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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Riotous Assembly

Continuing the review of school assemblies that began in Assembly Lines

Thinking about it, School Assemblies must have been a bit of a trial for our teachers.  Children, in small groups, are just about manageable (with the aid of a whip and a chair, in some cases) but an entire school crammed together in a School Hall could be quite an explosive mixture.

I don’t know how children view their schooldays now, but in my childhood it was often seen as a minimum 10 year stretch with no chance of remission.  Getting through your ‘sentence’ required keeping your head down, not letting the system grind you into the dust and keeping your spirits up by tiny acts of rebellion.  My friend Archie (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) had rebellion down to a fine art but was blessed with the innocent expression of a choir boy.  We’ll come back to Archie a bit later.

Unlike Archie, I was one of life’s rule-followers, often to a ridiculous extent.  To me, the School Rules, and the edicts of our teachers, carried as much weight as if Moses had brought them down from Mount Sinai as part of a job lot.  This caused me some problems at Uxbridge Junior School.  When the Headmaster announced prayers by saying “hands together and eyes closed”, I would never have dared to deviate from this in any way.  I had this awful certainty that, if my eyes opened for just a millisecond, God or the Headmaster (and, to me, there wasn’t a lot to choose between them) would strike me down with thunderbolts.    Unfortunately, at some point, my infant brain decided to have some fun by suggesting to me that, with my eyes tightly closed, how could I possibly know where the floor was anymore?  Once this insidious idea had planted itself in my subconscious, nothing would budge it.  The end result was that each prayer session became a nightmare as I struggled to stand, with my eyes tightly closed, whilst my brain explored a number of possibilities for the concepts of ‘up’ and ‘down’, all of which left me swaying like a willow in a Force 9 gale.  On a number of occasions, a teacher had to leap into the mass of pupils and drag me out (eyes still firmly shut) before I fell head first into the parquet flooring.

Archie would never have had this problem.  He was a born rebel, but not in the way that some were.  Not for him the rudeness, knee-jerk insults or mindless vandalism of some.  Archie preferred subtlety.  He had many fine moments in his rebellious career, but the one that I thought was particularly inspired, and horribly disruptive, occurred in Morning Assembly at Anglesey Secondary Modern. 

Archie had perceived that saying prayers in unison could be fairly tedious, but this offered a real opportunity for the inspired rebel.  He realised that, by the simple action of reciting the Lord’s Prayer just one word behind everybody else, he could throw a verbal spanner into the works that would be difficult to trace and peculiarly effective.  After all, how could the teachers determine whether this was intentional, or just some slightly challenged child who found it difficult to keep up with the others?  I used to stand next to Archie in Assembly and was mortified by his actions but also secretly envious of his sheer impudence.  For some weeks, Archie’s was a lone voice, trailing the rest of the school in their devotions.  Then, as was bound to happen, others latched on to the phenomenon.  Dennis, a friend and erstwhile disciple of Archie’s, decided to go one better by saying the prayer one word behind Archie.  Inevitably, others picked up on the trend.  Before long, Prayers had descended into chaos as boys (and it would be boys, wouldn’t it) competed to be the last to finish.

I can’t remember how it was brought to a halt.  Harsh words from the Head perhaps?  Or maybe they just got bored with it all.  Was it sacrilegious?  Well, possibly.  Childish?  Of course, but then, we were children and if you can’t be childish then…

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA