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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Scholarship


Mr. Newman, my headmaster at Rowland Road School, embarrassingly, took a special interest in me, whom he viewed as his star pupil. Mind, to set this in context, a good fair portion of my classmates only spoke English as a second language, and an even higher proportion there barely attended school at all.  Reluctant as I am to admit it, I swam in a very tiny pool.   

I hadn’t a clue whom these fancy folk he’d brought in to evaluate me were.  I’d always enjoyed a good puzzle, and the tests they set me were fun.  Seems I did well enough to move on to the second stage. 

Ma was real proud when I won a scholarship into the posh school, ‘specially as it gave her bragging rights of me being the first one from our neighbourhood known to gain entrance there.

“You might have skin like porridge, and hair you can near read through, but least you weren’t at the back of the queue when God dished out the brains, eh?”

High praise, indeed.

Da was a bit more pragmatic, he sensed trouble ahead.  Knowing most of the kids there would come from “money”,  his first concern lay at how to fund the elaborate school uniform required to enter this prestigious establishment.

Ma, God love her, must have lavishly set herself into a good two years worth of debt, kitting me out with all the necessities.  From the required brown Gabardine McIntosh, right down to my polished, buckled leather brief-case, she was determined I would enter the gates looking every bit as grand as my soon-to-be peers.

At age eleven, having already five times switched schools, the prospect of starting over again didn’t much faze me.  Being a confident little bugger, not to a mention a skilled chameleon, I took it in stride I’d soon enough fit in.  Unaware of the huge cultural shock ahead, and ignorance proving bliss, I felt nothing short of chuffed to pieces at this up-turn in my good fortune.

Used to 45 pupils to a class, with a discipline enforced by a brutally Draconian regime, (I jest you not, offending kids were usually dispensed correction either by a casual kick, a no-holds-barred punch, or, as in most often, a firm back-hand slap upside the head.  Repeat culprits frequently returned home bruised and bleeding.  I am not aware of any parents complaining, but if they were anything like my own, I guess they viewed the teachers there as figures of authority, ones they were far too in awe of to ever challenge.  Well, t'was either that, or they didn't care.) I guess I sensed things for me were set to improve, and I liked that thought.

I liked it a lot. 

See, bright as I may have been, I’ve always had this mouth on me, one I’ve never known when best to zip. Perversely, I did actually LIKE going to school, and I loved acing every test, it made me feel special.  But I was truly a nightmare to teach.  Always seeking a short-cut to the answer, I simply didn’t GET why we needed to do the long-haul.  It pissed me off, and bored me no-end.  Although the Head may have believed the sun shone out of my arse, precious few of my actual teachers did.

There was barely a week I didn't come home without acquiring a mark or two  on me.

Sensing my welcome at my present school long over-stayed, I liked this call from fresh pastures new.  

I caught the bus on my first day to Cockburn High Grammar (we didn't have a car), but thereafter I walked, pocketing the fare to spend at the school tuck-shop, instead.  This opened me up to no small danger, as my uniform singled me out as a "snob", and running the gauntlet of all the regular schools which lay en-route to mine, I very often had to duck down a side-street to avoid being beaten up.

Oddly enough, I never did meet with any violence.. though it came very close on one occassion.  Two of the "hardest" girls on my estate ambushed me one day.  They were a couple of years older than me. Shit scared as I was, I knew better than to run, any sign of weakness and I'd surely be lost.  So I met their challenge, eyeball to eyeball,  threw my briefcase to one side, and said, "Fine."  Quickly adding, "But let's take you on one at a time,"  And inserting my best, gape-jawed, eerie smile, "..Or is that too scary for you?"

(I'd never been in a fight in my life, I knew I'd be murdered.)

There was a long pause.  Finally Lorraine (as I later found out) asked, "So, um, what's your name, then?"


Another long pause, followed by a sniff,  "Carol, what's yours?"


They knew where I lived, that's how they'd managed to ambush me.  Apparently, we lived on the same street.  My big mouth got me out of a hiding that day, and an invitation to later meet up with them after school.  I didn't really want to go, but the alternative seemed worse.  I hung out with them once in a while, but I never really felt easy in their presence.  Keeping my enemies close seemed an easy price to pay for a safe walk home.   



It was a whole new world, and a very steep learning curve, but sure enough, I soon settled in.  The halls were vast, the classes small, and no one hit me.

However, back in the day when people should know their place, to some folk, someone like me could be seen as a “chancer”, and although I was quick enough to make friends, the parents of some of these new pals of mine weren't always so happy to welcome me aboard.  

With hindsight, I hardly blame them.  

Certainly, my personal hygiene left much to be desired.

Plus, I did have this tendency of inviting myself round for tea.

Thankfully, being a fast learner, my grooming soon extended to demanding I have a toothbrush and paste at home.  Maybe 'cos Ma and Da soaked their teeth in matching glasses overnight, they just automatically assumed the general order of things was to wait for your natural teeth to rot out first, before graduating on to dentures?  I even took to changing and washing my knickers out more than once in every couple of weeks.

Da called it "being uppity", I called it "adapting", something that came natural.  

That said, all the adapting in the world couldn't have prepared me for the shocking discovery I was no longer a genius.  Even if I worked HARD, I barely appeared average.  This seriously dented my self-esteem, big time.  I had little to be proud of, I wasn't pretty, certainly not rich, but up until then, it truly didn't matter because the one thing that I always had, something I cherished and so gleefully basked in as exclusively mine - my cleverness - mattered hugely to me.  


With my cleverness lost and swallowed whole, I started to flounder, someone had shifted the compass without telling me, and no longer having faith in my ability, I gave up even trying to shine.      . 

Then entered the heroine, Christine Brown, a most wonderful teacher, the one who saw me struggle, and who cared enough to invest her ear, and her books, as well as a good deal of her own personal time in deciding to befriend me.

I loved Ms. Brown, as much today as I ever did then.   She proved my saving grace. 

56 comments:

Joe Cap said...

wow, what a way to enter your teens.
I found it amusing that you carried around a 'briefcase'.
These days, it is backpacks, as you know.

Portia said...

Wow. Your schooling was much different than mine! One thing we had in common though was the belief, no, the truth, that we were smart. Smarter than a lot of others. That got me through the tough middle school years.

Wow, that was awkward said...

I like how you handled the ambush. Mature and gutsy call.

Ami said...

I'm looking forward to more of the story. I love the way you write.

Putz said...

i carried my books in a brown paper sack, got laughed at but then i lived in a one room shack with a wash basin and tub in one corner, stove{coal} in the other and a large bed for everybody in the third corner, we were so poor we din't have a fourth corner

Leslie: said...

Would love to read more about Christine...the things she did for you to encourage and mentor. I was like you in elementary school, always being the top student in the grade, but in high school there were kids from all over the area and I soon found out I wasn't all "that" special. Blah! lol

Charlene said...

Someone told my mother I was smart and had outgrown the township school. So with the 8th grade I was bused into town with the high school kids and to that school not knowing anyone. All the kids in my classes had gone to school together for 7 years and I was the stranger.

I made "friends" but I never cared for them much. I pretended to be what I needed to be to get through. Today I'm still best friends with a girl from my township school and I cannot remember the names of all those people who now want to friend me from the town school.

Skunkfeathers said...

First off, you handled "the ambush" exactly as you should have. Life isn't fair, and weakness is pounced on by those who feast on the weak. Fairness has nothing to do with it. Feistiness stood you in good stead.

AS for the rest...heh...I was a slacker. I had two sisters who ran straight As without breaking a sweat. Same with my youngest brother. Not me. A 'B' average student, who excelled in subjects that interested me, and treaded water in those that didn't.

A great story. If there's more to follow, will look forward to it ;)

chewy said...

You may not have had the smarts of the money kids... but you are clever... so very very clever. Ah! Christine, As I recall, I've heard you make mention of this wonderful teacher. Another chapter on the way?

Kate said...

I think I lived your shadow life in Oklahoma.

Mushy said...

Excellent and very insightful! It's good see what made you what you are today.

The Blue Zoo said...

I love how you got out of getting your butt kicked by those mean girls. You sure were a gutsy little thing! =)

mythopolis said...

It is kinda sad to think about all the social pressures, the jockeying for position in the pecking order, and bullying that occurs as a child grows up. Not to mention that in some places it now includes guns and wholesale killing!!

The redeeming part of this story is to have a teacher such as Christine Brown come along and take a young person under her wing.

If I could go back in time, I would not return to my adolescent years!

Akelamalu said...

Your childhood mirrored my own - we could be twins separated at birth!! :0

TechnoBabe said...

“You might have skin like porridge, and hair you can near read through, but least you weren’t at the back of the queue when God dished out the brains, eh?” WHAT??? PRAISE?

Anyway, I know there is more to the story and I look forward to reading more about Christine Brown. I have a feeling the world would benefit from more teachers like her.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

wow..so much different from little towns in Texas..ha

mac said...

I wouldn't have been frightened of the ambush. I had been in fights - my brother beat me at least once a week until I was 15.
He stopped. Well, I made him stop.

Certain that he could no longer physically beat me, he attempted to emotionally bully me. That did not work either, because I didn't care enough for by then.

I suppose I should thank him for preparing me in how to handle bullies.
Nahhh!

secret agent woman said...

I have had some teachers who stepped in and made my life so much better. They are blessings.

Chantel said...

A brilliant piece! The approach to young adulthood and then the "swoosh" as she was swept over the lip of the dam....

"The death of cleverness"... haven't we all had one of these? I remember mine....that moment of realizing that I really was quite common. :)

that girl said...

wow. how brave you are! new here and will be back...

~Babs said...

Ha, I discovered pretty early on I was no longer the whiz kid. Right about when the math became more than just addition and subtraction.
There's always a whizzier, smarter, brighter crayon in the box, but most aren't as talented as you Shrink!
Great story,,hoping to hear more of Christine. Lord bless all the Christines,,I could have used one.

G-Man said...

Uppity Shrinky?
I doubt it...
Loved your story!!

Paul C said...

Interesting reflections about your education and the people close to you. Skin like porridge? Great writing.

DILLY said...

Hewo Shrinky!

Shrinky say be like meelowagon.
Dilly aproov!

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

Teheheheee.

Yu sed knickers.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Another great story! Isn't it amazing the kind of impact a great teacher can have on a kid-- Glad you found yours.
Cheers, jj

Shrinky said...

Hello everyone, well, you know I ALWAYS answer my fab visitors comments individually, as a rule, but today I have to apologise, in making this the exception.

I'm in a flap. We fly out to Spain for a week first thing tomorrow, and I have done NOTHING yet to prepare for it. This, and the stress of leaving our house in the sole charge of my 18yr old as a first, is forcing me to get off my bum and DO something (like complile an endless list of telephone numbers and rules to leave behind JUST IN CASE "something" happens in our absence! Thank you, thank you for all your dear comments, I value and enjoy them sooo much. Promise I will touch in with you all when soonest I can. Remember to behave, now, you hear?

Fen said...

Have fun in Spain dear girl. Always a joy reading your writings, you have such a wonderful way of sharing with us all. xo

Suldog said...

Excellent tale - and I want to hear where it goes from here, of course. I know the feeling of losing one's cleverness. I went through much the same experience, going from my neighborhood school (where I was all top grades and barely had to work at it) to one of the best secondary schools in the country (where an amazing workload hit me in the face and I never did get up to speed.)

Anna said...

Shrinky, that was one wonderful story, and you know the best thing was for me is like walking down the memory lane. The teachers, being picked on, doing well in high school, and struggling in university. After all they were all good memories, because on the end something right came out of it. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, love it. Hope all is well, and btw thanks so much for visiting my blog. Been a bit busy, so I put blogging a bit on hold. Anna :)

Parabolic Muse said...

As a girl who never had the same school for more than a year or two, and as one who loved tests, and as one who can remember two fabulous teachers and will forever: I salute you.

And, as one with an impulsively smart mouth, I'm with you!

Sabi Sunshine said...

love the story.. !post some more story so we can enjoy reading it.

Have a lovely weekend!

Love
Sunshine

deb said...

I'm back , catching up.
and I find it odd or wonderful or something that we both mentioned dental hygiene in our posts today.

I so felt these words. You make light of them because you are no doubt a wonderful person.

still....

can't wait to hear more of

laughingwolf said...

all's good... but 'grammer'?!? ;)

SJ said...

I had a similar school experience going from the neighborhood school where I was the genius to a big school where I was just a student didn't do a lot of good. My parents moved me to a school that was a middle ground between the two and I managed to live through those years.

Middle Child said...

These stories have to become a book...I remember all of that rich school poor school and getting the cane and walloped, whatever your parents never interferred...we had one mad nun who should have been in a mental institution she was so violent...they got rid of her later on...
I love reading your stuff - what years are we talking about?

Hilary said...

She sounds like someone from whom we'll all benefit hearing about. Looking forward to more but enjoy that holiday!

Margaret Benbow said...

Thank God for good teachers like Christine, and that you had the brains and alertness to benefit. There are so many students stumbling around with their heads up their arses!

Loved your account of outfacing the bullies--so cool! (I tended to hide, myself.)

Sabi Sunshine said...

How are you doing? Stop by to say Hello.... Have a lovely weekend!

Love
Sunshine

Debbie said...

What an incredible story!
I'm still stuck on the "compliment" your mother gave you when you gained admission.

Kristina Hughes said...

EEK - read your holiday post earlier and now it's disappeared - is that my mush brain or has it gone? Any road, just wanted to say that I love the way you write about Sam and feel that we'll be in the same boat (tho not the inflatable one!) some day. How to please all people at all times, eh! Blooming impossible. Lovely to see family footage too - you are all an inspiration to me. Will be posting about my own holiday fun fun fun as soon as my brain recovers from the summer hols! Big hugs and hope Sam is back to business as usual now that he's home. xxxx

Shrinky said...

Hi Kristina, oops (blush) sorry about that! After posting, I began to feel slightly uncomfortable putting us all "out there" up-front, as I did. So, a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, I decided to take it down again. I am glad you read it, though (smile)- I know you understand totally where I am coming from. Sam is back to his sunny self again now, thank goodness, all over until the next time, eh? (Hugs)

Pat Tillett said...

No matter what the school, or economic setting, there is always drama going on. I'm happy that someone stepped into your life and helped.

GREAT story Shrinky! Loved it...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Carol, you really know how to tell a story...and your own is mesmerizing!! I loved this! You are wonderful...have a story to tell...and you write it with extraordinary power! Have missed visiting you! So glad to be back! Love, Janine XO

Nick said...

Love the hat!

mythopolis said...

Leaving your house to an 18 year old? Last time I did that, I came home to find all the furniture re-arranged. Party going on! Can't blame him, did the same thing myself.

Shrinky said...

Dan, the house was in pretty good shape when I came back.. right down to the freshly laundered sheets on my bed (WTF??). I've decided I'd rather not ask..

Rock Chef said...

Love the way you faced those bullies, challenging them like that. It is amazing what attitude can do!

Scott from Oregon said...

Yes, methinks the toothbrush was invented in the UK. Otherwise, it would have been called a teethbrush.

Rather than washing your knickers,you know... you could have sold them on Craig's list and bought new ones...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Just stopping by to say "hello" midweek!!! Hope you are well! Sending you love!! Janine XO

Anonymous said...

Hi Iam Prabhu from chennai,joined today in this forum... :)

Shrinky said...

Hi Rock Chef, guess there are times we all have to hold our own ground, eh?

Scott (giggle), you are a bad, bad boy!!

Oh Janine, I am soo glad you are back, hon (x)!

Hi Prabhu, welcome aboard.

Kittie Howard said...

Shrinky, I adore your blog. Your post had me from Word One. Girl, you know how to write! Hope you tell us more, how Christine influenced you and how you progressed thru the years. (You've got a book here!)

Loved how you handled the ambush.

Thanks for tripping into me. I'm following you now. Have a great weekend!

Shrinky said...

Hey Kittie, how wonderful to see you in here, thank you so much for dropping by - God woman, you sure know how to give good comment - (grinnig) you've gone and made my day!

Shen said...

The honesty in this post made me blush... reminding me of how my own hygene was not the best in middle school. It was the rule to bathe once a week in our house and I had no way of knowing that the other kids in my school took daily showers. I didn't realize that my stringy hair and pimpled complexion was something I could fix. I just thought that's how I was. The fact that my clothes were also out of date - hand me downs from a sister who was nine years older - and that I grew like the proverbial weed and was already 5 feet 8 inches tall at age 11 (taller than my 6th grade homeroom teacher, who was a man) only made it more impossible for me to fit in.

It was years later before I realized any of this, and decades after that before I began to tell some of the family secrets... even to myself.

Shrinky said...

Shen, you bathed every week? Ha! Wish I had.. (blush). I've just returned from visiting your blog, and I just want to say you are absolutely amazing, and I am so glad to meet you.