Watching the schoolkids trudging dutifully back to school at the start of term last week stirred unpleasant memories for me. I had passed the “Eleven-Plus” exam, which entitled me to attend a grammar school – and there was a grammar school conveniently located only a fifteen minute walk from my home. My father (who was not a religious man) had attended this school himself, and would have been quite happy with me following his footsteps. My mother, however, was a devout Roman Catholic, and wanted me to go to a Catholic-run school. After a number of intense discussions on the matter, my mother eventually won the argument. Unfortunately, to get to the school in question entailed a journey of an hour and a half – by bus and on foot – every morning and evening. Even worse was the fact that the school was run by black-robed “brothers” who wielded strap and cane with sadistic vigour (this was before the abolition of “Corporal Punishment”) and, frankly, frightened me to death.
As you’ll have gathered, the eight years I spent at that school were far from happy ones. A few years ago I found myself writing a whole series – or “cycle” – of autobiographical poems, in which I was re-living my schooldays. I won’t inflict the whole sequence upon you now; just one of the early sections, remembering the horrendous daily journey I used to have.
The sad schoolboy, on the bus each morning;
staring through the window, weary, yawning.
Dreading the long hour’s journey ahead;
wishing he were still tucked up, in bed.
He saw the driver get in; heard the engine start.
The sound synchronised with the sinking of his heart.
The journey, now started, he wanted to extend.
He fervently wished that it would never end.
Gazing blankly through the window all the while;
the bus juddering along, mile after mile.
Trying to fight his slowly mounting fear.
Grim realisation: the school was getting near.
This journey he endured for eight years; fated
to travel, each day, to a school that he hated.
How he envied the pensioners, the housewives he would see,
occupied in their homely lives; independent, free.
No need for them to face infamy, and shirk
the dreaded obligation, each day, to go to work.
No need to submit to the universal rule
to leave home, each morning, to suffer at school.
So fortunate, these people! No need for them to roam.
They had lives of comfort, and quietude, at home.
If only he could, by some chance, heaven-sent,
live like them, he’d be forever happy and content!