One was a public figure, a demagogue alternately overpoweringly charming and ferociously frightening. Out to get me, I felt. But I didn’t really know him. Not back then anyway. I later had the
pleasure experience of meeting him a number of times.
The other was a more minor figure of authority. A big fish in his small pool. My primary school.
He came to mind this week when I was out with my daughter buying her school shoes ahead of the start of the new school year. I wanted to find her good sturdy shoes that covered most of her feet. She had something lighter and more stylish in mind.
“But what about running through puddles? I don’t want your feet getting wet or your shoes coming off,” I said. She gazed back at me tolerantly.
“If it’s raining I’ll wear my wellies to school and change into my school shoes inside. Everyone does that.”
“But what about running around at lunchtime?”
“If I’m running around I’ll be wearing trainers. And anyway Miss X says we shouldn’t run around in the playground in case we get too hot.”
Too hot! This is England for goodness sake. Too hot! They’re children. They’re supposed to be running, climbing, exploring and generally getting grubby. Especially girls. (Boys need little encouragement.) What’s a PLAYground for but PLAYING, I fumed to myself.
Which is when I remembered my primary school head master. Yup, he’s the second of the two blokes mentioned at the top who live on in infamy in my memory. (And that was three “in”s in three words. But I digress.)
He was a towering figure – to me then anyway. Very close cropped white hair – not that he’d ever been in the military as far as I know. It was the fashion. Big black boots too. He always wore a black suit.
He subscribed to that theory of education which holds deep in its cold heart the motto: Never smile before Christmas.
He took it a stage further: Never smile.
Though to be fair, he may have been doing us a favour – because to see him bare his teeth would have been more scary than cheering. And that’s an understatement. Oh, all of a sudden the robotic face of the Terminator comes to mind, stripped of flesh, gnashers glinting. (Shiver.)
I do clearly remember seeing him smile once. Once in seven years. It was quite unsettling. There were chips for lunch at school that day and he materialised near our short-legged table to leer threateningly over us. (H emay have been intending to project gentle benevolence.) I remember what he
said barked. “Chips! Hah!” We were tense for a long time afterwards.
But why the animosity? It wasn’t the stick – painful though it was to be on the receiving end of his corporal punishment. That came with the territory. It wasn’t the uneasiness he provoked by his presence or the prospect of his presence. No.
It was the ban on running in the playground. Running in the classroom? Sure, bad, disrupts lessons. Running in the corridor? OK, I suppose it can be noisy? Running with scissors? Bad film.
But running in the playground? C’mon. What are playgrounds for, if not for running, dodging, dashing, side-stepping and wrong-footing? Balls were already banned. But when the stiff-legged stiff-backed old big-booted trudger banned his school children from running, I thought to myself: There’s a man in the wrong job.
As to the point of him? I was never able to tell. He didn’t teach. He presided and marched around. He may have done more – apart from making bizarre unnatural spiteful rulings – but my young self was unaware of it. Thinking back, he fitted in well to a society plentifully supplied with killjoys, stiff necks, bitten tongues, barkers, nay-sayers, begrudgers and lovers of the word “No” – usually suffixed with a resounding exclamation mark.
But at least Mr G filled one void. When people asked my mild-mannered former self if there wasn’t someone, anyone, he was dead set against? Finally I could answer yes.
He was the first of a since grown, but still select band to earn my animus. Which is some sort of distinction I suppose.
(This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post. Please visit the others posting today on the same subject – Animosity. There’s a list of them on the right.)