Wednesday, 21 June 2017

As I Please: Some Musings

I parked in the underground car park at Waitrose a few weeks ago, and as I looked out to where the wind blew strong, I saw leaves caught up in a swirling circular dance.

It reminded me of long ago, when I was a school boy, watching leaves move around by a school building.

My father would drop myself and my sister off at our schools on his way to work. School in those days didn’t start around 8.30 but began at 9 am. And you could also leave St Brelade by 7.30 am and not face much in the way of traffic, which only really began to build up after 8pm.

So there we would be, driving into school, listening to Radio 2 – no BBC Radio Jersey in those days. It was “easy listening” as Terry Wogan always used to remind us on the way in, punctuating his show with moments of fun.

I will never forget Frank Sinatra’s song – “Stranglers in the Night”. Or the Abba song with the lyrics – “I saw you last night in Tesco”. Then there was Wogan’s Winner, and Fight the Flab, where (if you were at home), you were supposed to jump up and down and “watch your wobbly bits move” as Wogan put it.

After Wogan, sometimes in school holidays or half-term, there would be Pete Murray at first, and then later on Jimmy Young. There would be a bit of overlap, and Wogan and Young would have some banter together, which usually consisted of Wogan (who never took himself or radio too seriously) winding up Young, who saw himself as a serious radio presenter and interviewer, a “man of the people”. It’s always fun when someone who takes themselves slightly too seriously gets their pomposity pricked.

Drop off by the school gates took place around 8.15 to 8.20, and that meant around three quarters of an hour before school began. The school buildings were locked up until 8.45, so I found a sheltered spot which had cover from rain, if not wind and cold, where I could shiver in winter! Summer was much better.

But when it was windy, there was an area bounded by three walls near where I stood, where the wind caught any leaves, or empty crisp packets or sweet wrappers, and they would dance around in a vortex, just like that I saw in Waitrose.

It’s strange how the wind gets caught by buildings, and doesn’t blow in a straight line, but creates its miniature cyclones, and there it would be, spinning the debris and leaves around, sometimes with them rising, then their weight would bring them back down, and the cycle would continue.

In summer, even if windy, it was warm enough to get out a book and read, but winter meant hands had to be kept firmly inside rain coat, and scarf wrapped around neck. The old style rain coats were not as good at either keeping one warm, or in fact, keeping the rain off!

And so one would watch the leaves, around and around, until if lucky, a friend turned up around 8.35 am, and there was someone to talk to.

And the around 8.45, the doors would be open, and we could go into the classrooms, and at 9 pm, the porter would come out and ring a hand bell to let anyone know that they should be in their form room.

There was a lot of just waiting around, and it could be very boring. Today, in this busy world of technology, everyone is probably on their smart phones, on Facebook, or looking stuff up online, but in those days, if you had to wait a lot, and couldn’t do anything much, you learnt to daydream.

I used to daydream a lot, and sometimes, in a particularly boring lesson, I’d be drifting off from the teacher droning on. Sometimes, I got a clip around the ears with a ruler, which brought me back to reality with a bang, as the teacher came up behind me, and suddenly... ouch!

Teachers today, of course, would not be allowed to do that, nor to throw blackboard dusters at their students, as I remember one rather angry French teacher did. It only hit the floor, but it did make us jump and pay attention, especially as there seemed to be something dangerous about a real Frenchman over for a term on an exchange visit with one of our teachers: it would be a caricature to say excitable and emotional, but he certainly seemed very different from our rather more placid teachers. And there are probably not blackboards and dust and chalk nowadays in schools.

Looking back, it seems almost like something out of “Goodbye Mr Chips”, and in truth, it probably was in a way. The wooden desks had ink wells in them, although the time of inkwells was past, and we all had cartridge fountain pens. Who uses those now?

The ubiquitous biro, and its imitations, have largely replaced that, but we had to have ink because it was the culture of the school at that time. But you could snap your wrist and flick it forward, and ink would shoot out onto paper, which used to be quite an interesting diversion.

The others were picking apart small pieces of the large pink rubbers we had, and flicking them at fellow students, and sucking the end of one’s pencil. Fortunately, despite being called “lead pencils”, they were of course graphite, which is considerably less toxic.

I look back, and I wonder if there is somewhere a little pocket of time, a small eddy in the flow of minutes, where the past is still there, and the leaves are blowing around in their own little vortex, and a short and skinny schoolboy is day-dreaming as he waits for another school day to begin.

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