Looking back on the early years of my education, though I haven’t retained many memories from that time, there are a couple of standout moments that I remember. I consider them to have been quite formative in the development of my personality for the rest of my time in school. The first was during an art class when I was 7 or 8 years old, in which we were being taught about the use of colour pencils.
“Colour pencils”, the teacher warned, “cannot be rubbed out like drawing pencils can”. She said, before handing us a project that would involve the heavy use of said hue-sticks. I don’t think this was earth shattering information to anyone at the time. Most of us would have figured that out at this stage. It got me thinking though, if they don’t rub out, what else happens, if anything? Do they fade a bit? Does it spread the colour about? Can you make them blend together? I didn’t have the foggiest, so I decided to try it out.
While I was rubbing away at the page, the kid next to me looked concerned. “She’ll see you!” he growled. I was informed that this was a teacher nobody wanted to cross. I looked around at the rest of the class and saw that, sure enough, everyone else was obediently leaving their erasers untouched on their desks. I ignored my neighbour’s pleas and plowed on with my work.
“AND WHAT’S THIS?!”
The shrill voice of our authority figure boomed around the classroom, bringing everyone to a standstill. pencils dropped, jaws fell and all that. I looked up to find her eyes fixed on mine in a deeply unsettling way. I never liked being the centre of attention. For the next torturous minute or so I would be the unwilling star of the shit-show in which I was at the business end of a few choice words…
- “WHAT DID I SPECIFICALLY SAY TO YOU BEFORE THIS PROJECT?!”
- “CAN’T YOU LISTEN?!”
- “YOU DO NOT USE THE RUBBER! IT’S REALLY QUITE SIMPLE! IT CAN’T BE DONE!”
- “ARE YOU COMPLETELY STUPID OR SOMETHING?!”
I was asked to explain myself. I offered a weak response about wanting to see what would happen. Of course we all know what would happen because she told us in the preamble! She tore me a new one with relish. I could hear some of the other kids were laughing at me and whispering among themselves, quite likely about what might be wrong with me to not be able to follow basic instructions like this. I did feel a bit embarrassed, but mostly pissed off. I knew what I was thinking at the time and after a few days to get over it I had no regrets over the incident. I knew the bitch was in the wrong and I would continue to do my own thing and try to find out things for myself, however it might make me appear to others. My dislike of attention though, grew to an active avoidance of participation in lessons. In the years to come, I would sometimes know the right answer but would never put my hand up to receive the accolades.
That all changed when I was 10 or 11. The topic in conversation was the difference in properties between hard and soft water. Before the answers were explored, the class was offered the chance to provide some ideas. I knew with 100 percent certainty that one type of water would lather up bars of soap easier than the other, because on a holiday trip I was told all about it and tried it out myself and saw the fucking difference with my own bastard eyes. So, contrary to my usual nature I put my hand up to the apparent shock of the teacher. Her face contorted as I talked until she could take no more and laughed. Where on earth did I get that from? she wondered out loud. The rest of the class joined in the giggling as, red-faced, I sunk in my seat and stared at my textbook. Later, as she read out the text from the book about water stuff to the class, the thing I said before came u-
The teacher stopped in her tracks and looked at me. I averted my gaze and looked about the class to the open jawed faces of the other kids before looking down at my book again. Some seemed happy for me, others didn’t seem to know what to think. Someone, I don’t know who, patted me on the back. My answer was right fucking there in the textbook. The teacher offered an apology, but I was too pissed off to hear it. Our class were about to make the step up to big school which would be full of new people and new things & new beginnings, but I wouldn’t participate vocally in any class for many years to come.