SCHOOL DAZE

You’re going to find this hard to believe but I was a smart-arsed brat in high school.

I find it hard to believe.

In my memory – and in that old school photo out in the loungeroom – I remember myself as a quiet blond boy with sensible glasses and a hand-me-down school jumper that didn’t quite fit.

But I’ve found my old school reports in the bottom drawer of our filing cabinet and apparently that smiling boy is a lie.

‘Overtalkative in class’ my music teacher wrote in 1971. D.

‘Only works when supervised non-stop’. D. That was Art (and a work of art report!). I was obviously a free spirit, but cruelly hemmed in. Or maybe I just saw something shiny outside the window.

‘Has obvious ability but very noisy in class’. D. Social Studies.

‘Talkative and easily distracted’. B. Mathematics. I got a B for maths?! Surely they’ve got the wrong boy. I demand that someone adds that up again. Maths made about as much sense to me as religion. Nil. Or should that be zero?

Contrarily in Sheetmetal I was a ‘Quiet worker’. B. That’s because I remember being nervous about cutting my fingers off and I had to concentrate. There was no time to be noisy and joyous.

What about English, which in my evidently faulty memory I was always good at? ‘Very able student. (Hooray, at last!) Frequently disturbs class.’ D. What? That’s not me.

I had five brothers at the same school. Surely the teachers were confused. Maybe they just used the same template no matter which of us they were libelling in these vicious hand-written reports.

Was I really that naughty? Quiet, blond little me?

On reflection I do remember getting the strap quite often so maybe I was. In those carefree days each teacher had their own hand-crafted strap of cruelty and were allowed to take a disobedient student aside – me, for example (possibly mistaken for my brother Graeme?) – and lash into them. They didn’t have to upwardly refer the problem to the Principal first. I recall some teachers still goggle-eyed with fury and red in the face as they rained down ‘six of the best’ on my tender sorry-sir palms.

I often walked back to my desk crying. I was bad AND sooky. It’s a miracle I’ve turned out so marvellously well.

‘Not interested. Distracts others’. C. Science.

‘Classroom attitude needs improving’. B. Solid Geometry. I can’t even remember what that subject was but it was obviously boring and needed livening up by someone…um…talkative in class.

Maybe there was trouble at home that was quietly ruining me? When you’re one of eight kids it’s plausible that I was neglected, or forgotten altogether. Maybe I slept out in the paddocks? Maybe I was undernourished and found it hard to concentrate? Maybe I was terrible at sport (‘More application needed’. C) and chose to perform in class instead? Look at me! Or at least listen to me be a shit-stirrer.

The old Record Books also record attendance and I only missed six days of school in my five long years of being a four-eyed brat. I wasn’t truant so I can’t have been too depressed or distressed.

Maybe I was just full of beans and bursting out of my skin. My brain was growing too quickly. I think I’ll recalibrate to that. Indeed, as I bled through to my senior years my reports got better.

By my final Report I was ‘a pleasant, cooperative student who has completed an excellent year’s work.’ (Downtrodden at last.) ‘He will do well in whatever field he enters.’

That was a kind and promising prediction and I think I have done well, mostly. I never quite knew what I was going to do when I grew up, and still don’t, but it’s been an interesting and disruptive class so far.

Any parents of delinquents out there – have faith.

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