The Legend Of The Doctor - Part The Second
© Dr Stuart Wayne Dwyer
First year of Big School: Grade 1
My third and final year of Kindergarten was associated with a new feeling of excitement and anticipation: the coming of 'Big' school, real school, a place where they did real work, and one could cease all this mind-numbing nonsense of colouring empty pictures and learning tins of words. A place where they gave you books to write in and real books to read, not silly 'Readers', with inane stories of Roy and Carol and their non-entity of a dog, who all looked like they had been hit hard on the head and were therefore unable to do anything, except stare out at you from the page.
The excitement grew as the year progressed, and didn't diminish even in the long summer holidays. In fact, going out to buy the new school uniform served only to heighten the delicious anticipation, and I looked ever more forward to the real ideas that I would no doubt receive from proper teachers in 'Big' school, real work, homework even, and real books.
That auspicious first day of 'Big' school, grade 1 arrived at last. My parents had decided that I was to attend St Henry’s, a Marist Brothers Catholic College. This which was odd as my extreme Calvinist family usually regarded anything even remotely Catholic as belonging to the house of Satan.
I was dropped off at the gate of my new school by the driver. I liked our ‘chauffeur’. He was a large friendly man, with a big smile. He proudly bore the name of one of my favourite biblical characters, David. We all called him 'David the Driver'.
The white gleam of David’s smiling teeth glinted at me as I waved goodbye and turned to make my way through the school gates. I was surprised to see so many mothers. This was a school for boys – what were all these women doing here? Each seemed to have accompanied their son right into the school grounds! Mothers hadn’t done that even at my Kindergarten.
There were crowds of little boys of course, all in new school uniforms. In my opinion this was a pleasant uniform: dark blue cotton short sleeved shirt and trousers, navy blue socks held up with garters, and shiny black leather shoes with toe caps and laces, and a brown leather satchel. To be free of the irritating sandals that had cursed my feet through my kindergarten years was bliss, and to have graduated from the silly blue cardboard suitcase also felt good. Losing the long sleeved flannel shirt, tie, and polyester long trousers was an added bonus.
Surprisingly a large number of the boys seemed unhappy. Some were even crying. Quite a number of the tearful new arrivals were clutching at their departing mothers, quite a few of whom were also crying. This was a vaguely incomprehensible scene. Why were they all so upset?
I felt elated: Big School at last. I found my way to the grade 1 classroom, following a small crowd of the crying boys and their mothers. Once there, I stood in line to be introduced to the teacher. Miss MacDonald was a short dark-haired woman with a friendly smile, and a suitably formal manner. She was mildly surprised that I had no mother with me, but didn't seem to mind too much.
Once the last of the mothers had left, some of them still crying, and all the grade ones had each been allocated a place, Miss McDonald looked around at her new seated class, tapped her desk with a largish stick, and told everybody to quieten down.
"First", she said, still smiling, as though about to unleash a secret pleasure, "we are going . . . to play with plasticine”.
My forehead puckered in surprise.
‘Play?’ I thought.
We each received a wooden box with balls of plasticine in, and a square wooden board. When new, the modeling clay had clearly been a collection of several separate colours, but the colours were now so well mingled that the splodgy lumps were all of a motley faecal colour.
"Now", said Miss MacDonald, "I would like you all to roll the plasticine into sausages, and make some people and animals."
I was mystified. Where was the real work, I wondered. We didn't come here to play. I could play with plasticine at home. But, being a child weaned on politeness, I didn't say anything. Once the modeling clay game was over, it was time for tea break. All the figures got mashed up and put back into the boxes.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘that was a waste of time.’
Still, they obviously knew what they were doing - this was big school after all.
Out in the playground with my lunch box, I was surprised to see most of the other children running around like a crowd of people in a panic. Despite the heat of the day, they were playing ‘catches’ (our name for tag), and ‘cops and robbers’.
It was, as was usual in the subtropics, a swelteringly hot and humid day. I took my lunch box to the shade of a large tree, where I found a large fallen tree trunk. I climbed aboard, sat down and munched on a sandwich, entertained by the spectacle of my colleagues running around and sweating.
‘Mad’, I thought. ‘First they cry, and then they run around and sweat.’
I hated running. In fact, my pathetic asthmatic lungs had left me with an intense dislike of any physical exertion, especially in the heat.
A young, shy looking, bespectacled lad wondered up, and stood hesitantly before me.
"Uh, may i join you on your, uh, tree trunk?" he enquired in a very soft voice.
"Yeah, sure", I said, pleased to have some possibly like-minded company.
Dean was a small, frail looking, wispy haired boy. It turned out that he also regarded running around in the heat as an impossible pastime. The two of us enjoyed an earnest conversation about the oddness of school, and its weird ways which had thus far been inflicted on us. We met up almost every lunch break after that, and continued to exchange ideas, while seated on our tree trunk, munching contentedly, while the others continued their exuberant exercises.
After tea break, Miss McDonald handed each of us a little reading book.
‘Oh no, not these!’, I thought. ‘These are the same ones we had last year. No, please, not Roy and Carol again.’
These weren't real books. These were rubbish. I had thought these books useless at kindergarten. When I was young my Granny had taught me to read using these books. While sitting next to Granny on the settee, slowly sounding out the words, the books had seemed okay, for a time. Having to read them again at preschool had been boring. Seeing the same books again now was a serious, shattering blow to the exalted image of Big School, the glow of which was fast fading from my mind.
The reading lesson progressed slowly, and painfully. Each boy was given a chance to read a line from the book. I was astonished to find that many of my new class mates could not read. In fact only I, Dean, and one other child were able to read. So the three of us sat there, getting bored, while the others struggled with 'My name is Roy', 'My name is Carol', and 'This is our dog, Rover', a few boys even shedding tears of frustration.
‘This place is definitely a bit odd,’ I thought.
After lunch break, Miss McDonald devoted the last lesson of the day to arithmetic.
‘Yay,’ I thought with relief, ‘at last, some real work.’
She taught us about sets, and how a set might contain unique numbers while sharing some numbers with another set. In order to illustrate what she seemed to regard as a complex concept, she grasped a stick of white chalk and wrote on the board a row of numbers, from 1 to 10.
"Now", she said, "let us say that our first set is a set of all the numbers less than eight. Our second set will be the numbers more than five. Now we put each of the numbers in their correct set.”
She proceeded to draw two impossibly neat interlocking circles on the black board. In one circle she wrote the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and in the second circle went the numbers 6,7,8,9,10. The 5 and the 6 were trapped in the middle and surrounded by the overlapping bit between the two circles.
“As you can see”, she said, “there are some numbers that appear in both sets.”
She pointed out the overlapping bit which contained the numbers 5 and 6.
“Now, for homework”, she said, “here are some sets for you all to complete.”
She handed out a worksheet to each of us along with a small soft covered exercise book to write in, a pencil, and an eraser.
‘Yes!’ I thought, rapturously, ‘this is it, something important.’
I couldn’t wait to get home to do my homework. After school, I was met by David the Driver. He was waiting at the school gates to one side of a large crowd of mothers, some seemingly still tearful as they were joyfully reunited with their long lost sons. Once in the car, I babbled happily to David the Driver about sets and overlapping numbers. I don’t think David had the slightest idea what I was talking about, but, as always, he humoured me happily, smiling broadly and nodding his head seriously at the appropriate moments during my discourse.
At home I sat at the dining room table and went through the homework questions, drawing little overlapping circles in my new exercise book, and filling them with numbers as required by the worksheet. When it was finished I felt strangely let down and and dejected. The whole process had turned out less delicious than I had thought it would be.
Maybe, I thought, it would be exciting if I did it all again. So I found an eraser and started to rub out my work. To my horror, the thin jotter paper of the exercise book started to fragment under my vigorous rubbing, and when I tried to do all the sets again, my pencil went repeatedly through the page. This frustrated me and resulted in an outburst of tears.
Fortunately, by this time, my parents had arrived home from work. They came over to see what was causing me so much distress. When they discovered what I had done, they seemed amused. My father carefully tore what remained of the perforated page out of my exercise book. I was then able to complete a second set of sets on the newly exposed clean page.
The sets were even less fun the second time. By the time I got to the end I felt fiercely frustrated once again.
“Why?” I whined. “Why do they make us do this? It doesn’t teach us anything. It’s stupid.”
“That”, said my father gently, “is something you’re going to have to get used to.”
This catastrophic comment, offered as reassurance, did not help at all, despite (or because of) the fact that it turned out to be true. I hated homework after that. In fact, I rapidly grew to hate school. I came to realize it was all a con. School, Big School, wasn’t real at all. It was just as stupid and as much a waste of time as Kindergarten.
Grades 2 & 3
Learning to write
During my second year, my parents had a difference of opinion with the St Henry’s Roman Catholic School for Boys. We were extracted explosively from the school half-way through the academic year and placed in Penzance Primary, the local government school.
This was an interesting new environment; especially noteworthy was the enormous, gilt-framed oil painting of Queen Elizabeth II in the school hall. This renaissance looking masterpiece adorned the wall behind the dais on which the headmaster stood during school assemblies. There were also some substantial differences in the academic approach at Penzance compared to what we had been offered at the Catholic school.
I was quite surprised to find that training in cursive writing, particularly, was quite far advanced among the grade two (known as class two back then) inmates at Penzance. The grade two inhabitants of my previous school were still printing letters and hadn’t yet made a start on the nuances of real writing. (We called cursive writing ‘real writing’ in those days.)
My old companions were still getting ready for cursive script by copying various patterns of continuous lines across the pages of their exercise books. By contrast, at Penzance, the class two children were already adept at forming all lower case letters in cursive script and had gone on to make a start on upper case letters (or as we used to call them: CAPITAL LETTERS), reaching, by the time I acceded to join them, the cursive capital letter E. I clearly had a lot of catching up to do, and proceeded to race through the formation of lower case cursive letters, while simultaneously learning to construct cursive upper case letters, under the stern eye of my new grade two teacher.
Mrs Hedgecock, the class two teacher, was a grumpy old woman, who had, been renamed, somewhat appropriately ‘The Hedgehog’. The Hedgehog had little sympathy for my struggling script, although she did sniffily praise my efforts, when, I achieved, with mortifying rareness, an almost legible cursive letter. To this day, I ascribe my less than noble ability to form legible letters neatly to this pressurised, anxiety ridden time.
I was most fortunate, the following year, to inherit a calm and accepting grade 3 (known back then as standard one) teacher, an inappropriately named ‘Mrs Moody’. Mrs Moody seemed quite willing and able to decipher my generally illegible scrawl, usually with some gentle encouragement and direction on how to form my letters a little better.
Unfortunately, her kindness and encouragement failed to improve my script very much and, towards the end of standard one, my cursive writing, or the poor quality thereof, had become a serious problem. After the end of year exams, I was summoned to the office of Mr Hayes, the deputy headmaster.
“We find ourselves in a difficult position, sonny”, grey-haired Mr Hayes informed me sadly, but gently. “You have come first in your class,” he continued, somewhat incongruously. “However you received an F for writing. This is a fail and is too poor to allow you to progress to standard two.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I have thought of a plan,” the deputy headmaster continued in a mildly triumphant tone, brandishing a floppy book at me.
It was a writing copy-book he explained, as he presented me with what looked like a standard school exercise book. Inside, however, were not the normal blank lined pages, but rather there were rows and rows of widely spaced lines, and, at the beginning of each line was printed a perfectly formed cursive letter. There were twenty-six examples of lower case, and twenty-six examples of upper case letters.
“If you can copy each of these letters successfully across the page,” Mr Hayes explained, “we will let you go to standard two next year. If not, you will, regrettably, have to repeat standard one”
He left me sitting at his desk, and departed to fetch himself a cup of tea from the staff room. “When you have completed this task, come and call for me at the staff room”, he instructed.
I sat at the desk with the copy book, wondering what to do next. I couldn’t write successfully at the desk in his office as it was too tall, so I wandered off with the book in hand, back to my own classroom. Once in familiar territory, I showed Mrs Moody the new copy book, and described the formal request from Mr Hayes to fill this book with good looking letters. She looked thoughtful for a bit, and then seemed to make up her mind about something.
“Right,” Mrs Moody announced to the class, “we’re all going to do something outside.” To me she continued, “You sit here, at your own desk, and fill up those pages as best as you can.”
The other thirty-nine children followed her out to the school field for an outside lesson. I sat at my desk in the deserted classroom, and painstakingly copied the first letter, a lower case a’. I could spread about six letters across a line if I left biggish spaces between them. There were three lines for each letter, three letters for each page.
‘That’s eighteen copies of each letter,’ I thought to myself in a complaining manner, ‘twenty-six letters and then capital letters too. What a lot of writing. I hate writing.’ By the time I had copied eighteen almost perfect copies of the letter a (for so they appeared to me), my hand was aching and I had cramp in my fingers. I flexed and extended my finger joints for a bit to relieve the cramp, and then, made a start on the letter b.
Several letters later, around about the letter h or so, I looked up and was pleased to see more or less uniform lines of letters marching across the page. Thus inspired, I marched forth myself, to do battle with the rest of them. By the time the class returned, an hour later, just before lunch break, I was completing the last capital Y. My classmates had obviously been warned not disturb me, as they gathered up their lunch boxes quietly, and slipped out of the classroom to enjoy their lunches on the school field.
I looked up again once the last capital Z was completed, to find the classroom deserted except for the kindly teacher. She took my book from me and looked through it carefully, while I waited, with, it must be said, more than a trace of anxiety. Then she smiled from ear to ear and gave me a pat on the head.
“Beautiful,” she enthused softly, “off you go, and show your work to Mr Hayes.”
My arm and hand were aching quite a bit, as I retraced my steps along the school corridor, to the staff room. It was lunch break, so the staff room was full of teachers, sitting in their chairs along the wall, drinking tea. I put my head around the door (pupils were not allowed in the staff room, on pain of death), and waited for someone to notice me. A teacher saw my bobbing head and came and asked gruffly what I wanted. I asked for Mr Hayes, who duly arrived. He took my book from me and flipped through it briefly, glancing at the pages. Then he handed it back to me.
“That will do fine,” he said. I didn’t know what to do next, so I stood looking at him.
“Run along then”, he said flicking the back of his hand in my direction, “it’s lunch time, off you go, and have your lunch.”
I ambled forlornly back to the classroom to get my lunch box. ‘He didn’t even examine all the letters,’ I thought, ‘what a waste of time.’ In the classroom, Mrs Moody was still sitting at her desk. She enquired about my exchange with the deputy headmaster.
“‘That will do’,” I replied, my shoulders a little slumped.
Mrs Moody looked at me enquiringly.
“That’s all he said,” I explained, looking at the floor. “He didn’t even mark my work.”
“Give me your book,” she requested.
I handed over the useless object.
“Now off you go. Lunch break is nearly over. If you don’t go out now, you’ll miss the chance to eat your lunch.”
When we returned from lunch break, my copy book was lying on my desk. I opened it and was somewhat gratified to see that, written in red pen on the inside of the front cover, was: “A+, well done, good work.” Although this was only a consolation prize, an ‘A+’, for writing, was enough to lift my spirits.
I looked up to see Mrs Moody gazing at me.
She let me have a friendly wink, a smile, and a satisfied nod of her head.
If you are intrepid enough to wish to peruse part 3 - please send a request to email@example.com and a link will be forwarded to you.