Class six proved as ineffectual educationally as class four. I don’t really remember learning that much in either class, as most of the time the teacher was shouting at the class trying to gain control. It was a losing battle for the teacher most of the time. She was soft, and the kids knew it! Miss Lawrie mentioned previously, was far too nice to be teaching at Kelvin Grove. She might have been safer teaching the infants! What her memories of Kelvin Grove Junior School must be, can only be guessed at but it is my guess that when she left, it was like being set free from a horrible period of punishment.
At this time in educational establishments boys were still given the cane if they were really naughty. I often remember taking the register up to the Head Teacher’s office, and seeing a queue of boys sitting outside waiting to be caned. It was just accepted as the norm. I was glad I was a girl at such times as boys really did seem to have a much harder time at school. Mind you, I always felt that they shouldn’t be naughty then. Whether the punishment fitted the crimes committed is debateable.
One day, a day like any other at Kelvin Grove but not like any day I had ever had Miss Lawrie left the classroom, a common occurrence, to fetch assistance from another teacher to help calm the class down as it was beyond her skills to achieve this. While she was away from the classroom a boy named Paul took a ball of hardened plastacine and hurled it hard at the windows between the classrooms; a good throw if he had been playing cricket. One of the windows smashed. There’d be trouble now. Paul hurriedly went round the classroom threatening that anyone who told on him would get it. By that he meant he would hurt them. Even in class six Paul was the best fighter in the school and not someone you upset intentionally, at least not if you had any common sense. He was a volatile and unpredictable boy who could be charming one day and a monster the next. Paul was blond, blue eyed and athletically built. He had a nice voice that gave little indication of the stormy nature that brewed within but he was a troubled boy who was just dismissed as naughty. That was the thing if you misbehaved you were quickly labelled and the label would stick and over time you lived up to the label as if you had decided to give people what they expected.
My mistake that day was being little Miss Goody Two Shoes. Rather than say I knew nothing about the window I told the truth and told the teacher that it was Paul who broke the window. I am sure he got the cane for that, not something that I had given any thought to at the time. I found out later that Paul used to get beaten by his dad at home not because his dad was necessarily a bad man but because that was how he viewed fatherhood and had probably had a similar upbringing himself by his own father. I think if I had known that about Paul I might not have said anything but as it was I thought it was the right thing to do. With hindsight I know that I was more scared of getting in trouble from lying than I was of anything Paul could do to me. I had been brought up to tell the truth and shame the devil. It was better to admit to a lie than to prolong the lie and get found out that you were lying. I paid the price for informing on Paul. He waited until dinner play when there was the minimum of staff supervision. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. At that age boys rarely think that they mustn’t hit girls. Paul took my bag off me which I recall quite clearly was a dark maroon colour with a white rim or edging that I took off my toy shopping trolley. He roughly snatched that bag, swung it high above his head and then brought it down hard on mine with forceful anger. The pain was excruciating. How my neck didn’t break I don’t know. No one did anything to protect me as they were all too afraid to stand up against him. They could only help and support me in the aftermath when I cried my eyes out. It seems that very few people stand up to bullies, not because they are cowards necessarily but just because they are trying to survive in a tough world and let’s face it they are scared of getting hurt themselves. At these times you don’t always think about standing together and uniting against the bullies not when you’re children anyway; not always even when you’re an adult.
I only ever remember one person standing up to Paul. The girl’s name was Sharon. I don’t remember why they fought, just that they did. As the fight started, cheers of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” could be heard chanted across the playground. The children descended on the fight as vultures to a rotting carcass, surrounding the two figures in the middle. No child present tried to stop the fight; it was n’t the done thing. Paul repeatedly punched Sharon with precision to the head while Sharon’s flailing fists tried to fight back. She did n’t, would n’t back down. Never before have I seen such determination to stand one’s ground. Whether she was brave or stupid depends on where you are standing but on that day in my opinion that girl was the bravest person that I had ever seen. She had no way of beating him; her tear stained face was red with crying but she kept going. She was the first person I ever saw stand up to a bully even though she was scared. Whether he ever felt any remorse for hurting me, Sharon or anyone else I have no idea or whether he felt he was justified in punishing me for telling, again I have no idea. I had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and either way I would lose. I didn’t ever tell on Paul again. That was the first time anyone had really hurt me physically. It wasn’t to be the last. I got over it and Paul forgot about it, even being kind to me when he kicked a football against my head. He was a strange boy who puzzled me.
Paul was one of those boys always in trouble for fighting, and losing his temper, yet it was unheard of to involve Educational Psychologists back then. The boy would get in trouble, possibly get the cane, maybe a letter home. At home he would probably get a smack from his mum, even worse from his dad. Parents knew that kids could do wrong, and invariably did do wrong. If the child was in trouble it was a case of “What did you do. You must have done something”. Parents did not go in, and accuse the teachers of unreasonable behaviour. Parents let the teachers do the teaching, and the teachers left parents to do the parenting. There was no overlap. Parents didn’t crowd the playground at the beginning or end of the school day. The minute children entered the school gate ,the kids became the school’s responsibility. Each understood their role in the development of the child, and neither interfered with the other. That’s just how it was.
In Kelvin Grove it was better to just flow and fit in with the main crowd, if you didn’t want trouble. Back then it didn’t do to be too different. The kids that were different were the ones that tended to get picked on. I remember some of the kids that were given a hard time. Among them I remember a boy by the name of Sinclair Hart. What were his parents thinking giving him a name like that, then sending him to a like school like Kelvin Grove. Personally I think it is a beautiful name! A film star’s name! His name was different, and he himself was a little eccentric to our rather limited life experience. In fourth year juniors he was still wearing grey knee length shorts, another no-no. On top he would wear a tank top over his shirt and sport a bow tie; no kidding, a bow tie. He wore his hair short and smart unlike the other boys who had longer, messier hair that was typical of the 1970’s. Sinclair looked out of place, and his appearance along with his name made him stand out as did his beautifully pronounced diction. I do not know what became of him but think that maybe his parents eventually withdrew him from the school and sent him elsewhere. With retrospect I now think he was a real character but never attempted to be friendly as it would have brought trouble on me. Yet earlier on in the school my younger sister and I had been among only a few pupils who bothered to wear school uniform. So maybe we were not that different after all. That didn’t last long when we saw that wearing uniform didn’t fit in with the other kids. As I grew up I decided that I did n’t want to be the same as everyone else and tried my best to be different. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I did n’t. It would get me into trouble from time to time but by the time I was an adult, I had learned that it is okay to be different, although to be honest there were plenty of times when I chose to be different just to be awkward, and not because it was the right thing to do for me. Mostly it was because I did n’t like being told what to do.
Another pupil who was treated with disrespect was a young South East Asian boy by the name of Barrett. I think he too was friendly and decent, and never remember him doing anything to hurt anyone else. Yet he was berated at times, which looking back was not only unfair but pretty dehumanising. Children can be heartless at times, and demonstrate a ruthlessness one would not usually associate with childhood. It is often not until we are adults that we realise how cruel, and thoughtless we have been and even though we have been so thoughtless ,we brush it aside as just part of growing up.
For the most part I managed well enough, just every now and then would I do something that landed me in trouble with those kids, I would have rather steered clear of. Even the nicer kids could sometimes be cruel. Maybe they didn’t realise it at the time. I know that in Secondary School I was guilty of being inadvertently cruel in a secondary sort of way. That in a way is even worse than the ones being overtly nasty.
I look back, and know that I could have made a difference to the likes of Elaine and Kay who at secondary school were often the butt of cruel and snide remarks. Both girls acted like they did n’t realise it but I am sure they knew it and felt hurt. Elaine was a skinny girl with blond hair and freckles who reminded me of a pop star called Clodagh Rodgers, a winner of the Eurovision song contest with a song titled I’ll be your Jack in the Box. She used to be picked on, and called skinny ribs but it’s Elaine who’s had the last laugh now as I am sure that many of those who made these remarks are overweight with middle-aged spread, and would now die for a figure like Elaine’s. Then Kay who was very short and busty was given a hard time for being big chested. Some of the girls used to taunt her about having greasy hair as they did Elaine, and yet don’t the majority of teenage girls suffer with greasy hair from time to time. What was the big deal? Kay actually looked to me like a young Liza Minelli, although her hair wasn’t as dark. I never told her or anyone that but had I let her know that she was like the famous caberet star then it may have helped her self- esteem. Instead I watched in silence from the sidelines minding my own business. As an adult I know now what I ought to have done but growing up is difficult. No one tells us how to do it. We just do it the only way we know how.