing”, he reckoned.

Still makes me laugh.

The Stag Beetle

The Stag Beetle

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Teachers

Was thinking about the various teachers who had the undoubted pleasure of basking in the golden glow of my cerebral cortex. A fine sparkling wine I was, bubbling up to an uncorked neck.

And let’s not forget my debonair man-child looks. Think yin and yang pre-pubescent Sean Connery. Me with hair but no facial hair, Sean with facial hair but no hair. Especially by the time Thunderball (1965) came out, when poor old Sean looked like he’d been crossed with a horse – there was so much horse hair in his hairpiece.

But, I jest.

On the whole most of my teachers were good, dedicated and decent human beings. But there were a few exceptions that sad to say were pieces of shit.

One of the worst I ever had, was a cruel Scottish woman who delighted in undermining and belittling kids. What better place to be than in a school in an unassailable position of responsibility with which to  magnify and spit back the vitriol of abuse she must have suffered in her youth. In doing so not only did she continue the circle of abuse but she magnified it tenfold given the number of young children in her care.

I was 8 at the time and well remember a girl called Carolyn in my class who seemed quite troubled and lost – all at sea she was. We may have been kids but we could see her pain. Now sadly common, her Mum and Dad had separated which was a rarity back then and she’d borne the brunt of the family turmoil.

To encourage creativity and confidence as part of the school curriculum (in no way was this due to any initiative by this particular teacher), each of us had to perform a musical piece in front of the class.

Mine was a drum solo performed on a torn vinyl and foam stool. Not quite ‘Moby Dick’ as my drumstick got caught in the torn upholstery which put the kibosh on my crescendo and left my 7A jazz drumstick firmly embedded at right angles in the foam. From memory I accompanied the drum solo with a rendition of ‘Like a Rhinestone Cowboy’ by Glen Campbell. Classy stuff.

Carolyn stepping out of her shell, did a piece on the piano. She did darn well with one hand / finger playing the verse-chorus-verse and got through the piece, which for her at that particular time in her life was a pretty big achievement for someone whom life had unfairly given a kicking to. We gave her a big round of applause that brought a smile to a face that was permanently downcast and looked at the floor. We never saw her smile.

Then this teacher sarcastically said, “Okay…but would have been better if you’d used both hands”. And laughed at her.

It crushed the poor kid and was probably the first time I’d encountered real cruelty as a youngster. That particular teacher died of cancer and her husband topped himself shortly afterwards.

The other one was a teacher from High School, “Rat Bastard”.

He’d delight in making kids cry (including my best mate, who was going through something similar to that which Carolyn had many years before, as his Dad left the kids and his Mum high and dry never to return. Left the country with another woman.)

“Rat bastard” would psychologically torture his kids from down the back of the class behind their backs and had the habit of closing his eyes as he ranted. He was in the habit of ritualistically cracking open his briefcase and officiously removing his tie and jacket at the beginning of a class. Showing us that he meant business.

A friend of mine Marty, whom I’d sat next to on my first day at High School, was the son of a cop. His dad had a gun collection and Marty brought a .45 to school that first day and showed it to me under the desk as “Rat Bastard” sat directly in front of us. I managed to talk him out of pointing it at him. Thinking about it now I probably should have encouraged him to blow “Rat Bastard’s” balls off.

I suspect now though that the gun wasn’t loaded and Marty was probably enjoying winding me up.

Marty was an interesting guy. He’d get himself into suicidal fights with the knuckle scraping gorillas who roamed the school looking for a fight. They couldn’t quite believe that this skinny kid would take them on and he did some damage.

Anyway, this particular day “Rat Bastard” was ridiculing my friend whose Dad did the runner and he broke down. Yet this shit of a teacher wouldn’t stop. He just kept going on. Marty was at the front of the class while “Rat Bastard” was down the back yelling at my mate sitting beside me.

We all willed him to stop. My mate had had enough and really wasn’t in a good way emotionally.

At that moment Marty had the brilliant idea of changing the tone and mood by setting fire to the contents of “Rat Bastard’s” prized briefcase open on his desk at the front of the room. In a split second my mate and I were desperately trying not to laugh at “Rat Bastard” still ranting but off-topic now with his eyes closed while his briefcase and its contents blazed away.

Marty proceeded to ritualistically feed his tie to the flames.

By now we were pinching great swathes of our skin to suppress our laughter, desperately trying not to give the game away. It got worse when the curtain next to the briefcase went up with Marty managing to smother it with “Rat Bastard’s” tweed jacket.

Somehow Marty and the others managed to stop the whole place going up, leaving behind charred ashes, a bubbled suitcase, half-burnt curtain, blackened jacket and a paint blistered wall.

We bolted out of class as soon as the bell rang leaving “Rat Bastard” with his eyes still closed, babbling on.

Strangely enough we never got done for that. We either scared him, or else he may have had difficulty explaining how we torched the classroom without him noticing. He was removed from the school after someone managed to goad him into hitting them in the face. Went on to teach foreign students after that – God help them !

My best teacher was an alcoholic by the name of Johnson who taught English. He was as thin as a rake, didn’t eat properly or take care of himself unfortunately, and was outfitted exclusively by the church thrift shop. Because he was so thin the outline of a hip flask in his left hand trouser pocket was always clearly visible. Like a snake that’s disarticulated its jaw and just eaten a goat. Hard to hide.

There was a storage room behind his desk and he’d disappear during the course of a class into there where we could just make out the silver glint of his hip flask through the crack in the partially closed door, held aloft and judiciously applied to his lips.

He’d take us out to the middle of the school field (never the edge of it mind you) and squat down like he was having a crap, but read. Much the same as he did at home on the toilet I imagine. We did the same, but lying on the grass reading in the sun – freed of the accursed classroom.

We watched and discussed books and movies like ‘Kes’ (1969) based on the novel by Barry Hines; ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ with Jack (1975); Fahrenheit 451 (1966); and Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’ (1961). Mr Johnson challenged us.

Unfortunately (tragically !) he was dismissed by the school for his drinking. I saw him many years later crewing the coastal merchant ships down at the Port and got the chance to tell him what a great teacher he’d been to me.

Sadly he died about 20 years ago when his liver gave out on him.




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