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 judicilusly 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.