Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Playing with Fire

I'm not the only one who likes playing with fire. David Green - who was a boy in my class in South Wales in 1980 whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, apart from the David bit which was true - liked playing with fire too. A lot.

He was fourteen and very small and nobody liked him. Even I didn't like him, and actually I liked almost all the children I ever taught. The trouble is, real life doesn't tend to be like Kes: the deprived child isn't the one with the kestrel, oh no. The one with the kestrel is the clever one who's also good-looking, in the cricket team, from a loving home and with a pretty girlfriend.

David was not very academically able but that wasn't the problem - he was spiteful, smelly, stole from everyone, insulted everyone, hit most people, broke things and made a lot of apparently meaningless noise which drove even his rather noisy classmates nuts. He was what my Uncle Frank used to describe as "something only a mother could love". Though in his case I don't think she did, much: so he set fire to things.

I did feel sorry for him - but that was no help at all when I was trying to thrill the class with the mysteries of the full stop and suddenly I noticed the smoke.

We were in what - in posher schools - was known as a "chalet". In this school, which was a sub-bog-standard comprehensive, it was called "the hut". It smelled of old socks and magnified every sound. Proper grown-up teachers refused to teach in it, but I was in my first year of teaching so I had no choice. It was raining that day so I couldn't really hear much because of the thundering on the roof.

The desks were the old-fashioned kind that you could keep your possessions in - but in this school you wouldn't do that unless you never wanted to see them again. So what they kept in the desks was old paper, sweet wrappers, lost exercise books, all very dry.

"Miss! Miss! David's desk's on fire!"

So it was. Flames shooting up to the ceiling now. With remarkable presence of mind, I slammed the lid shut.

"Miss! Miss! Don't do that, Miss! It'll make it burn more!"

I'm still not sure whether they were very stupid or whether they just hoped that I was, because a bit of an inferno was so much more fun than the full stop.

The fire went out. I turned my attentions to David who was loudly denying that it was anything to do with him in spite of the box of matches in his hand.

I now had the opportunity to demonstrate my professionalism and caring nature.

Sadly I didn't. I had had enough of that school, that class and that boy.

I opened the hut door. I picked David up. I threw him out as hard as I could and noticed with some pleasure that he landed in a deep puddle. The rest of the class were quite impressed. I carried on with the full stops.

Over the next few weeks he set fire to the science block, a local wood, a house next to the school and the Deputy Head's car. Finally they took him away. I don't know what happened to him, but I don't think his story had a happy ending.

I don't feel very proud of my part in it.


Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:49 pm  
Blogger John said...

Though it's clearly easier to comment on what fillings we like in our sandwiches, I think this sort of writing is excellent and definitely a Good Thing.

It is powerful and in many ways conclusive, so there isn't the usual gap to leave the "Oh, yes and I set fire to..." stories, and it doesn't need those comments. But it's written in such a way that it touches something in most of us I'm sure.

More like this please - and while I'm here can I just say that French bread, Philadelphia cheese, strawberry jam and banana is brilliant.

7:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my god, that poor boy... Howcome you weren't charged with assault? You surely would be now.

5:55 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Yes, any teacher who did that now would be charged with assault - but in those days corporal punishment was still legal (and I was very much in favour of its abolition)and incidents like the one I've described, and worse, happened in that school several times a day (though not usually involving me, which is why I have remembered it!) At the time I was a young teacher struggling to cope in a very tough school - - it was only some years later that I could echo your sentiments of "that poor boy".

7:28 pm  

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