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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".
Without meaning to be unkind, 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'd fix you in a Karloffian stare as if he were 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.
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 teaching 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.
A close relative of Mr. Sloss
Because I was particularly good at art (I usually got a double 'A' in exams, but more on that later) I'd 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've 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 wasn't 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'd 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."
The art classrooms were at the back of this part of the building
Now, the usual procedure upon entering Mr. Sloss's class was this: the pictures we'd 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'd never done this before.
He then proceeded to call out each pupil in turn to the front of the class to collect their drawing. "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've 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 though, there was no mention of me having "spat the dummy".
Another view of the famous mural by William Crosbie
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'd been off ill on one of the exam days, myself and some other pupils who'd also been absent, were allowed to sit the part we'd missed on the first available occasion. I'd already received the results of the previous portions of the exam, and they were extremely respectable. I fully expected a top score when I'd completed the remaining session, so I was looking forward to it.
Mr. Sloss oversaw the exam that day, though he must've 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 yourselves.) 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'd 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'd been before - that part of the exam hadn't 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've been responsible for that, I wonder? Answers on a postcard please. Remember earlier when I said I usually got a double 'A' in exams? Looking at my report cards, I see that I got a double 'A' two years in a row, then an 'A'/'C' (the 'C' was for application in class, which means I was getting an 'A' for ability, but apparently not applying myself - according to Mr. Sloss that is), then I got an 'A'/'B', then a 'B'/'B' (due to part of my exam being withheld by Mr. Sloss), then an 'A'/'B' again. Two art teachers thought I was the best artist in the school (for my age anyway), and I got a merit certificate for art three years in a row, if I remember rightly, so I think there's little doubt that Mr. Sloss was conducting a personal vendetta against me.
View from one of the art classes
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'd encountered animosity from Mr. Sloss. The class had been instructed to acquire sketch pads, and - due to financial constraints - I'd 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'd got myself a sketch pad yet. "Yes, Sir" I answered quite truthfully. He looked disappointed. "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've 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'd drawn it in the living-room 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 across to Mr. McLAUGHLIN over at the technical block and see if he recognises 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.
One of my old art classrooms in 2007 - then being used for English
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 haven't 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've 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.