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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Miss is as Good as a Mile

I suppose we should be grateful that the casual clouting and habitual hitting of my school days is a thing of the past.  However, I want to tell you about two occasions when violence nearly took place, but didn't.

The first occasion was in my first year at Anglesey Secondary Modern, when we were all very much in awe of the young men, in their final year at school, who towered above us.  We rarely came into contact with these giants because pressure on space, as a consequence of the post-war baby boom, meant that the First and Second Year students were farmed out to the old Techinical High School building at Bond End.  The only time we attended the Clarence Street HQ was for the practical lessons such as Woodwork, Metalwork and Domestic Science. 

Philip in his early years at Anglesey Secondary Modern
It must have been on one such occasion when I found myself heading down an empty corridor going toward the playground.  I had probably been detained in class, or perhaps sent on an errand to the smoke-filled Staff Room, but for whatever reason, the rest of the school was out at play and I was on my own.  Suddenly, I spotted something that made my heart miss a beat, and my stomach lurch.  Coming toward me was the one Fourth Year that I really did not want to meet.  He was as wide as he was high (and he was pretty tall.)  He had a reputation for mindless violence, in a school for which mindless violence was the norm.  All in all, he was not someone that a small, skinny kid would want to meet in a deserted corridor.

In these situations, I usually adopted my patented technique of trying to blend into the background.  By and large, this seemed to work, in crowded playgrounds and so on, but was never going to succeed in this scenario.  Nevertheless, I hugged the wall and hoped not to be noticed.  No such luck!  The huge form shuffled in my direction.  I was aware of a large, moon-like face (complete with craters) topped by unkempt ginger hair, about an inch from my nose.  "Ere" the face grunted, "are you divvi?"  By this time I was more or less trying to prise myself into the mortar that held the bricks together in the wall.  I had no idea what the question meant, so I just burbled and stammered.  Fortunately he obviously decided that I was beyond contempt and, with a disparaging "Huh", shuffled off.  I made my escape, feeling that a minor miracle had occurred, purely by being too pathetic to bother with.

The second occasion that violence didn't happen was some years later.  My mum had often told me about the 'musical canings', as she called them, that used to happen at her school.  Apparently, from time to time the whole school would be assembled to witness a miscreant being beaten for some heinous crime or other and the school trooped into the hall to stirring piano music.  I had never experienced this until one afternoon when the whole of Anglesey was ordered into the School Hall.  The atmosphere was very tense and the teachers stationed around the Hall were obviously ill at ease.  As we waited to see what this was all about, the Deputy Headmaster strode in, clutching a young lad by the collar in one hand, and a cane in the other. He was accompanied by a phalanx of senior staff, who didn't look too happy about the situation.  The lad was writhing and shouting all the way to the stage but, on reaching there, he did something I would never have thought of.  He simply broke free from his captor and headed straight to the back of the stage and out of the door to freedom.  Teachers and staff were sent to find him, but he was too quick.  I never did find out what terrible crime he was supposed to have committed, or why it was deemed appropriate for his punishment to be a public flogging, but I'm glad he got away, for everyone's sake.

This is the unedited version of the April column in the Derby Telegraph.  You will find this shortly in the new collection of stories "A Kick at the Pantry Door".  You can find much more like this in Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks