Week 39: The Trouble with Teachers

Friday 28th September 2018

Reading time 02 minutes 19 seconds

Excluding Ibiza the Isle of Wight is known as England’s favourite holiday island. To me it is the English equivalent of “Devil’s Island” and memories of the place came flooding back to me earlier this week. 

I’ll start at the beginning.

1982. I was in the last year of Primary school and, excluding teachers and dinner ladies, the kids ruled the school. I was close to starting big school, then 5 years later I could leave education forever which was my only ever real goal in life. So pleased have I been with that achievement I only recently stopped celebrating.

As a parting gift for our final year we were offered a week away, with our school mates, to the land of different coloured sand in jars. It was a path well-trodden for our school and many playground myths had been born. The trip sounded as exciting to an 11-year-old as an early night does to a 47-year-old.

I convinced my Dad to let me go but looking back I’m not sure how much arm twisting he needed to get me out of the house for a week.

We stayed on a holiday camp and if you can picture the Great Escape prison compound you are there. My neighbours were Joanna (a trend setter, like me, as she was the only other kid from a single parent family) and Wendy. My chalet had a shower and as a bath kind of guy this wouldn’t do. Jo and Wendy had one, so I asked if I could use their facilities and they were very accommodating.

At age 11 I was about 3 feet tall and lying in that tub I could easily have been doing the backstroke. Then disturbing my tranquil moment came a firm knock on the door.

It was Mr Smith, our teacher, who was a beast of a man and someone we all lived in fear of. If you were naughty in his class he’d throw a bean bag at your head and I can tell you he was a great shot. I reckon he had seen some very bad things in his life, as he looked like a squadron leader/war veteran, but he never said a word about them. Later in life he became the lollipop man and I think back on him with very fond, rose tinted, memories.

He knocked his knock of terror again. “Willsy, what are you doing?” 

“Having a bath sir!” Wasn’t that obvious? Why else would I be in the girl’s bathroom? This comment ignited his anger and he instructed me to leave immediately.

“But I’m in the bath sir”.

“Well then get out” he commanded.

I could sense, through his shouting, that I may be in a spot of trouble. I wondered what I had done and assumed it must have been something big as I could feel his wrath oozing through a very cheap door. Weirdly the bathroom doors could be locked but the chalet doors couldn’t. I guess this was so the guards could check on us at night?

Mr Smith was also screaming at Joanna and it sounded as though she was in more trouble than me, so I opened the bathroom door and stepped out.

I stood there wearing a towel around my waist holding my clothes. This really infuriated him. 

“Get to your room Willsy and why are you here?”

“Make up your mind sir, do you want me to leave or to answer stupid questions?” Are the words I didn’t say as teachers could give you a whack back then. 

I explained about me not liking showers and only liking baths and this toppled him over the edge. He then marched me out of the room and back to mine with my ear between his fingers and me struggling to keep the towel around my waist.

The thing about Mr Smith is that he was all hot air and the ‘incident’ was forgotten by the time I left for big school.

I contacted Jo & Wendy. Wendy sadly had no memories of the incident but Joanna on the other hand remembered it all apart from why we were in trouble. Sadly, the mystery remains but I’ve never been able to fully relax in a bath since.

This weeks photo: I don’t ever recall being this relaxed on stage but my friend little Andrew captured it perfectly.

Week 38: Driving Around Australia in My Van

Friday 21st September 2018

Reading time 5 minutes 29 seconds

Remember where you are. This is Thunderdome. Death is listening, and will take the first man that screams.” – Aunty Entity

Before Brexit there was Y2K. Like billions of others I survived the ‘Millennium Armageddon’ so I decided to drive around Australia in celebration. 

As a child I was a seasoned ‘caravaner’ so like a tortoise was ok with driving and living in the same thing, and I did the logical thing and bought a camper van. 

I wasn’t alone for the trip and my companions consisted of my new girlfriend, an old pal who was like the sister I never had, and my sister. We had a Lonely planet guide, a road map of Australia (that when unfolded was bigger than the van) and a huge sense of adventure which was almost as big as the map. 

One day, whilst driving through the desert, we passed an advertising billboard that announced “The Meteor Crater” was close by. In Australia this is all relative given it’s quite a sizeable place but someone* shouted, “Let’s go there”. We did just that and arrived 2 Hours later at another sign. This one stated we were “close” and it was “suggested” that you need a four wheel drive from this moment on. The same someone said we had four wheels and could drive so on we went.

This section of the journey was “off road” and thanks to my Sony PlayStation I’d had experience of this fun type of driving before. However, there weren’t any PS One games simulating driving a camper van through sand and the enjoyment abruptly ended when I slowed down the van sunk and we became well and truly stuck. We were stranded in the middle of a desert which our Australian friends affectionally “The Bush.” I’m still not sure why as there were only a few bushes. The sand was also “affectionally” known as Red Dust.

Was this how we died? The Wills family and their pals found weeks later dead from dehydration. They’d make a movie of our final days and it would be like Capricorn One or possibly The Inbetweeners 2.

We called a van meeting and discussed our options and assessed our available skill sets; 

Hairdresser. IT guy. Office administrator. Office administrator with a degree and who had completed basic training in the armed forces. 

Only one of us had skills that’d be of use, unless we ended up surviving here for years in which case we’d all have great haircuts and up to date admin. 

Army girl stated that the number one trick of survival was to stay with your vehicle. Everyone agreed that this was a good strategy, so we sat and waited for salvation but in reality, death. After ten boring minutes of not being saved, and talking about whether we should drink each other’s urine, we decided that we didn’t want to die here and that we should go find help. Given it was a 50+ mile walk to any hope of salvation two needed to go and two had to stay. 

We eventually agreed that my girlfriend and my sister should go. I’m unsure how we reached this decision, but I think myself and army girl decided what was best as we clearly had much to offer the world and there were enough hairdressers and sisters. They seemed expendable and if they didn’t make it I’d probably find another bunch of people to love. 

We bid them goodbye, for what might be the last time, and off they went minus the sun lotion which I had to hang onto seeing as I’m a partial ginger. My girlfriend was fairer skinned than me but I’m sure she’d be OK.

A while later (it was actually 40 seconds but seemed like forever) we noticed a dust cloud moving towards our location. Ride of The Valkyries by Wagner was playing somewhere in my head. Our intrepid explorers had returned and were standing beside us. They hadn’t even tried to out run whatever it was.  
The tension mounted as the cloud approached. 

As it neared the heat waves made it seem like a metal beast. It was like a scene from Mad Max and when it finally stopped we were looking at an industrial JCB type vehicle. The tyres on it were bigger than the VW Camper.

A man stepped down. 

When I say Man, I mean MAN as he was unshaven and rugged, and he oozed masculinity. He bowled over to our pitiful group removed his cowboy hat which revealed a bandana. Us girls all giggled a little bit and I may have played with my hair in a coquettish manner. I pointed to our van and became the child from the AA advert “it’s in the sand!”

Our testosterone fuelled observant saviour announced we were stuck and that he’d help us. My sister, who has more manners than I, offered him water but he refused explaining that he didn’t drink while the sun was up. It was Crocodile Dundee, the vampire version. 

Like his good self his industrial machine had two huge arms. They extended from either side of the vehicle and cleaned the track of loose red dust. He then dragged our van to safety (in my memory he did it with his teeth but in reality, he probably used his manly bare hands.) 

He enquired where we going as we were in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing for hundreds of miles. His observation skills were fading. Maybe he needed that drink.  
We told him about “The Crater” but had now decided to head back to the main road as it’s too dangerous. 

He snorted. 

The roads were clear up to “The Crater” as that was his mornings task. He said he would clear the road for our journey back but it would take a while, so we may as well go and see “The Crater” as we’ve a few hours until the sand returns. He then climbed into his monster of a machine and rode off like a true hero into the sun.

We had another van meet. 

At the top of the agenda the girlfriend and my sibling highlighted their mild annoyance that we had sent them off to their premature deaths but they were good sports about it and haven’t mentioned it much since. 

Second item we agreed that we should drive to “The Crater”. 

This turned out to be the biggest disappointment of any trip ever as it’s just a big dent in the desert that’s filled with a lot of sand. 

We pilled back into the van. I wasn’t going to sink again so this time drove at high speed to the highway. We had survived and were not going to have an Indie movie made about our lives, and deaths, and would go on to hairdress, work in IT and whatever the other two did. 

While writing this story I spoke to my old travelling companions and we all laughed while telling each other our version of the tale. “The Crater” may have been rubbish but the story it became has entertained many a person on more than one occasion. I was also informed that I was that *Someone

Picture: Me surround by Red Dust in the “Bush”

Week 37: My Dads So Posh

Friday 14th September 2018

Reading time 3 minutes 03 seconds 

To an adolescent there is nothing more embarrassing in the world than a parent – Dave Barry

My ‘other’ Mum was from South Africa and a real force of nature. Anyone who knew her loved her and those who knew her well, loved and feared her.

Her father, who was in the equine trade, had once tried to tame a wild stallion and a method he had learned was to hit them on the jaw. He tried it and a single punch later killed it. Although a product of his genes she didn’t need her fists as a single look would have done the same job.

My Dad is from the East End of London. He sprayed cars for a living and his place of business was an arch below the railway track running towards London’s Liverpool Street. He was a working-class bloke not from the wrong side of the tracks but from under them. 

One day my Dad took his lady Horse Racing. It was a posh affair, so they dressed up to the nines and because she was being treated like a lady my ‘other’ Mum was excited. Dad was not known for his romantic gestures, and I can tell you that the apple hasn’t fallen far from that tree.

My Dad generally owned cars that had seen better days. His car at the time was given to him because a “geezer owed him a score” which in this instance made the car overvalued. The journey to the races was out of the ordinary as it was made without them, or the car breaking down. My old man pulled up to the valet parking section.

Valet parking seems strange from a British viewpoint. Someone to park your car for you? How would you be able to complain about lack of available spaces?

Anyway, I’ve since learned that Dad didn’t want to traipse across a muddy field and valet parking was closer to where he wanted to end up. He wasn’t trying to be impressive, he just didn’t want to get his best shoes dirty.

The vehicle was a 1975 Chrysler* and looked as though it had been used multiple times in the Blue Brothers car chase. The Valet did not have an impressed look across his face. My Dad gave him a friendly ‘Cockney Hello’ and was asked to hand over his keys.

Keys? This ‘Motor’ didn’t’ have any keys so my Dad handed him a big screwdriver.

The valet looked confused.

My dad not known for his patience told him to jam the screwdriver in the ignition, turn it a bit and she’ll start. 

Any delusions of being posh evaporated and my step mum burst out laughing and spent the rest of the afternoon, and her life, giggling about it.

The valets tip consisted of a fist full of copper coins, stored in the glove box, with the words “Get Yourself A Drink”. The valet later treated himself to a can of Double Diamond. 

Like most children I always found my parents stories embarrassing and shameful. 

• Why couldn’t we have a nice car or at least one that had a key rather than a screwdriver? 
• Why did my step mum have to tell tales that made the pair of them look silly? 

As I’ve aged I’ve realised how wise they were. For example, a car is just a functioning device and it doesn’t matter what it looks like or even if it has keys. It is there to do a job. In the same way a story is there to entertain. 

I’m realising more and more the importance of the joy you bring to others and my parents were masters of that. I recently read this poem and unlike most poetry this one made sense and sums up how they lived their lives and how I try to live mine.

Have I done any good in the world today? 
Have I helped anyone in need? 
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? 
If not, I have failed indeed 
– Will L. Thompson

*A footnote about the Chrysler.

It was stolen which meant happy days indeed as the insurance value was more than the score [£20]. Sadly, whilst walking to the police station my Dad found it abandoned one street away.

Picture: An old French comedy street

Week 36: I’m a Righteous Queuer

Friday 7th September 2018

Reading time 2 minutes 17 seconds

We’re living in a society – George Constanza.

I was standing in a queue at a taxi rank. It was midnight.

5 ‘elderly’ people arrived and looked at the line in anger. When I say elderly, I mean 60+ so in fact not that much older than me but enough for me to notice and when I say they were angry I’m guessing they had had enough and just wanted to go home to bed because they were, you know, old.

A taxi pulled up ahead of the rank and in a daring display of agility they all ran straight to it. The look on their faces said to everyone else in the queue “so long suckers”.

This felt like an injustice to me, so I sprinted over and shouted at them “What the hell are you lot doing? You know we are living in a society”.

Shame crept across their collective faces as they were old enough to know better. I was expecting to hear a cheer from the others in the queue, but they just looked at me. Nobody likes a person who shouts at pensioners.

They started to exit the cab. My victory stood, and I think my chest expanded fractionally as they traipsed back to the queue. Within seconds some boisterous young men exited a nearby pub and climbed into the cab as I was holding the door and about to get in.

This time my anger didn’t just erupt, it exploded. I’m not proud of this as I may have sworn and to be honest I was rude. Very rude. Nobody likes a person who shouts at young people. 

These ‘Yoofs’ were giving all young people a bad name and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I was going to teach them the difference between right and wrong so I pulled in a breath to unleash more anger comprising of all the injustices in the world that had ever befallen me. As soon as the words “Oi you rude…..” left my mouth one of the Yoofs said “Shut up mate this is our cab, we booked it”.

The cab driver looked at me in disgust and asked me to go away as these gentlemen had indeed booked the cab. Confound these young people and their handy apps.

The pensioners were smirking at me.

I explained in anger that my point to them still stood but by now I was not in the right I was very clearly in the wrong. Unnoticed hero to very noticed zero in under 60 seconds. Not my best time ever but it’s in the top three.

My girlfriend, who had observed all of this, had a little scowl on her face as we had now lost our place in the queue while I was being a failed justice warrior. She flipped her head which said to me “Get back to the curb now!!” whilst in my head I was playing the theme tune to Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

Picture: This T-shirt was worn by my friend Alex and gifted to me by my sister. I’ve always identified with the stupidity yet hard work of the main character.