A Way of Escape.

Graham Greene said, a while ago, that writing was a way of escaping the panic and fear inherent in the human condition. Bit severe perhaps but I do know most of my stories are a way of remembering adventures I never took, of dreams I remember only after I awoke and of confronting adversaries to whom I had, in reality submitted.

When St Joe’s closed I desperately needed a new job. A cousin told me that there was a new school that had been establish just that year. He had in fact enrolled two of his children at the new school and they were looking for a teacher for the next year. I didn’t know the nature of the school but as a way of solving my predicament I applied. The school was established by a small number of fundamentalist church leaders, and hastily remembering my faded upbringing I was successfully able to answer all the deep and meaningful questions with all the answers I imagined they wanted to hear. The things one does in desperation.

I got the job and walked on eggshells for the next ten years. Sometimes I smiled politely and bit my tongue. Sometimes I dug my heels in and effectively introduced a certain gentling of the regime. Once or twice I tried to make a point.

There were four Principals over those ten years. The first five years saw the coming and going of four. One of these fellows introduced a behaviour system based on Demerits. Any misbehaviour would earn a demerit. This would be entered on a class list and the Principal would collate these demerits. Three demerits in the same day would earn a detention at the end of the week. Four demerits earned on different days but in the same week would also earn a Friday detention. I didn’t like the idea. That meant, I said, that you can freely commit four crimes on each of the first four days of the week and as long as you behaved on Friday you were free. And anyway I said, with an ironic sound to my voice, just exactly what things are we talking about?

True to his pedantic and stupid self he arrived the next morning with a list of thirty-five forms of behaviour that were proscribed. Turning around in your chair, is one that stays with me. There was a delightful thirteen year old girl in my class who was enthusiastic about being alive. If I asked a question and some student at the back answered it Annie would turn around to look and smile and get involved. In her Maths class the teacher – the Principal’s wife – would give Annie a demerit. But Annie couldn’t help it. So her desk was moved to the front of the room on the left hand side so that it actually touched the front wall. I would come in the next lesson and turn her desk around so that she was facing the rest of the class and could participate without earning a demerit. Such is the stupidity of a list that prohibits normal behaviour.

One another occasion one Patrick by name was asking irrelevant questions. These were not on the list. I didn’t mind but Patrick was a little too prone to asking silly questions. So I said to him that, although the question was a good one and I would be happy to answer it at recess, it was not appropriate in the circumstances. I told him that I wanted him to think of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate questions. “So, Patrick. I want you to stand there just outside the room. Pay attention to what’s going on and when you have an appropriate question put your hand up.”

Patrick stood there for a few minutes and then the hand shot up. “Yes Patrick. What is it?”

“I can feel an appropriate question coming,” he said with a small smile on his face.

“What is your appropriate question, Patrick.”

“Can I come in and sit down?” I laughed and he came and sat down.

This was only a minor part of the day. But as I was walking out of the school I saw Patrick outside the Principal’s office. The Principal called me in. “I have been looking at the class roll. I notice that you didn’t give Patrick a demerit.”

“No I didn’t. Patrick had a good day and did nothing to warrant a demerit.”

“Did you send Patrick out of you room?”

“Yes but not for doing anything wrong. It was just part of a teaching device.”

“If you sent him out, he should have been given a demerit!”

“But he didn’t ….”

“Did you send him out.”


“Then he should have been given a demerit.”

At this point Patrick stuck his nose around the door and said to me, “Sir. Just give me a bloody demerit and we can all go home.”

“No Patrick I won’t.”

But the Principal did.

Such is the stupidity of a list that prohibits normal behaviour.


12 thoughts on “A Way of Escape.

  1. I love your St Joe’s stories. Can we skip these horrid ones – unless you’ve got some good Patrick-like stories. There are some miserable human beings on this earth, but some b****** good ones too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought you were going to write “Patrick by name and Patrick by nature”. It would be possible with some names…”Frank by name and Frank by nature”. Sadly that’s the only one that I have thought of so far. Except maybe Richard, which in French means “a rich man”.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. OH! you gave me the magic number. People stopped employing me at 55. I thought about the kids angle, but over the 10 years most of them would have “turned over”. I suspect you stayed because deep down you knew you were making a difference.

        Liked by 1 person

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