27 August 2015

What I learned at school - Part Three

In 1951 I managed to win a Scholarship to attend Xavier College. How I won it I don't know but I remember being quite proud of an essay I wrote for the examination - about personifying a tree who witnessed an engagement between von Tempsky and Maori in south Taranaki. Anyway the winning of the Scholarship had the effect that, as an 'scholarship boy', I was expected to do well and this expectation served me well throughout my secondary school days. In the first year there were some basic subjects - Latin, I always found useful later in life even though I only did it for two years.

Bullying was rife in the school and several times the whole school would form a barrier to exclude teachers trying to separate two brawling pupils. Caning was the method of disciplining pupils. The caning was on the hand and the maximum was six - three on each hand. The canes were supplejack cut from the NZ bush. Every teacher was known for the subtlety of his caning technique. Sometimes after a heavy caning it would be days before our hands would be capable of writing with a pen.

Lots of Supplejack in the New Zealand bush

In fourth form all the hormones were out of control and the class was chaotic. Brother Raymond was our form teacher (and maths teacher) and was free and easy with the cane. It made no difference; some of the form even had a competition to see who could get the most canings. But I think I might have given Br. Raymond  a glimmer of hope. In trying to understand a problem my father had given me involving algebra I went from the bottom to the top of the class on maths. It was also about realising that the letters were just representations of numbers!

Towards the end of my time at Xavier, Professor Vernon Griffiths arranged Handels "Messiah" in numerous parts for the combined Secondary Schools of Christchurch. We spent months preparing for the event. Unfortunately I'd become obsessed with mountain climbing and I missed the final weekend mass rehearsal and was removed from the choir as punishment. My mother insisted on taking me to the concert - an even greater punishment because it showed me what I'd missed being part of. The Messiah was magnificent and I deeply regretted my lack of participation.

In sport I managed reasonably well. Because of all my climbing and tramping (as well as biking 11 km to and from school each day) I became very fit. I broke the school cross-country record and made it into the first fifteen, even getting into the Canterbury rugby rep side. We had school boxing (everyone had to enter) and I never made it past the first fight - and in cricket all I once managed to get was a prize for the best fielder. In other words I couldn't bat or bowl!

Towards the end of school I was RSM in cadets and had to march in front of the school during parades. I heard later that the assembled teachers would laugh after I'd gone past. They couldn't help themselves at the sight of this kid trying to march with an invisible 80lb pack on his back and leaving the regiment behind.

One day on the last week of school it became obvious that it was time to move on. Two of us had been allowed to go to the Christchurch Public Library in town to learn to use it and do some research. We'd become so engrossed in our project we'd lost sight of the time and returned to school late. We were both lined up to be caned because they obviously thought we'd spent our time chasing girls! The cane was produced but the teacher was pushed back and the cane wrestled from him and broken over a knee. We marched out of his office and the matter was never mentioned again. Time to leave.