January 05, 2014
School for me was amazing. Not because I enjoyed everyday of it, not because I found learning easy, but because I spent my years totally under the radar. I walked amongst 800 boys in a Jesuit School in South Wales UK. I was somehow made invisible to the system & I truly believe that’s what saved me. I escaped the programming, the rules the stress of exams, the expectations, the whole ten yards, I was free.
I remember my first day in the big school on top of a bigger hill. They had a tier system that was based on our previous academic performance at the school we had just left. My mother reminded me recently that in the school I had finished at I was caught mitching (slang for not going to school when you’re supposed to, bunking off). I apparently would have got through the year without attending school, but my mother spoke to a teacher at the supermarket where she was asked if her son was all right. My mother was shocked and questioned me where had I been going if not to school. My mother said to this day she had no idea where I went or what I did. I remember that time I would leave the house as normal then duck into a hedge right at the school entrance. I remember vividly, body crouched playing with a stick in the dirt for hours, until the home bell rang. No food, no friends, I remember thinking I’m bored, as the hours past, I asked how is this better than in the classroom. In hindsight I learned how to be in my own company, I learned patience; and it was my introduction to meditation, and just like in the bigger school invisibility was to be my saviour. So the class system went like this. A stream the top, cream of the brain crop, the nerds, I knew where my brother Tony would be heading when he got here, he came out of the womb reading a book and a fine art paintbrush in his hand. My other brother Blue went directly to B stream, B for Blue, these guys were smart with attitude. Below that it’s a C then a D then last and very least, the E stream. Stage centre yep me, straight to the E stream. I looked around the room, like you do with some hotel rooms you’re booked into without checking in yourself, and you say… Hell no, I’m not staying here. There were kids biting heads off nature, it was a teacher free zone, It was a Jesuit brother with anger issues and a drink problem, they must have thought most of the kids would feel right at home with this yo yo. We were down in the boiler room. The forgotten tribe, even the jocks were scared of these guys. These kids didn’t have hairs on their chests, they had twigs, and they were cracking walnuts with their eyelids. It wasn’t long before I was standing in front of brother Terrance (Deputy Headmaster), a very short Jesuit monk teacher. Thinking on it, that’s probably where I started calling guys brothers. It was what we called the monks because that’s what they were, Jesuit brothers. He agreed to move me as we talked in his little office under the main hall school staircase, the best spot for spotting naughty kids. He was real short and real tuff, I always liked him. So he agreed to move me up into the D stream, I could hear the jeers from there, D for dumbo, D for dummy, D for dunce and that was just my real brothers. But it was better than E for… your lucky if you don’t get the electric chair. I did about three months down there and again it taught me a lot, it also gave me a rep knowing those guys and being from there. I was the boy from the E hood who got out and done good. Those guys were the most real in school, but there were a few lose cannons, trigger happy mentalists in that class and I didn’t fancy looking over my shoulder for the next five years. I know brother Terrence could see under all that bravado I was a nice kid, so he agreed to try me out. I was on probation up in D-block. When we got to the classroom I was introduced by brother Terrence, that was a safe pass for the time being, but it was apparent it was a case of same shit different letter. I felt like Rocky in the eye of the tiger, remember the scene when Apollo Creed took him back to the hood and the looks he was getting. I felt like Lord Fauntleroy being thrown to a new set of dragons, Welsh ones. I went to the back of the class and sat at my scratched desk, it was a little better than the E-stream because E stream didn’t have desks with lids, it then dawned on me these guys would probably leave me alone because I had just done a stretch in E wing. I was sitting next to Mark Earl and Alan Brind. Brindy was a big boy and a fighter, you know came from a broken home, because he broke it: weights in his living room and a couple of pit bulls for good measure. In the red corner Early, funny because that kid couldn’t be early if he slept on campus with the brothers personally giving him an alarm call. The difference between the two streams was marginal, remember the difference between heaven and hell is a human hair, something like that. But the teacher wasn’t drunk, just asleep, the kids weren’t eating heads off squirrels, I kid you not. And I had my own desk without one curse word etched on the lid. After talking to the lads in the yard, I found out that we were left alone without the shoulder watching. The E stream was profiled and being monitored for dangerous behaviour, while the C stream were young hopefuls. Somehow the school system had walked right by the D stream. I undid my top button on my shirt, loosened my tie and stayed that way until I left school five years later. It was funny, I was always pristine, but the collar was undone, tie was loose and I wore a studded rock bracelet under my school blazer. I subconsciously knew I was going to be all right here. Visibly mitching, with a warm room and play mates. Right through those school years I did exactly what I wanted to do, I learned to read watching Kung Fu martial art films, reading the sub titles. Math from telling jokes, I would sit at the back of the class and tell classmates jokes at the price of a penny a laugh, and I would tally up at break time. I bought my first house at fourteen I was that funny. It was a great way to practice my stage act for the evening shows. There was art that was such an escape from everything. On the day on my Art exam I rushed my picture because I wanted to get home for a movie that was being shown in the afternoon, Norman Wisdom. My art teacher Mr Francis a great teacher, was horrified at this possible waste of talent. He told me I needed something to bring the picture to life, make it three D, hey 3 D stream. So I remember being annoyed because I wanted to see this film so badly. I ran down the corridors to the woodwork class, scooped up a handful of wood chippings and raced back to the art class. I had drawn a prisoner in a cell looking at a mouse with a red sunset while he lay in prison. I glued the bearded guys top and scattered the wood chippings, then painted over it. I didn’t even glance back, we had a long hill and I ran down it at full speed. I arrived at my house just as the film credits were on. As my butt hit the pillow I had prepared some snacks and supplies.
A month later I got my results, other students who had worked very hard and with great expectations had failed, I couldn’t have been more natural about the exam. I enjoyed art on my terms as I still do today. The day of reckoning, results day, I received top score.
Funny eh, I was on the wrong side of the tracks with the undesirables the Invisible. Then I took the same exam as the elite and in half the time, and I know only a few of us in the school got top marks.
The stream does not make the man…