Wednesday, 17 November 2010

TALES TO ASTONISH - BUT 100% TRUE NONETHELESS...


Duncanrig Senior Secondary School when it opened in the 1950s.
Designed by Sir Basil Spence. Mural by William Crosbie

Well, you've read about DUNCANRIG art teacher Mr. BOB BELL
in a previous post - now let me tell you about Mr. SLOSS.  Funny thing
about teachers, isn't it?  Most of the ones you liked, you somehow knew
their Christian names; the ones you didn't like or who were unremarkable,
you only seem to remember their surnames or the fact that they were
called "Sir" or "Miss".

A close relative of Mr Sloss
Without meaning to be un-
kind, Mr. Sloss looked like a
neanderthal:  thick, greasy hair, a
permanent 5-o'clock shadow of
which FRED FLINTSTONE
would've been proud, and dense,
bushy eyebrows from under which
he would fix you in a Karloffian
stare as if he was wondering what
you'd be like to eat.  That was the
other thing about Mr. Sloss.  His
enormous girth (shirt hanging over
his belt to complete a dishevelled
appearance) was ample testament
to the fact that he loved his grub
and had never gone without a
good meal in his life.
 
The art classrooms were at the back of this part
of the building
I should perhaps here
explain (in case things
are done differently
nowadays) that we had
several double periods
of art throughout the
week at our school.
One day it would be
one art teacher and
another day it would
be a different one, and
so on.  On this particular
day, it was the turn of
Mr. Sloss to have the
unbridled joy of teach-
ing our class absolutely nothing about art.  We were given the task of drawing a
still life (various boring, inanimate objects which usually included an orange
and a vase amongst them) and we dutifully applied ourselves. 

Because I was particularly good at art (I always got a double "A" in
exams) I would invariably finish before anybody else, and such was the
case on this occasion.  Mr. Sloss came over to view the result, and noticing
a minuscule hole in the paper from a sliver of wood on the lid of the desk (a
hole which would have been rendered invisible with the slightest pressure
from a fingertip), said, "Can't you even draw without getting a hole in the
paper?" - and promptly ripped up my drawing.  "Start again" was all he
said.  So I did - but even given my speed, my picture was not quite
finished before the end of the lesson.

The next art class I had a day or two later was under the auspices of
Mr. McLEAN, the head art teacher.  As I was getting on with whatever I
was doing, he suddenly said, "Gordon, I've been getting complaints about
you from Mr. Sloss."  Noticing my puzzled look, he went on, "Don't worry -
he isn't accusing you of swinging from the lightbulbs or anything, but he says
you haven't been applying yourself and are well behind the other pupils."
Surprised, I explained to him what had happened and assumed that
would be an end to the matter.

Cut to the next time I was in Mr. Sloss's class.  I was just applying the
finishing touches to the drawing I had started previously when along comes
the man himself - who takes a quick look - then grabs it and rips it up.  "That's
nothing like it!" he says, indicating the collection of objects on the table in
the middle of the room.  You guessed it - the next time I'm in Mr. McLean's
class, he informs me that once again Mr. Sloss has been complaining that I'm
still lagging behind the others.  I was astounded - and could only mutter
"Well, I wouldn't be if he didn't keep ripping up my drawings."

Another view of the famous mural by William Crosbie

Now, the usual procedure upon entering Mr. Sloss's class was this:  the
pictures we had previously worked on were left in a pile on a desk near the
door - for each pupil to search through for their own before assuming their
seat.  (Each picture had the pupil's name on it.  Other teachers preferred to go
'round the class, placing the pictures on the appropriate desk.)  The next time
we entered his class, the pictures were conspicuous by their absence.  For a
moment we wondered why, but the mystery was soon solved.  "Take your
seats and I'll call you out to collect your picture" he said.  This was
a first - he had never done this before.

He then proceeded to call out each pupil in turn to the front of the
class to collect their picture.  "Gordon Robson" he eventually announced, so
out I went to claim my pencilled masterpiece.  As I approached, he held out the
sheet of paper for me, and, naturally enough, I reached out my hand to receive
it.  Suddenly, he yanked it back, ripped it up and threw it on the floor behind
his desk.  "Absolute rubbish!" he bellowed - "Start again."

That did it - I'd had enough!  I told Mr. Sloss exactly what I thought of
him in no uncertain terms, interrupting him as he was trying to address the
class.  The fury of my outburst must have taken him by surprise because he
didn't know how to deal with it - so he simply ignored it, as I continued my
outraged vent about victimisation in my best "CALIMERO" fashion.  Surely
I don't have to mention what Mr. McLean's topic of discussion was when
next I saw him?  Yup - Mr. Sloss's unhappiness with my work in his class.
Curiously, there was no mention of me having "spat the dummy".

View from one of the art classes
Hard to believe?  Wait -
that's not the end of it.
There was an art class
exam, held across all
the different art classes
we had.  In other words,
part of our exam would
be in one class on one
day, part of it in another
class on another day,
and yet another part in -
well, you get the idea.
Because I had been off
ill on one of the exam
days, myself and some other pupils who had also been absent, were allowed to sit
the part we had missed on the first available occasion.  I had already received the
results of the previous portions of the exam, and they were extremely respectable.
I fully expected a top score when I had completed the remaining session, so I
was looking forward to it.

Mr. Sloss oversaw the exam that day, although he must have been filling
in for another teacher, because it wasn't his usual classroom - it was Mr.
McLean's if I remember correctly, but I'm not 100% sure.  Anyway, myself
and the few other pupils were taken into the room next door, where we were
left to draw a girl posing for us on a stool.  (A wooden stool - behave your-
selves.)  As usual I produced not only a good drawing but also an accurate
likeness of the girl herself.  When the time was up, we trooped back into the
room whence we had come.  Mr. Sloss looked through the drawings, then
held one up - "This one's good, whose is it?"  I recognized it immediately -
"Mine, Sir!" I said.  Without looking up or saying anything, Mr. Sloss
quickly dropped his hand as if a wasp had stung it.

Now comes the part that still rankles, nearly 40 years later.  When
I received the "final" results of my exam, the revised marks were the
exact same as they had been before - that part of the exam had not been
included.  It's obvious that my drawing from that day had "mysteriously"
disappeared and was never seen by anyone other than Mr. Sloss.  Now,
who could have been responsible for that, I wonder?  Answers on a
postcard please.
    
One of my old art classrooms in 2007 - then being used for English

I remember once mentioning this bizarre behaviour to Mr. Bell,
whose response was simple - "Some of the art teachers are jealous
of you, Gordon" was his frank reply.  He looked embarrassed by the fact -
embarrassed for them, that is.  This cast my mind back to the first time I
had encountered animosity from Mr. Sloss.  The class had been instructed to
acquire sketch pads, and - due to financial constraints - I had been a bit slow
in obtaining one.  My solution, after much bullying and threats of corporal
punishment from Mr. Sloss, was to remove the cover and slit the spine of a
spare, blank-paged jotter I had, fold it in half (to A5 size) and insert a couple
of staples into its new spine.  Then, one night at home, I drew a futuristically-
clad figure amidst some Kirbyesque-looking  machinery (conjured up
from the depths of my fertile imagination), lettered "sketch pad" along
the top, breathed a sigh of relief and rested from my labours.

A day or so later, in art class, Mr. Sloss asked if I had got myself a
sketch pad yet.  "Yes, Sir" I answered quite truthfully.  He looked disap-
pointed.  "Let me see it" he demanded.  I handed it across.  He studied the
cover for a moment, and then said "Who drew this?"  "Me" I replied.  Mr.
Sloss was having none of it.  "Nonsense," he raged, "if you can draw like
this, you should have left school ages ago and got a job."  It wasn't meant
as a compliment, and at 14, leaving school wasn't an option available to me.
"I repeat, who drew this?" he demanded.  "Me - if you don't believe me,
you can ask my dad" I said.  (I had drawn it in the livingroom in front
of the TV, and my family had been present at the time.)

"Ask my dad," mocked Mr Sloss - "that's what children say!"  (As
I said - I was only 14.)  "I'll send it over to Mr. McLAUGHLIN at the
technical block and see if he recognizes what technical manual you copied
this from" he threatened, as if he expected the fear of discovery to make me
throw up my hands and confess to the crime of plagiarism. "Fine" I replied,
quite unconcerned.  He gave me a dirty look in return.  "Go and sit down!"
he ordered in defeat, tossing my sketch pad to me contemptuously.

Now, as you sit there reading this, perhaps you're wondering if an
adult teacher could really be so spiteful, mean, bad-minded, petty and
contemptible, but I can assure you that, in relating the above events, I
have not engaged in the slightest bit of hyperbole or distortion of the facts
whatsoever.  It's all 100% true and accurate, and when I read nowadays of
all the trouble that teachers have to put up with from pupils, I'm reminded
that, back in my day, the shoe was often very much on the other foot.
Two wrongs don't make a right, of course - but you have to marvel
at the irony, eh?

 So - just like Mr. Bell, Mr. Sloss also left an impression on my youthful
psyche.  Unlike Mr. Bell, however, it was for all the wrong reasons.  Poor
Mr. Sloss - I hope he finally came to terms with whatever demons tormented
him and found a measure of peace.  I have no idea whether he's still alive
or not.  Nor do I much care, to be honest.

A couple of years ago, a newly-designed Duncanrig school (now
referred to as a High School rather than as a Senior Secondary) opened
next to the old one, which was then demolished to make way for houses
and flats.  However, 'though the original building may be gone, the memories
still remain - and, despite any impression to the contrary you may get from
reading this post - most of them are pleasant ones.  Handy thing, rose-
coloured spectacles.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kid, every school had a Mr Sloss or two. Had a PE teacher who put me on his hit list after I nut megged him playing football. His classic foaming at the mouth bellow was 'who do you think you are son, me? years later seeing that PE teacher in the film Kes playing football brought back memories of my own therapy needing physco.

Ken.

Kid said...

One of our PE teachers was an overweight, stogie-smoking, track-suited oldie by the name of McDougal, who was far removed from being a model of physical perfection. You'd think the school would've employed someone who at least looked fit - or could run for a bus.

Anonymous said...

Kid, ....he could hardly run a bath springs to mind in the case of your Mr McDougal. Unfortunately my PE teacher was a dead ringer for Clint Eastwood right down to his hair style (no stogie or Magnum revolver thank God). On reflection this was probably his intended look /persona. To all us spotty five foot high twelve year olds he was an imposing figure. I saw him about 10 years ago and much to my horror he looked in better condition than myself!

Happy days, jumpers for goal posts etc

Ken.

Kid said...

McDougal looked like the bald actor with tufts of white hair in 'All Gas and Gaiters', but there were also a couple of younger, undoubtedly fitter PE teachers as well. Couldn't say who they modelled themselves on 'though.