Thursday, 1 January 2015

SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - PART EIGHT: "ANNEXED ALGEBRA"...


Annexed huts in 1984, shortly before removal.  The hut in question
was next in line to the left, but was gone by the time I took the photo 

Algebra was never my strong point.  I wasn't helped by the fact that I seemed immutably incapable of applying myself to subjects in which I had no interest and, to me, algebra was far too abstract a concept, the academic absorption of which contained no obvious benefits that I could discern.  Therefore, mastering the intricacies of a slide-rule lay beyond the meagre limits of my interest or abilities.  I say "subjects in which I had no interest", but that's simply because they failed to interest me - the fault was therefore surely theirs (or the teachers who failed to imbue them with that particular quality), not mine.

It wasn't that I refused to apply myself in such matters, it was simply that I couldn't.  Whenever I attempted to turn on the metaphorical tap from which intellectual waters should abundantly flow, no such waters were forthcoming - only faint creaks, feeble groans and dry, dusty puffs stirred in the internal water-pumps of my mind.  Alas, I was a hopeless case;  except when it came to subjects that were accompanied by a built-in set of jump-leads to kick-start my interest (or teachers who made them interesting) - and algebra just wasn't one of them.

One day, in maths class, we were tasked with working out an algebraic equation.  I might as well have been given cuneiform tablets and asked to translate them, such was the impossibility of the enterprise set before me.  A blind and deaf five year-old infant with an IQ of minus 300 would've had a far better chance of performing keyhole brain surgery than I had of even comprehending what was being asked of me, far less accomplishing it.  The teacher passed my desk a few times in his perambulations around the room, and then, seeing my difficulty (but with no offer of assistance), made it clear to me that if I hadn't worked it out by lesson's end, I'd be in trouble.

The space where the huts had been was left bare for many years,
before, eventually, a different design of annexed 'huts' took their
place, but running 'longways' instead of 'sideways'

I was in trouble!  The switch in my brain endured a thousand flickings, but no welcome beam of light cast its illumination over the darkness of my incomprehension.  I tried staring at the problem on the blackboard in the earnest hope that sudden inspiration might strike, but it was useless.  You can't make a snowman without snow, and although, when it came to algebra, my poor brain was as cold as ice, there was just no snow to be found.  When the bell rang at the end of the period, the teacher, seeing that I hadn't completed the complex calculations, dismissed the rest of the class and then ordered me to raise my hands so that he could belt them.

I refused, of course.  To be punished for not doing what I was incapable of doing seemed immensely unfair to me, and I said so.  Not to be thwarted, the teacher took me over to the headmaster's office (Dr. COOK, as cold and as severe a man - despite his claim of Christian convictions - as any celluloid Nazi officer you've ever seen), who promptly ordered me to comply with the teacher's demands.  I was trotted back to the classroom in the annexed huts at the back of the school, where, in the cloakroom, five or six over-enthusiastic whacks of the tawse were administered upon my upturned palms.  I can only assume that he was a cricket fan, such was the run-up he took for each stroke.  Perhaps this was the part of his job that he enjoyed most; in retrospect, a disproportionate number of these teachers seemed to be sadists.

I've related in a previous post the magnificent and unbowed manner in which I endured such punishment;  I looked the teacher straight in the eye and didn't flinch.  Not for me the dropping down or drawing back of my arms in a sad attempt to lessen the blows.  My palms remained upraised through each stroke;  and 'though, no doubt, my face (and hands) would've reddened slightly with the pain, unlike other pupils, by sheer effort of will I refused to be reduced to a snivelling, whimpering wreck.  I'm not too modest to reveal that I yet enjoy a sense of achievement at the way in which I thwarted such attempts to humble and humiliate me.

I only noticed the existence of these constructions
in the last few years of the school's life.  The photos
were taken around 2007, not long before complete
demolition of everything within school grounds

Anyway, it's no exaggeration to say that the teacher was simply stunned by the staunch manner in which I had withstood his assault.  (And, nowadays, that's just how it would be regarded.)  Strange as it may sound, he seemed impressed, and suddenly adopted a friendly, ingratiating manner.  Putting his arm 'round my shoulder, he walked me over to the door, saying:  "Gordon, I only did that with great reluctance and for your own good.  I don't get any pleasure out of it, but I know you've got it in you to do far better in this subject than you do. I'm only trying to encourage you to achieve your full potential."   Okay, that's unlikely to be a verbatim account of his words (it's been over 40 years, after all), but you can be assured that it's pretty much the gist of it.

I no longer recall his name or I would readily identify him for your righteous condemnation.  He was of a slightly weathered appearance, with steely-eyes, a determined jawline and wiry hair.  I can still see him in my mind's eye, and I've a feeling that he resembled an actor, who, if I could only remember which one, I'd include a picture to give you all a clearer idea of what he looked like.  In fact, on reflection, he was roughly in the same mould as a middle-aged SPENCER TRACY, but with hair of a darker hue (with hints of grey).  I'm not saying they were twins, mind, only that they were similar.  Couldn't say whether ol' Spence likewise enjoyed inflicting pain on adolescent schoolboys, but I'd consider it unlikely.

So there you have it!  Yet another Schooltime Scandal from the dim and distant days of my journey through the hallowed halls of Academia.  Have you had enough?  Then say "We submit!" and hand over all your tuck-shop and dinner-money!

27 comments:

Colin Jones said...

Kid, good for you for initially refusing to be punished - I'm sure a lot of those teachers enjoyed the power they had over us knowing we couldn't do anything about it. I was never physically punished but I had to endure humiliation from several teachers and you could feel their enjoyment. As for maths - I sat maths 'O' level four times and never passed :(

Kid said...

I made the mistake of assuming that the Headmaster, once it had been explained to him, would've seen my side of things, CJ. After all, why belt someone for being unable to do something? I saw him as the final authority, so when he told me to take the belt, I went along with it out of respect for his position ('though not for him). I very shortly after wished I had refused his edict, and decided that if a similar situation ever cropped up, I'd stick to my guns. It did - and so did I.

Colin Jones said...

When I was about 5 or 6 I used to get painful cramps in my legs if I sat cross-legged on the floor so my father phoned the school and demanded I have a chair to sit on. I remember the teacher grumbling about it but she had to do it - I think a lot of pupils (and parents) didn't realise they had any rights and put up with any bullsh*t handed out. I often think back and wish I'd been braver and stood up to a teacher. So what happened the next time when you stuck to your guns ?

Kid said...

Wish I could recall all the details so that I could turn it into a post. All I remember was that me and a fellow called Stephen (or Steven) Barker (nicknamed Sparky) were picked as candidates for punishment because the teacher couldn't determine who the culprits were in a class rammy. I refused to be belted, meaning that Sparky had to refuse too, or look like a wimp. We were sent to see the headmaster, who must've been off that day as it was the depute head who saw us. As we were waiting for him to come out of his office, I said to Sparky "Let me do the talking." (Or it may have been "Leave this to me.") When the assistant head tried to belt us, I said "Not on, no way!" He insisted, but I was having none of it. He looked at Sparky and said "Does that go for you, too!" "Yessir!" said Sparky. The man looked annoyed, but must've realised from my determined and defiant demeanour the futility of persisting. "Get back to your classes!" was all he said. I must've been Sparky's hero for at least half an hour. We never heard about the matter again.

Colin Jones said...

Fascinating stuff,Kid - but that seemed to have enough detail for a post. When I asked about it I thought maybe you'd already done a post on it. I'm glad I asked !

Kid said...

Ah, but I can't remember what subject the class was, what teacher, etc. When I next see wee Sparky I'll ask him if he remembers it, but I'd be surprised.

Ken said...

Teachers who resorted to violence as a means of teaching or administrating punishment were a standard feature in schools of my era (1960s/70s). Lest we forget those who also indulged in verbal punishment designed to crush your confidence. School days- best days of your life? Not for those who struggled in the class room.

On the reverse side there were teachers who obviously had a passion for education allied to a duty of care for pupils.

What a happy way to post in the New Year!

Cheers,
Ken.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, I don't think readers necessarily want to know every tiny detail like a teacher's name etc - the fact that you refused to be punished is pretty extraordinary and that's what is worth telling !

Kid said...

Ken, I've made it sound like I was a congenital idiot, which is hardly the case, but unless a subject appealed to my senses in some way, I just couldn't generate an interest in it. It's a bit like struggling to get through a bad movie when it fails to engage you in the first 10 minutes or so. Consequently, when it came to the mechanics of algebra, so much had already gone over my head, that it was worse than being asked to build an MFI wardrobe without the instructions. (And WITH the instructions is complicated enough.)

******

And it's told now, CJ. Maybe one day I'll tell it again in a post - if I can dress it up a bit without resorting to invention. I'll have to see if Sparky remembers any of it; I still run into him from time to time.

Ken said...

Kid,
I always found anything but the simplest of equations easy to understand. But really as long as you leave school being able to add, subtract, divide, multiply and understand percentages and fractions, well who in day to day life needs to know what the secret world of algebra was all about?

There were so many more interesting subjects to enjoy at school.

BEND OVER WENDOVER!

(Let me know if asking Wendover to bend over has left you puzzled or indeed perplexed?I am sure you are well aware who it was that bellowed this cry to arms with great relish in the 1950s!).

Ken.

Kid said...

I'll take a guess, Ken, and say Jimmy Edwards in Whacko (I think it was called). Apparently he liked a bit of bending over in real life. Ooer, missus!

Ken said...

Kid,
Yes Jimmy Edwards was an interesting character. That trade mark handlebar moustache he sported was to hide the facial burns and scaring he suffered as an RAF pilot in WW2.
Like many homosexuals of that era he was deep in the closet.

Ken.



Kid said...

I remember when he appeared in Bruce Forsyth's Big Night back in the '70s. I think it was a TV version of the old radio show, The Glums.

John Pitt said...

" SCHOOLTIME SCANDAL : PUPIL INVOLVED IN PLAYGROUND STABBING INCIDENT! "
1964.
The year of the Brighton beach riots with mods versus rockers.
As schoolkids this affected us.
It made us want to pretend to be just like them at playtime.
And so it was that cowboys and Indians was forgotten, - there was a much more modern exciting game to play , as 2 rival gangs would run amok in the playground: pretending to beat each other up with invisible bike chains and flick-knives. And we would run up to anyone not playing and demand to know where their allegiance lay and if they answered incorrectly they would receive either an imaginary whipping or stabbing! One such day I stepped the game up a notch, by running up to the well-liked playground nanny ( and local village brownies' brown owl ), Mrs. Deverall and demanded to know if she was a mod or a rocker and she answered, " rocker. "
Wrong answer. She had to be beaten up! So I said, " We'll I'm a mod! " and pretended to stab her in the back!
" You punched me! " she exclaimed.
" No, no," I said, " I was just playing! "
But she completely ignored this and reported me to the headmaster, who sent for me and said, " Mrs. Deverall said that you thumped her in the back.
" No Sir, " I protested, " I didn't THUMP her. I was pretending to STAB her! "
Strangely, this did not help my defence and, inevitably I was canned.
But I did learn a valuable lesson from this incident! - ALL girls, even grown-up ones are CISSIES!!

Kid said...

What I can't understand, JP, is why she was so 'well-liked' when she was such an obvious b*tch. You realise that, nowadays, if you did actually stab someone, you'd probably only get community service.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, in 1979 there was a show called The Glums on ITV with Jimmy Edwards and (I think) Ian Lavender. Obviously it was a TV version of the original '50s Glums but I didn't know that. The Glums originally appeared on a radio show called Take It From Here which I've listened to on the digital station Radio 4 Extra.

Kid said...

Yup, that's what I said, CJ - it was part of Bruce Forsyth's Big Night. He had something like a two hour show (seemed like two hours anyway) which contained things like The Glums, etc., as part of the variety contained therein. Yes, Ian Lavender, was in it, as well as the actress who played Fletch's daughter in Going Straight. (Something that Jimmy Edwards found difficult to do - boom-boom!)

Christopher Sobieniak said...

In the US, I think we often referred to these additions as "Modules", at least that's I remember them being referred to. Often they're constructed out of wood and were often colder than the main building due to having a separate heating system in place.

Kid said...

Curiously, Chris, a good few years after demolishing them, they added a different design of modules/annexes in the same spot, but running along the space instead of across it (if that makes any sense). I'll add a photo.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, I kept the 1979 Xmas double issue of TV Times (and Radio Times) for years afterwards and that's how I remember The Glums TV show. The episode I remember was broadcast on Sunday December 23rd 1979 - I just looked at the TV Times archive which sadly only features a small number of issues from each decade but it does have that Xmas '79 double issue - I looked at the relevant day and there is The Glums at 7.15pm but there's absolutely nothing about Bruce Forsyth, perhaps The Glums began as part of Bruce Forsyth's Big Night and then got their own independent show...?

Kid said...

You might find this interesting, CJ.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Forsyth's_Big_Night

So your final speculation seems to be correct.

Colin Jones said...

Thanks, Kid - it seems I guessed right. I do vaguely remember Big Night being a Big Failure (see what I did there) but we'd have been watching Larry Grayson's Generation Game on BBC 1. By the way, it was my father's theory that Larry was heterosexual and his effeminacy was all part of his act - stranger things have happened. By coincidence this morning I was watching the 1978 Xmas special (and very last episode) of Some Mothers Do Have 'Em on YouTube which featured Dick Bentley as Frank Spencer's Australian granddad who persuades him and Betty to emigrate - it was Dick Bentley who played Ron Glum in the original '50s version.

Kid said...

Talking of Some Mother's Do Have 'Em, the sequence in one episode with Frank on roller skates was what made the show so popular. I never thought that the rest of them ever really lived up to that one show. Did you know that the part was offered to (and apparently written for) Norman Wisdom, who turned it down?

John Pitt said...

Perhaps she just hated mods.

Kid said...

Probably hated Mods AND Rockers, JP.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, there was a documentary on BBC 4 recently about Norman Wisdom which said that Some Mothers Do Have 'Em was written for him and apparently he bitterly regretted turning down the role after he saw the success of the show. But if you read the Wikipedia entry for Some Mothers it says that the role was first offered to Ronnie Barker (!) - it's a bit difficult to imagine him doing that roller skates scene. As it happens I really liked the show and I can't imagine anybody but Michael Crawford playing Frank Spencer. Did you know that Elisabeth Sladen of Doctor Who fame said in her autobiography that she nearly got the role of Betty ?

Kid said...

No, didn't know that about Elisabeth Sladen, CJ. Ronnie Barker? I could imagine Ronnie Corbett doing it, but not RB.

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