02 August 2015

What I Learned at School. Part One

At School in the early 50s we had School Cadets. We were given scratchy uniforms (with short pants!) and .303 rifles to exercise with - we did marching, presenting arms and several other exercises to inculcate us with the idea of duty and thoughtless obedience. On our first day of exercises in the third form there was a lull in events  and we lay about in the sun with our weapons spread about in the grass around us. Up strode Maurie (officially Brother Maurice), the Headmaster, in full uniform - he'd been a Major in WW2. He spied the random disposition of our rifles - and his face coloured up.

He reached down and picked up one of our drill rifles. He then proceeded to inform us that it was one of our best friends - something our lives might depend upon - how we should look after it lovingly - keep it clean (and well functioning) and proceeded to show us how to 'stack (stook?)' our rifles so that the mechanisms would not become dirty and seize up with mud or grit. This involved making pyramids of three or more of our rifles.

But before he set us about stacking our rifles he demonstrated the various other uses to which a rifle could be put. I've never forgotten it: nor I think have any of the others. First he showed how a bayonet should be fixed and then he displayed, in what appeared to be a well rehearsed haka, the art of hand to hand fighting with a rifle. Bayoneting was only a little part of it. There followed the use of the rifle on all the vulnerable parts of the anatomy - the rifle butt (head, chest), the heel (solar plexus, groin), stock and forestock (face, teeth) and the boot of course - even discharging a round to remove a bayonet stuck firmly in bone. The display was horrific but masterly.

"Maurie"
Along the way there were several years of basic education. Xavier was quite good at the basics - all the usual things - but no biology. When I did Zoology I at university, I didn't even know what an amoeba was!

Years later Maurie was my coach when I was in the first fifteen. Our school was in what would now be called a decile one area and there was no grass. So we practised our rugby tackles, scummaging and rucking on the coke cinders (a freebee from the gasworks across the road) that formed the school playground. It was during the days of great forward dribbling rushes and Maurie was schooling his forwards on the art of controlling a dribbled ball. He was built like a front row forward - squat and solid - and our job was to try to dribble the ball at our toes and past him. He would take the ball up and usually up-end us over his shoulder. "You turn Smith" he said as he rolled the ball towards me. I dribble the ball up to him and, as much by good luck as anything, managed to dribble the ball past him - on the way knocking him down, stomping over his chest and rolling him in the dust. I looked back to see him picking himself up and dusting himself off. "I've gone too far this time" I thought. Maurie, who was still the Headmaster, looked up at me and said, "Very good, but you're a bony bastard, Smith."

When I professed my lack of Christian faith to him later he just sighed and said, "Don't worry about it Barry, just leave the world a better place for having been here." Great advice too.

We parted as good friends when I left school. There were other things I learned as well at school.