Does rarity make for intensity? The objects of my animosity are few – in fact, as a child I had only two.

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.)



Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium, life

24 responses to “Animosity

  1. I too had a martinet for a Head Master in school and never ever saw him smile. I was caned by him on a number of occasions but somehow, in retrospect, that doesn’t make me remember any animosity towards him. Perhaps, in my generation, Martinet Head Masters were expected to be exactly that. I am however aware that subsequent generations, for instance my son’s has a lot of animosity towards its teachers. I guess the world simply changed.

  2. We were told Ladies don’t run! The nuns who made that rule, didn’t have brothers like I did. 😦

    • blackwatertown

      No patent leather shoes either! And don’t forget your telephone directory in case you have to sit on someone’s knee in the back of a car.

      • Now they never mentioned the telephone directory. BUT, we were regularly reminded that while dancing there should be room for a sheet of paper to slide between us… otherwise it was an occasion of sin! Somehow the fires of hell were far from my mind on the dance floor! 😆

  3. lovely post – i was a tremendous discipline problem in high school, and the principal (visualize hair slicked to each side of head, part down the middle, someone who could have fit into a bugsy malone film, and the guidance counselor who had been a Wac, square, from top to tow, mouth that was an exact horizontal line, both waiting for me at the end of a long corridor, arms folded, “Don’t come back until you bring your father.” Did I mention the guidance counselor looked like Sluggo, the bulldog, sans studded collar?

    • blackwatertown

      Sluggo the bulldog. I’ll have to google that creature. Though I almost don’t want to spoil the mental picture you’ve already given me.

  4. Our equivalent to your “Head Master” is the school “Principal.” In elementary school ours was Mr. Smith (made up name). He had a glass eye that sort of “whirled around” — especially when agitated. We’d get in trouble on purpose just so we could go to his office for a “chat” and watch that eye!

  5. As a past “head master” of a newly established school I vividly remember our own discussions on appropriate playground play. I tended to believe like you – the purpose of recess is to give the kids a chance to run around and maybe even get dirty! It certainly helps them focus afterwards.
    On the other note – it was the secretary at our elementary school who scared the living daylights out of us. I’m sure I never saw her smile. She had the notorious nickname of Mrs. “Witch”.

  6. I’m a pretty tolerant person, and I’ve only hated two people in my entire life. One was my father, who was a bad-tempered, self-righteous bully, and the other was a bookshop manager who did his best to work his staff into the ground with ever tougher productivity targets. I was ecstatic when his house was burgled one day.

  7. Oh yes. After five primary schools and four high schools, I know this guy in all his incarnations. Usually a Vice Principal though. Used to scare the shit out of me, often. At least Mr Warner never found the dope plants growing nicely underneath the portable classrooms . . oops did I say that!

    • blackwatertown

      Gasp – you were clearly paying attention in biology.

      I remember a vice principal in a later school who – thanks to his swishing black professor’s gown, cadaverous face and bloodshot eyes – gave every appearance of being a vampire. He had a ghoulish ability to materialise without warning. Funnily enough he was fairly decent.

  8. If, during break times, kids aren’t allowed to run or kick a ball, but also aren’t allowed to sit in classrooms and read/chat/play cards/computer games etc, what the hell are they supposed to do?

    Reinforces my idea that breaks and lunchtimes are more for the benefit of teachers than for the kids. Although even the teachers aren’t allowed to smoke any more.

    • blackwatertown

      Answer: Those days? Lurk, loiter, skim football cards, mutter, gossip (girls), bit of fighting (boys).
      These days? Shelter, skip, dance, skip, Asian dance, more skipping. Not surprisingly boys find it a bit of a drag.

      Smoking? Ah but they are – though they have to do it round the back of the school – which effectively puts that out of bounds for pupils.

  9. Barbara Rodgers

    It seems society has gone overboard with safety restrictions and regulations. When I was a kid we rode our bicycles everywhere without the protection of helmets — now 21 states have laws that require youngsters to wear them while riding a bike. It’s as if we believe on some level if we just follow all the endless safety rules nothing bad will ever happen to us. And if someone manages to have an accident in spite of stringent safeguards an investigation is launched to determine how to make it so that it will never happen again. Teaching kids common sense — or how to test their own limits — no longer seems to an option. I feel sorry for kids today — not being allowed to run at recess is ridiculous! How will they ever know the thrill of the wind blowing through their hair while riding a bike down a hill? Another rule that drives me crazy is the prohibition of inflatable tubes and other water toys at beaches and pools…

    • blackwatertown

      We have not gone as bad as that – though there is constant pressure of the “But what if…” variety. It always easy to present a worst case scenario for any specific instance and no, of course I don’t want my child to fall out of a tree and kill him or herself. But neither do I want him or her, or the rest of them, to have their horizons draw ever closer instead of more distant, and their aspirations and sense of adventure smaller instead of greater. So… up the tree they go… and please do your best not to fall on to some barbed wire or your Mum will kill me.

  10. Only two people who cast a shadow over young lives?? Our boss (headmaster, grammar school) and his wife (head of language department, same school) certainly filled that bill! They could make Sadaam Hussein seem benign! But did their terrorism persuade errant children to learn? For myself, it encouraged me instead to beak off school rather than face academic/personal annihilation in those classes!!

    • blackwatertown

      Well you could say that those orgres prompted some Great Escape style ingenuity in you.
      I may have, ahem, gone awol myself at times, but it required the developing of extra-curricular skills – like slipping through “enemy territory”, avoiding the police and above all not letting your absence coincide with bomb scares which led to evacuation and head counts – or at least preparing contingencies just in case.
      There was one guy who (reputedly) ended up in Belgium – but that’s taking things too far, in every sense.

  11. The part about running around and getting sweaty and grubby at playground time really struck home. It is so very hot in Miami, Florida and that leaves you wet and soaked through(So does just walking out to the mailbox and back). At my high schools which were predominantly black, the African American girls and Caribbean black girls’ parents spend a great deal of money on getting the hair and nails done. We are talking several hundred dollars here(even if on welfare the money is found). They will not participate in sports in this heat or even dress out. So they get F’s in PE which lowers their gpa wherein they may not graduate and many drop out. Over hair ! I truly sympathize with these young girls but this is a school system askew. I do not have an answer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s