The Big Issue : Edition 451
RICKY 12 THEBIGISSUE7–20FEB2014 TAUGHT AND TERRIFIC “Let’s hear it for teachers. You probably know some. They are everywhere, like Roald Dahl’s witches.” » Ricky French is a writer, musician and undefeated hacky-sack champion (they never found it). IT’S EARLY FEBRUARY and our nation’s most precious resources are now well-acquainted with the three most dreaded words in the English language: Back to School. As a kind of sadistic experiment, I recently gave up a whole hour of my summer holiday to go back to school. My old high school. I crossed an ocean to get there. I never wanted to go there while I was a student; now there I was, floating between buildings like a ghost and peering through the windows like someone with nothing better to do. Amazing. Look, there’s the back door to the canteen, where the brasher kids would coax a cheeky mince pie out of the canteen ladies on the way past between period four and five. Look, there’s the Year 12 common room, where essential life skills such as underserving superiority were taught. And look, there isn’t H-Block, the massive two-storey block and scene of my greatest high-school achievement when I kicked a hacky sack left-footed over the building. It’s gone, completely levelled, and in its place is a manicured garden and small playground, a place of quiet reflection, a monument to the site of former horrors. Year 11 Physics, for instance. (From my Physics report: Ricky seems to think he can learn through osmosis. I still believe it.) The deputy principal when I was a student was now principal. There were cars in the staff car park, so I bowled over and rapped on an office window. Sure enough, Mr Webster stumbled out, blindsided by the sunlight and the not-quite familiar sight before him. I gave him a second to recognise me, but he clearly didn’t, so I supplied my name and a brief rundown of my indiscretions and he remembered, vaguely. Then, like a champ, he took me inside to revisit the school hall. “You can see the Honour Board, engraved on the wall,” he said, brightly. “You might be on...” “Definitely not,” I interrupted. The hall, scene of a thousand boring assemblies, cringeworthy musical performances (mostly mine) and of course the legendary feat of Kelvin Whittaker, who one rainy lunchtime lined up seven chairs and attempted to beat his long- jump record of six. Upon shattering the seventh chair he calmly kicked the pieces into a neat pile and herded them through a door that led under the stage. I wondered if they were still there. But let’s hear it for teachers. You probably know some. They are everywhere, like Roald Dahl’s witches. I walked down the hill to F-Block, domain of Mr Stirling’s train-wreck maths lessons. Mr Stirling had zero control of his classes, and possibly of his life. Years later I saw him at the racetrack, gazing into a screen displaying odds: same scuffed sandals he always wore in class, same furtive expression. Kids would pay no attention to his lessons. They would drag tables to the back of the room and sing songs, throw balls, whatever. Often someone would wander next door to the music department and return with an acoustic guitar. He hated that school more than any student possibly could have. Not so unhappy were economics teacher Mr Childs and history teacher Ms Dalton. Mr Childs’ classes were frequently interrupted by Ms Dalton appearing at the door, having briefly abandoned her own post. She would have some frivolous enquiry and the two of them would engage in a brief period of sickening flirting. Mr Childs’ face would light up whenever Ms Dalton appeared. We could tell by his mouth when she was there. He would stop mid-sentence and a broad, dumb smile would spread across his face. My friend would whisper to me, “She’s standing behind us, isn’t she?” We joked that they were having an affair, but we didn’t really believe it as he was married to the librarian and she had a girlfriend. We should have stuck with our first answer. A year later, after finishing school, we discovered he had left his wife and they were living together. Still are. History and economics, forever intertwined.