Mike and I often share anecdotes and stories from our primary school days before we knew each other and I realised that I have so many stories and memories that I’ve never written down anywhere, so I’m going to use this article to keep a note of them.
No running! No shouting! No fun!
My primary school wasn’t too bad, but the one thing that we always hated was how strict they were over break times. It started with one of the most popular playground games of the day, British Bulldog, being banned. In hindsight, it was a pretty rough game, because you’d have to get to the other side of the playground while a few people in the middle tried to stop you by any means possible. So that was banned.
Then there was a health craze going around, so the headmistress said we could only have fruit on the playground. Anyone eating anything else was told off and the food was taken away. Luckily, I had my mother who understood that this was poppycock. She actually went in and spoke to the headmistress, telling her about my heart condition and that I needed sugar and stuff for the energy. Eventually the healthy food rule kind of petered out.
The worst rule they introduced was no running in the playground. I know, right! They suddenly became very safety conscious and stopped us running. Obviously we all still ran and we all still got told off. That rule was introduced in the final year, so I don’t know how long it lasted. They also, at one point, told us we had to stop making so much noise. Honestly, it was awful. You’d just be standing around talking, it was like being an adult. Luckily, there was a murder case to keep us entertained…
I don’t remember what year this happened in, but it’s one of my favourite things that I ever did in primary school. One day, I was with a few friends and we saw a handkerchief with blood stains on it on the other side of the fence. We were able to reach it and so we pretended it was a clue towards a murder mystery. We then quickly decided to investigate further and found more ‘clues’ including a piece of paper with Mark written on it and a tag off a shoe that said Redrock – the victim was called Mark Redrock. We also found scratch marks on the wall from where he’d seemingly tried to climb in through the window, footprints in the dirt and a fresh piece of round tarmac that was suspiciously just big enough to fit a head in.
It was a very exciting few days, but then we discovered a big yellow spider hiding in a corner in the wall that we could feed ants to and we occupied our time with that instead.
The Model Wheelchair
I think this was year 4 and we were doing a project building a little model garden out of random materials. Whilst most people were building lollipop-stick benches or cardboard trees, I built a wheelchair out of straws. I was quite pleased with myself that not only was I being quite kind thinking about the disabled model people, but the thing actually worked! The wheels turned and it reclined and everything.
The trouble with year 5
This was the only year I ever got a bad report. The teacher, Mrs College, said that I was always either distracting others or staring blankly out of the window. Now this was absolutely true, but still, I did my work and got good grades, so who cares how I behaved.
I did like year 5 though, mainly because it was the year I tried taramasalata for the first time. We had a day where the teacher brought in a load of dips for us to try – I can’t remember why, maybe she was just running out of ideas – and I really liked taramasalata so I went home and bought some. I don’t think I’ve had it since.
I also remember when we used to do painting and I’d get it all over me. One time I was using green paint and by the end of the lesson people were calling me The Hulk, because I was covered in green paint.
The slyness of Ben
I think this was year 6 and there was a girl called Natasha in our class. She wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box and we didn’t really get on. One day, she was going to sit down and I did the age old practical joke of moving her chair back. She fell back and hit her head a bit, but she was okay. I was still sent to the headmaster for it. Considering I’d never been sent to the headmaster before – I’d been a model student – I was very nervous, so I came up with a plan.
The teacher had, rather foolishly, sent me to the headmaster with the instruction of telling him what I’d done so he could have a go at me. However, I took one of my exercise books with me and decided to tell him that I’d been sent to him for exceptionally good work. I showed him my book and he (as I’m sure most headteachers do) pretended to be impressed. He then proceeded to show the class he was teaching at the time and gave a little speech about how good it was and how he hoped some of his pupils would be more like me, which was rather embarrassing.
However, the possibility that the headteacher might ever talk to my teacher seemed to have slipped my mind and sure enough they did. I found this out the day after as I walking down the driveway and held the gate open for someone. The headteacher said, “Very nice Ben. Much better than pushing a girl off a chair.”
Don’t be selfish
At Easter, the school usually had a raffle where you could win prizes. It was mostly Easter eggs, but there were a few toys and things that had been donated. I was lucky enough to win one year and when I went up to get my prize, I chose a little electronic game. There was two of them on the table and the headmistress asked me “Do you want one or two?” I said the obvious answer of two – who wouldn’t? But she replied “No, don’t be selfish. Take the one.”
Why ask me if you’re only going to let me have one anyway?!
A Rude Robin
One of my favourite events at school was World Book Day, because we got to dress as fictional characters. The best one I ever did was Robin Hood, because my mother’s friend had made this beautiful green robe and it was the proper thing, made with nice fabrics – it was a really good costume. I also had a toy bow and arrow set (with the rubber-tipped arrows for safety). Now, from what you’ve already read, you’ll have guessed that it probably wasn’t the best idea to give me a weapon to take to school. Naturally, I coerced a kid into being my target practice, holding things up and putting things on his head for me to shoot.
We didn’t get very far into target practice when another kid came over and had a go at me. I think he wanted a go of the bow and arrow, I can’t quite remember. But anyway, he got me riled and I told him to “P*ss off.”
Now, this was in primary school and I’d only just learnt the phrase. Naturally, swearing was a big deal in school and the kid’s immediate reaction was, “Ommm, I’m telling!”
My response to that was, “Oh for f*ck sake!” because I’d also learnt that one as well. I then started chasing him across the playground to stop him from telling on me, cursing at him the whole time I was chasing him. I think I did manage to stop him and told him he could have a go on the bow and arrow if he didn’t tell.
The final performance
In year six, our class put together a little show with songs, dances and sketches about countries from all over the world. This included things like Russian cossack dancing (with Dennis Wheelan sitting on a bucket because he couldn’t squat properly) and an Australian rugby haka (featuring the least threatening kids in the class).
One day in class, the Mr Hennigan asked if anyone could do an Australian accent. Danny Campbell said he could and he said something in a pretty decent accent, so the teacher said he could be in the Australia sketch. I’ve always been good at accents and thought I could do one better than Danny, so I – in an uncharacteristic bout of confidence – also auditioned and was chosen for the sketch.
The basis of the sketch was Australia’s very literal naming conventions. So we’d go back and forth with lines like…
“What do you call a great big desert full of sand?”
“The great sandy desert.”
“What’s the fiercest snake in Australia?”
“The ‘fierce snake’ mate.”
It was quite a good little skit and one of the earliest examples of me performing for an audience whilst not in a big group of people. We also got to dress up in typical Aussie attire, with shorts, vest, sandals, corked hats and a toy koala strapped to our arm. The sketch went well and we got a few laughs.
The class also did a Beatles medley in the show, which was where I first discovered one of my favourite bands. I remember it included Eleanor Rigby and Ob-la-di Ob-la-da. My grandparents heard me rehearsing the songs and got me a cassette tape of The Beatles: 1. Sadly the tape broke recently so I don’t have it anymore.
Another notable moment came during our final song, My Heart Will Go On. Midway through the song, a girl called Chelsea Tancred, who was stood next to me, fell over. As she dropped down, she grabbed my trousers… which promptly came down. I don’t think anyone saw, but it still makes me laugh thinking about it.
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