My first school was called St. Anne’s. It was a preparatory school for children after kindergarten and up to the age of 11. I don’t remember much about St. Anne’s but, according to my mother, I was always getting into trouble. One day when my mother came to collect me, she was waylaid by one of the teachers who, quite indignantly, told Mum that I was the naughtiest child ever. Apparently they had served salad for lunch which I detested then, and still do. Instead of eating it, I put it on my seat and then sat on it to hide my crime. After agreeing with the teacher and promising to discipline me properly when she got me home, Mum got in the car and convulsed with laughter.
At eleven I went to Purley Grammar school, an all-boys one about a mile from my home. Every Wednesday we had to go for a cross-country run which almost invariably passed by my back gate. I used to set off like a gazelle, get a substantial lead and sneak in through for a cup of tea, and a read, before rejoining the run about an hour later. I came in first for months and months and was very popular with the sports teacher. The popularity waned suddenly when they changed the route and I started to trail in last and I endured several examinations to find out what was wrong with my knee which, miraculously, started to hurt every time I had to run but was cured the moment I had to do something physical that I enjoyed.
As you can probably imagine, I was also the class clown. I refused to take anything seriously and was always making jokes or fooling around. One time the biology teacher asked the class where one would find flatworms. My hand shot up. “Yes, Michael”, she said, no doubt hoping for the right answer. What she got was “Under a brick, miss!” The whole class dissolved into raucous laughter but she was not at all amused. I’m pretty sure I got caned but that was a frequent occurrence anyway.
I hated school; it simply couldn’t keep my interest and the constant repetition of stuff that we had already learned caused me to tune out. It was a case of “I got it the first time, now can we move on?” The subtext of that was ‘instead of having to go through it again, and again, for all the idiots in the class I don’t remember ever doing homework although I am sure it was set, and I probably came up with a never ending stream of outrageous excuses why I hadn’t done it.
I did enjoy French, probably because that was where my grandmother was from, and also we had a wonderful teacher, Mr. Lewis, a New Zealander, who I have very fond memories of. I also enjoyed Maths because of a natural aptitude and I liked English because I loved to read. The rest of it however was of no interest; I particularly hated Geography and had no affinity for Physics or Chemistry, especially Chemistry, since they wouldn’t let me blow anything up; at least not after the first time.
At the beginning of one term, our English teacher derided the class for their lack of reading and gave us a project for the term. We all had to read a minimum of three books during the term and write a review of each of them. Anybody not turning in three reviews would automatically fail the term end exam. The last week came and it was time to hand the reviews in; quite a few handed in three, some just one or two but I handed none in.
Mr. Jenkins, known to one and all as CP, knew that I was a reader so couldn’t figure out why I had turned in no reviews so asked me, in front of the class. “Why haven’t you handed in any book reviews?”
“I’ve been too busy reading, Sir, to write reviews,” was my answer.
“What do you mean too busy?”
I handed him three sheets of paper. On it were listed the titles and authors of the 237 books that I had read during the term. “How many books are on this list,” he asked.
“Two hundred and thirty seven, Sir.”
“And you’ve read them all?”
“Do you ever sleep?”
“Occasionally, Sir. When I run out of something to read.”
Needless to say I passed the exam.
I was in the Music class one day and got locked in the cupboard by the other boys. The teacher, Paddy Collins, had not arrived so several of the boys were leaning on the door to stop me getting out. I had been pushing hard but with no success. I moved back as far as I could and took a run at the door hitting the hinged side with my shoulders. The hinges broke; the door fell off and I stumbled out almost falling in Paddy Collins arms. He was not amused at the wrecking of his classroom and I’m sure I probably got caned for it.
Paddy Collins used to live near the school, halfway down a steep hill called Marlpit Lane, which had a 1 in 10 grade. One morning during Assembly he came onto the stage and made an announcement.
“As most of you know,” he said “I live on Marlpit Lane. It doesn’t bother me all that much to see cars whizzing past my house at 50mph. What does bother me is the boys from this school on bicycles who are passing them!” He then proceeded to lecture us all on the dangers; it went in one ear and out the other.
Another of the school sports that we had to play was Rugby. I hated it since it was usually played on a cold, wet day and involved a certain amount of pain. Contact sports have never been my thing. I found that the best way to avoid getting hurt was to run in the opposite direction whenever it looked like somebody was about to throw me the ball. Sometimes, though, the tactic didn’t work and I ended up with the ball and half a dozen boys running at me to knock me down and take the ball away. In those cases, I simply passed the ball on instantly – I didn’t care if I passed it to my teammate or one of the opposition; I just wanted to get rid of it.
Around my 16th birthday, the headmaster called my parents in for a meeting. He told them that they, the school, didn’t know what to do with me. I was undoubtedly intelligent but … When the meeting ended, they had mutually agreed that it was time for me to leave school. As you can imagine, I was delighted and have never regretted that I didn’t study harder and, perhaps, go onto university.
I have studied many things since then, learning four languages along the way. The difference being that I was interested in all the things I’ve studied instead of being taught boring stuff by, to be perfectly honest, some not very good teachers. So much of education is learning things by rote that are unlikely to ever be of any use. Well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading or listening to this chapter as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and recording it.
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