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Those Grammar School Days (Part 2)

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Let me start by adding a footnote to the story of Gill. Gilly sent to buy two jam buns from the tuck shop. He later returned them, saying that there wasn’t any jam in them. What a man! My General Paper teacher, ‘Old Robbie’ from Barbados, kept warning us that we must never end a sentence with a preposition.

You had to find some other way of reconstructing the sentence, he said. So, he gave an examples: “This is the kind of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put.” Never say ‘will not put up with’. Well, nothing should be said about the Grammar School without mentioning the indefatigable Miss Emily. {{more}}When I first went to school, I thought she mothered the school. She seemed to have been there from the very beginning. Not many people knew ‘from whence she came’. She commanded more respect than many of the teachers and for that matter, headmasters. Her institutional memory would have been something else. Unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on it. Miss Emily’s tuck shop was a must stop for students and teachers: mauby, ginger beer, jam buns, ‘flat’ jack, milk drops and heavy bread! You had to get there quickly, as soon as the break bell went. It was her practice, however, to put aside some of her delicacies for her favourite teachers.

Later, in Jamaica, I often met Mrs Morgan and Gloria Kirton (Sobers), who was one of the teachers at the school. She was the wife of Methodist Minister Allan Kirton and worked as a registrar at the University of the West Indies. Also associated with the University was Cedric ‘Pronto’ Harold. He was my Maths teacher. He knew his Maths and could work out any problem, but he often lost us somewhere in the process.

What stood out for me in my first year at school was the daily and constant fighting. Some fights would stop when the bell rung and continue at the next break. There was one fight that went on for two days. A student had, on one occasion, to be taken to the hospital because his opponent wore a ring and punched him in his mouth, drawing blood in the process. Fortunately, unlike today, the thought of a gun or knife would have been foreign to our minds. I was told that at an earlier period in the history of the school, they were actually presented with boxing gloves to do their thing. There were a couple of students who were central figures in those fights. On the other hand, there were those who couldn’t fight and often fell victims to bullies. One friend of mine had the answer for this. He paid another student 25 cents to beat up the bully, which he did. When my friend told me about this, I had to let him know that I wasn’t aware that we had a little ‘mafia’ operating here at that time. By the way, 25 cents was big money! It could get you a lot from Miss Emily. A glass of mauby was probably six cents.

One of the disturbing things about being caned was that depending on where the headmaster decided to inflict his horror, we were likely to be visible to the High School girls in one of the forms obliquely opposite the Headmaster’s Office. I am not sure if that really mattered in the long run. Those who had regular appointments with the ‘cane’ found a way of at least deflecting some of the blows. They would stuff their pants with card-board and hope for the best. If you didn’t appear to be surrendering to the torture the headmaster assumed that he wasn’t doing a good job and so would, with obvious pleasure, increase the intensity of the punishment. The other punishment that was common was ‘detention’. Later on when I began to teach, I realized that detention was also a punishment for the teachers, because you had to remain with the students for the hour or so of detention. It was really stupid, because most of the time the students were asked to write some lines, 50 or 100 or 200 times, as the case might be. It didn’t even impact on their penmanship, because they treated it as one is prone to treat any absurdity. As I reflect on this, I realize how wicked ‘caning’ was. But then there was no talk of rights, human or other. In fact, the only rights students had were those granted to them by the headmaster. If my memory serves me correctly, prefects, or at least the head prefect, could take a student to the headmaster to be caned. And of course, there were the ‘tusty’ ones who did this to demonstrate the power they had. I hope I was not guilty of that!

The lawn was the centre of the school. We hurried home for lunch to get back in time to play either football or cricket, depending on the season. When certain persons were batting, you had better begin thinking of the next day. There were some famous characters in football who controlled, not through their ability, but because of their brutality. This did not deter many of us. Many students limed around the lawn, often not to watch what was taking place there, but to see or establish contact with the High School girls as they made their way back to school. It was a favourite contact point for some persons. (To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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