Second book in the Gift Trilogy

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The Gift

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Thursday, 12 February 2009


This was my very first Form. And my apologies to those whose names lurk in my mind but refuse to surface.
<From the back, Brendan Dowd, ?, ?,?, Anthony Woodley,?,?,Brian Fahey, Mark ?, Andrew Humphries, Russell Baldwin, ?,Chris Norville,
Middle row ?, ?, Brian Sims, Me, Kevin Obrien, ? ? Paul Tutton,
Front row Mark Walton, Mark Young, ?,? David Saunders, Stephen Batt, Gary Bird, Joey Mulchahy, Mark Madden. I love the Bash St. quality to this photo, and my expression -like what am I doing here?
The school can be seen here

St Joseph’s Junior High School for boys or Father Hill’s as it was more commonly known was the perfect school for someone who hadn’t the faintest idea what he was doing. The previous History Teacher, John Davies, made my life easy by having blue laminated handwritten history cards (with pictures) which the boys copied out or answered questions from. The entire Year 7 and Year 8 syllabus was there. All I had to do was tell a good story and make sure the cards were filed away in the right order, in the right cardboard box.

The school was subject to the benign and enlightened despotism of Bernard Dunne who, as long as order was maintained and the boys were enjoying themselves, left you pretty much alone, though he was always there if you needed help.

The Christmas term ended with a film hired by Alan Kethro and shown in the largest classroom where everyone somehow managed to squeeze in – much like the staffroom which was about the size of a large shoe-box and where you sat in each other’s pocket.

There was also a Christmas concert where I was inveigled into being ‘Uncle Bulgaria’. Someone, Peter Williams I think, had acquired genuine costumes, and four of us dressed up as Wombles and mimed to ‘Wombling Free’. For the nostalgic, or those of an adventurous disposition you can hear it here.

The school had a certain cavalier attitude towards Health and Safety, though the dinners were good. On one occasion I was teaching an English class the joys of Jabberwocky. Unfortunately no one told me, or the class, that on this day four windows were being replaced in the classroom and no other classroom was available to us. Moreover it was raining hard outside.

It was pure but dangerous magic, largely because it was the Seventies, a dumb but happy decade.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Crash! A pane splintered. Glass on the desk.
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe, Crash! Crash! More glass.
A shard of glass pirouetted across the room.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch.

And there I stood ‘in uffish thought’ thinking ‘God, haven’t they finished yet’ as another sliver of glass ‘came whiffling through the Tulgey wood’ and went ‘snicker snack’ on the floor.

The boys, stoic to the end finished the poem, occasionally ducking, but keeping rhythm. Then the men stopped. They hadn’t brought the replacement panes, and they’d heard the poem before so they went and left us in a classroom with four windows open to the elements and a small gale blowing outside.

We roared the final verse:
"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

The Junior boys was a happy school, but all good things come to an end. A new purpose built Comprehensive – St Joseph’s at Tredegar Park had just been built, and there three schools would be combined.

A month or two before hand Sister Pauline, the new Deputy Headmistress came down to the boy’s school to fit pegs into holes, round or square, or any damn shape at all - as the Timetable dictated.

This worried me. I was a History Graduate – happy enough to teach some English, but who taught Religious Education through gritted teeth. There was little choice in a small boys’ school where there wasn’t enough History to go round. What I dreaded was being lumbered with it permanently as a timetable convenience.

Sister Pauline was (hopefully still is) a lovely woman. She solicited my views on Religious Education and I enthused on the Old Testament, Jezebel, Baal, child sacrifice and the insatiable appetite of Moloch. ‘The boys really appreciate the historical background,’ I finished. And I watched her eyes glaze and knew that whatever else I did, I wouldn’t be teaching Religion in St. Josephs.

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