During my schooldays, I don’t know what it was about me that teachers found exasperating. It could be that I asked too many questions, despite the fact that we’d be told at the start of a lesson, to put up our hand and stop them if anything needed explaining. Taking them at their word, I found it difficult to stop myself stopping them, which left them considerably upset.
Or could it be that, often, I’d preserve a respectful silence from start to finish? Then, on being asked if anybody didn’t understand anything, up would go my hand.
“What didn’t you understand, boy?” I’d be invited to explain. My simple answer would be:
Everything sir”, because, at those times, my mind would, for some reason, slam its doors shut and put up an impenetrable barrier to any words of information or enlightenment, coming my way.
On the one and only occasion my father, a doctor, chose to give me a lesson --- it was in Physiology and Hygiene --- he too was overcome by exasperation. I cannot, accurately, recall whether it was too many questions or too few, that gave rise to it, as it was a long time ago and I was only seven years old when it happened. What I do remember is that this person, praised for his teaching skills by medical students who did the rounds of hospital wards with him, suddenly flung my text book at the ceiling. From there, it descended onto the ceiling fan which shredded the tome and scattered the contents more or less evenly, to all four corners of the room. At the time, I thought the visual impact of this display, couldn’t be bettered. I was mistaken.
Following shortly after the incident with my father, I was in class at school, sitting next to a boy conducting a most interesting auction of his ‘dinky toy’ miniature cars, while the English lesson was in progress. All of a sudden, the auctioneer snatched up his wares and, like a conjuror, made them disappear into thin air.
“Hey”, I said aggrieved, “You can’t do that. I put in the highest bid for the blue and white racing car. So, by rights, it’s mine.”
“Shut up” I was told, in a sibilant whisper. To which I replied:
“Oh yeah, we’ll see about that.” The next instant, I was seized by the collar from behind, and a third voice, deeper than the rest, said:
“Oh yes, indeed we will.”
In the sort of company I kept, I was used to being seized by the collar from behind, and I reacted instinctively, by bending my knees and twisting my body, which immediately freed me. I need not have turned around to identify my attacker. The deep voice was a giveaway. It was Mr. Liddle, the teacher.
“Come here, you”, he ordered, reaching for me as I moved away, and so menacing was his tone, that I promptly moved even further, to find the infuriated schoolmaster bearing down on me at full gallop. In that moment of panic, the obvious thing to do was, try and outrun him.
At first, I ran in the corridors alongside the rows of desks, but the worthy master was more nimble than I anticipated, and would certainly have caught me. So I changed tactics and began moving across desks by placing my hands, one on the table-top and the other on the back-rest of the seat, and swinging my legs through the gap between. I was skilled in this mode of traversing the classroom. Wearing shorts as a schoolboy, helped. Liddle soon found himself in difficulties, attempting to copy me. His foot failed to clear the seat of one of the desks and he tripped, hurtling forwards and crashing face down on the floor. With a moan, he rolled over on his back and lay very still. At the same time, we boys noticed an ominous looking, bright red stain, spreading slowly across his chest.
“My God, you’ve killed him” said the boy next to me.
“Never!” I replied in a terrified squeak. “He did it himself.”
“You idiots, I’m still very much alive” announced the figure on the floor, sitting up and examining the huge red blotch on his shirtfront and jacket. Then, extracting something from an inside pocket, he eyed it tenderly and, addressed me.
“That was my favorite fountain-pen you helped smash. Write ‘I shall not be a disruptive influence in classes, a hundred times, and let me have it by this evening.”
“Yes sir”, I answered, relieved. How do you spell ‘disruptive’, sir, one ‘p’ or two?
Image under license witth Gettyimages.com