Thursday, February 17, 2005

Memories of Child Abuse

Peter writes a funny and evocative piece about his schooldays, partly prompted by my own trips down memory lane. And now, in the interconnected world of blogging, he's persuaded me to make more such trips. I'm always reluctant to do so because I don't want this blog to turn into autobiography by other means. Also, because nothing can be more tedious than the reminiscences of the old. On the other hand, it can be a rich seam of material for old gits like Peter and I (I use the term 'old' loosely; we're only middle-aged) and a small contribution to social history. More importantly, readers seem to enjoy them.

There was much that was unattractive about Spike Milligan. He was hated in the theatre because he could be gratuitously unpleasant to the backstage staff on whom all performers depend. But I could understand his lifelong hatred of a nun who had been cruel to him at school. Indeed, I think he said he would like to hunt her down and kill her.
I also bear grudges against certain teachers over fairly trivial things and practices that were normal then but would be illegal today.

I remember at the age of 5 or 6 in my Catholic infant school being sent to the Headmaster, a great bear of a man, to be caned on the hand and walking up a long steep corridor past a statue of Christ with his hand on his sacred heart. Suffer not the little children....
Yes, I was barely out of nappies and this big red-faced man was cracking a ruler down on my tiny hand.
Child abuse, plain and simple. The bastard should have been locked up.

I should say that I was a repulsively well-behaved child but in those days you weren't allowed to talk in class at all. At the Catholic Junior School a teacher caned me for talking to the boy next to me. When I protested that the other boy had spoken, not me, he said: "Yes, but you were listening to him."
On another occasion I was standing on the roots of a tree in the playground and was caned by a sadistic, alcoholic teacher for "climbing trees".
The only good that came of all this is that it gave me a lifelong hatred of injustice. That's why I'm a socialist - a belief in justice rather than equality, although gross inequality is plainly an injustice in itself.

Perhaps these early experiences also account for my dislike of faith schools even though they're no longer allowed to beat and flog - although some Christian groups fought like hell to be exempt from that legislation.
I had a friend who went to a Church of England school and whose teacher told the children the most extraordinary lies about Catholicism. (There's enough to condemn in Catholicism without making things up). He refused to accept my denials of these myths because she was his respected teacher and I was just a child.
In such ways are the seeds of social division and sectarianism planted in young children and there's no reason to think it's much different now.

Well, that wasn't exactly a laugh a minute was it? But then, sadly, childhood seldom is.


James, of James and The Blue Cat fame, who also moonlights as a television writer, gave us a nasty shock by almost pulling the plug on his blog. Happily, he's now just taking a brief sabbatical while he finishes work on the next Green Wing. Now that really is a copper-bottomed reason to stop blogging, the equivalent of a note from your mother excusing you from PE because you've had all your limbs amputated.
The next series of Green Wing is one of the few reasons to hope that an asteroid doesn't destroy life on earth before February 2006. Or autumn 2005, if you're waiting for the DVD of series one.

Before the suspension of normal service, James had just kindly linked to me which brought me a fair bit of traffic. Not that I'm a Traffic Queen, you understand. This blog isn't a toll motorway, more a winding English country lane.
"We'll walk together down an English lane........"
In fact, if you stick around a bit longer "we'll gather lilacs in the spring......"

One New Year's Eve I sang both those songs in a pub close to Ivor Novello's former London flat. I don't remember it myself. I was told about it by one of the few people present. Most people fled the pub after the first verse of my tuneless homage to the maestro of Drury Lane musicals and the landlord lost a fortune on what should have been the most profitable night of his year. The phrase "that's another pub I can't go back to" was never far from my lips in my youth.
I blame my school.
They should have spent more time teaching me to sing and less time on the mysteries of the Holy Fucking Trinity.


At 1:53 AM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

I am from a very small town and went to the same school that my dad did as a child. We even had the same teachers. He remained so traumatized by them that he refused to go to parent-teacher conferences because he didn't even want to face them--he was full of tales of dunce caps and having his mouth washed out with soap. He said they were routinely forced to stand in front of the class with their arms out to the side while holding a bucket of water in each hand.


I think I would cause serious problems in the life of a teacher who ever did that to my babies.

Thankfully the very same teachers were nothing like that when I was in their class.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

That story reminds me of a priest who would make us kneel for two hours with our hands on our heads.
Still, I suppose we should be grateful that was all he did to us!

At 10:43 AM, Blogger peter said...

No such teacher traumas here, praise the Lord. Must have been lucky.

I did once have an affair with a man who called himself lapsed Catholic however, and he was hilarious on the subject. He said you can never fully lose the guilt. (He tried unsuccessfully to drown it.)

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Peter, I've never experienced this 'Catholic guilt' that people bang on about. I think it has as much truth as saying all gay men are great dancers or wear designer clothes. On the other hand, perhaps I'm just a son of Satan.


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