It was 1979, the International Year of the Child, I was yet to morph into the handsome balding neurotic brute you see today. Instead I looked something like this:-
My cheeky smile would endear me to Miss Gradwell enough for her to call me the best behaved boy she had had in her classroom. Miss Gradwell had a fantastic moustache but confusingly wore a dress and requested that people call her Miss. Many years later I was to meet her niece in a club in Liverpool to be told that she was still a spinster and had retired from teaching sometime previous. Gradwell was a tall dark haired lady of questionable gender. Her love for tie dyed dresses and slim but muscular build was off set by her passion for the arts and crafts.
The best thing about Miss Gradwell's class was the art and crafts. In one year alone we had managed to make tissue stuck (as in tearing off bits of coloured tissue and sticking it to cut out shapes of card) versions of Itsy and Bitsy, create a display of tins of donated out of date foods for a harvest festival and poster painted cut outs of children from around the world. The best bit of the craft lessons was the peeling of glue paste off green plastic spatulas. Fantastic! I also learnt through the medium of the Radio 4 Schools and Colleges programme Music Time basic rhythm.
But darker stirrings were afoot, not only were some of the other boys having birthday parties involving nefarious rituals such as pass the parcel, but we were also being taught the necessary skills of addition and subtraction. I recall one particular mathematics session having a really complex equation (I think it was something like 24-4=?) and me asking the accident prone Michael Carroll what the answer might be.
"Twenteen" he replied
Twenteen? WTF? I didn't have a clue what twenteen looked like. I knew what 19 was and I was fairly sure I knew that 20 was twenty. But twenteen? Was it one of the mystical forbidden numbers? I asked the elderly classroom assistant Mrs King if she knew what twenteen was. Big mistake! I was accused of cheating and collaboration. To silence the hag I stuffed a copy of History Today into her gaping toothless mouth and hid her wrinkled corpse in the Wendy house in Mrs Oakley's classroom. Fortunately nobody saw me and as far as I know her decaying cadaver is still under the pile of rotting council milk cartons.
As I said earlier, 1979 was the international year of the child an occasion that would stick with me for many years. I still have the wallpaper covered exercise book within which I detailed (or rather copied from the blackboard) simple passages describing the illustration carefully photostated in purple ink on the opposite page. The illustrations would be of atypical children from around the world in national dress. By today's standards the images and passages alone would be classed as highly offensive and possibly even cause an international incident. Picture if you will the image of a boy in traditional German dress, indeed the child would be called Hans and he would be describing Autobahns and how he likes spicy sausages. Then consider the image of a Dutch girl called Heidi. Picture her platted hair and her arms carrying tulips. TULIPS for fuck sake. Her father, it says owns a WINDMILL and she lives by a canal. My GOD! What bollocks did they teach children? Other gems included a Japanese girl called Soo Lee dressed like a geisha and a frigging eskimo! Not Inuuit good God no...ESKIMO. I had best not describe the African boy for fear of causing racial riots.
It was also at this time that by some dark nefarious means the world suffered two Februaries. Not one, but two. February is bad enough but having to suffer two in a year was just awful. Nobody else believes me about this incident and I can find no historical or official documentation explaining the reasoning behind having two Februaries in one year. But these happy times were to dissolve with the looming threat of Mrs Kelly, the 3rd year infants teacher. She had a reputation of being a strict teacher and one who would take no nonsense. So as the warm summer of 1979 faded into distant memory and September approached, so did Mrs Kelly and her twisted schemes.
Which I will tell you about in the next instalment
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