Slap happy

Warning. Early 1970’s sexism, and graphic scenes of violence which those of a nervous disposition may find distressing.

May contain nuts.

l have said before that my schooldays were a kind of ‘Kes’ in real time. Examination of Ken Loach’s treatment of former teacher Barry Hines’ book ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ reveals a cast of teachers and pupils captured with just the right amount of lunacy and pathos. A snapshot of life in all its absurdities, which mirrored  our experience with uncanny accuracy.

Among the psychopaths, nutters and loonies at my school I was fortunate enough to find two sane lads who were into the same things as me, and who just happened to be the funniest people I’d ever met: namely Baz and Teck. Like me, a fan of Milligan, Baz is possessed of lazer-like wit, with which he is quite able to reduce his audience to pulp with his no-nonsense view of the world and razor sharp comments. Teck is far more lugubrious. His speciality is ‘The Rant’ along with silly words, sound affects and accents.

Thanks to the Interwebthingumybob we are still  in contact today. Apart from maintaining our friendship the beauty of this is that we are sometimes able to remember events jointly as they actually happened, and even describe what took place from a different viewpoint or perspective.

When looking back and all your instincts tell you ‘That can’t be true … I must have made it up …’ all it takes is a quick Facebook message.

Let me give you an example. I remembered a comical (well not so much for the girl involved) incident from 1972. We were in the second year  ( Year 8 ). The bell had gone for the end of break and we were all milling about in the Languages corridor. In theory we were lining up outside our respective classrooms, when in fact it looked more like a scrummage, complete with Scrum Half about to feed the ball (somone’s school bag) Through this melee of bodies walked Sarah one of the prettiest girls in the year with a group of freinds. In what must have been a catastrophic rush of blood to the head, because it was so out of character, a class-mate by the name of George, casually put out his hand and as Sarah and her friends passed, he cupped her left breast.

A horrified silence descended on the corridor, the two packs disengaged and looked on. You could hear a pin drop. Calmly and without breaking her step Sarah wound her arm back and with a confidence that suggested she was more than a dab hand at unarmed combat adminstered the mother of all slaps to George’s chops. It sounded like hitting a pound and a half of liver wth a cricket bat. The corridor was in uproar again until our French teacher Russell O’ Callaghan arrived on the scene and sorted us out.

Some 40 years later Baz,Teck and me are discussing the the incident in The Regal Moon pub and it transpired we had each been in the corridor, but in different places. Yet on inpection, our accounts of what happened matched perfectly.

And the thing that we each remember most?

That slap.

I bet on a quiet day if you listen carefully down at the bottom of St. Wilfred’s Drive, the estate of new houses built on the old school site, you can still hear the echoes of Sarah’s Super Slap today.

40 years on L-R Self, Kath, Angela, Teck. Baz, Mike

© Andy Daly 2017

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Peter Hill

It is a matter of great regret that I never said a proper ‘Thank You’ to Peter Hill.

It was he, bless his large, round glasses who was responsible for the singlemost brilliant piece of teaching of my whole school career.
A bit of background: This happened in Rochdale, Lancashire.

Ah! Rochdale.If you’ve never been there, it’s a bit like … how can I describe it? … Imagine the Cotswolds and an artist’s watercolour pallette, full of greens in all their subtleties, an embarrassment of hues and tones: fresh, fragrant and soothing. Alongside it, the artist’s page and a peaceful, landscape, lovingly depicted but which is steadily succumbing to the leaking black which is seeping into it, courtesy of the artist’s son. Who, fancying a crack at a bit of painting of his own is happily grinding the brush into the disintegrating picture. He then paints his own fingers, the lamp black mixing nicely with the remnants of a peanut butter sandwich, which then also becomes incorporated into the pastoral scene… That’s what Rochdale is like.

Or at least it was in the ‘70s when I lived there and when Peter Hill, teacher and actor, cut a dash (as still does I am lead to believe) impeccably dressed as always, through the cobblestoned streets of nearby Whitworth.

I knew a bit about Peter Hill before I went to St. Wilfred’s Catholic Middle School where he taught. There were tales that went around about this mad English teacher who wildly over-pronounced certain vowels and consonants and had a ready willingness to threaten and use corporal punishment. My Dad (also a teacher, but not at the same school) had a few stories about him too, but advised me to tread with caution. He thought Mr. Hill an experienced and wily campaigner who could be a hard taskmaster and yet inspired great loyalty.

‘Trilly’ as he was affectionately known (Mr. Hill – Mister Hill – Mister ‘ill – Mistrill – Trilly: See?) was a regular cast member of the Whitworth Amateur and Musical Dramatic Society and a brilliant comic actor (something which he brought into his teaching incidentally) I still have very clear memories of him singing “I am the very model of a modern major general” and, it may have been the same production, an occasion when his false moustache and beard began to slip. With a series of matchless ad-libs he used it to great comic effect.

I adored him though, of course I didn’t tell a soul in school, particularly once I had reached St. Wilfred’s myself, and where, during my first year, for no apparent reason (I think I just got off on the ‘wrong foot’ with the place) I was a complete arse. He taught me Latin that year, but I just messed about. I didn’t give him a chance. I came bottom in the exam.

The following year, he taught me English. I was in one of his lessons, doodling away, as I often did, on the inside cover of my exercise book at a cartoon figure. I didn’t realise as I struggled with the hands of this wretched creature I was drawing that he was standing right behind me: ‘So THIS is what we do in our English lessons is it?’ He made me come out to the front. I was mortified. Ashen – faced, which you couldn’t see because I was blushing so much, I watched, eyes prickling with the hot tears welling up, but which I wouldn’t allow to fall, as he tore a page from my book, wrote something on it, folded it in half, and told me to go with it to the Library. I assumed I’d be met there by one of the senior staff to be given a serious punishment…I mean…getting sent out of a lesson.

‘Can I help you?’ The Librarian was a nun with a profile like an eagle. I dithered and looked around

‘Yes?…’ She was impatient. I thrust the piece of paper at her. She read it then told me to sit down.

After a few minutes, she returned with a book, set it on the table before me, opened it and laid the note alongside. This is what I saw…

Albrecht Durer ‘Praying Hands’ 1508

Underneath his written instruction to the Librarian it said:

“If you are going to draw hands in my lesson, you might at least get them right. Stay here and draw these until you know them back to front. Don’t move till I come to collect you.”

I never did get them right. But I’ve had a blast trying. So Peter, please accept my belated apologies.

…… Oh, and Thank You.

Postscript

Some four years after this was written I got a message which said that a relative of Mr Hill had stumbled across ‘Sitting Comfortably’ and had shown him this piece.

He was very keen to contact me and so I passed on my phone number. Sure enough about a week later I got a call one saturday morning. It was Peter Hill. We had a lovely conversation in which we remembered old times.

So I did get to thank him after all.

Peter Hill: Actor and Teacher

Peter Hill: Actor and Teacher 29.09.30 – 07.08.15 Requiescat In Pace

 © Andy Daly 2010