I am a school teacher with a love for writing short stories, usually with a humorous twist.
When you’re young, peer adulation is something you yearn for.
There are different ways this can be achieved. The adventurous might openly smoke a cigarette as a grandiose display of pseudo adulthood and defiance, or, evolving into a school bully, they extract grudging obedience from class mates coerced into carrying out their bidding.
The meek, like myself, tended to adopt more pedestrian strategies that were as effective as the escapades from these non-conformists and despised oppressors.
During my fifth year of primary school, I became a model “teacher’s pet” and attracted all the concomitant privileges. One of these rewards was the important role of Anthem Monitor, which duties I commenced at the beginning of the following year.
A bit of background information is warranted at this stage. Each Monday morning there was a school assembly held in the yard adjacent to the shelter sheds. It was at these assemblies, following our oath of allegiance, that important information was disseminated, usually by the principal, but sometimes by senior teachers.
Summer time was tolerable, but I can still remember cold winter mornings, shivering and half-heartedly reciting:
“I'll love God and my Country.
I'll honour the flag.
I'll serve the Queen,
And cheerfully obey
My parents, teachers and the law.”
Then the announcements.
“Remember, decimal currency will replace our pounds, shillings and pence on February 14.”
“Mrs Greenberg’s Grade 6 class is selling lamingtons at recess to raise money for the ladies auxiliary. Please support them.”
“Mr Robins won’t be with us next year because he’s been called up for the army. We wish him well and hope the war ends soon.”
At the conclusion of announcements, students marched back to class, ostensibly keeping rhythm with marching music blaring from outdoor speakers.
Please remember that in the sixties, hi-tech devices were non-existent. The march music was not automated by the principal by pressing some gadget concealed in his pocket.
No, the method employed was for a nominated student (scout) to wait at the corner of the school building and observe the proceedings. When the assembly ended, he ran to the outside window of the principal’s office, tapped it and returned to his observation post to monitor the status of the marching. The tap on the window was the signal for another student (me) inside the office to play a marching piece on the vinyl record player that was relayed through archaic wiring to the courtyard. I need to point out that I could not hear the music because it was exclusively connected to the wiring that transmitted the recording to the outside. When the last class entered the building, the scout tapped again and I stopped the player.
Now, the role of Anthem Monitor was a prestigious and trusted one. I was alone in the principal’s office and was permitted to choose any marching tune that took my fancy from several LPs resting next to the turntable.
Indeed, the role of Anthem Monitor was a desirable one and envied by my classmates, but it was boring!
Imagine being in one area for perhaps up to half an hour, (longer if there was a guest speaker), and oblivious to all outside activities. You will not be surprised, then, that to break up the tedium I welcomed time-occupying distractions. They included reading the newspaper that lay on the principal’s large oak desk, swivelling on his ornate leather armchair and perusing the bookshelf containing an assortment of novels, textbooks and administration manuals.
Harmless pastimes, I thought, until D-Day arrived. I always refer to this day as Disaster Day during my days of deep introspection and self-torment.
It was a sunny Monday morning and I dutifully entered the principal’s office in preparation for my duties, whilst the rest of the school made their way to the assembly area.
It was close to the end of the year, and I had pretty well exhausted the supply of marching songs on the LPs. As I sat comfortably in the principal’s chair, I noticed one of the desk drawers slightly ajar. Peering inside without touching it, I saw a dusty vinyl record resting on the bottom. There was no cover, but I assumed it was part of the marching song collection.
I then made a decision I will regret forever. With gentle force, I opened the drawer just enough and retrieved the record. Glancing at it gave no clue as to the promised marches etched on its smooth, black surface. I blew on the record to remove accumulated dust, swivelled the armchair to face the turntable and fixed the LP in position. Now all I had to do was wait.
Barely a minute elapsed before I heard the familiar ‘tap tap’ on the window. I gently placed the stylus somewhere in the middle of the record and stared at the bookshelf. At first I thought I imagined it, that students were yelling and calling out, but very soon the truth unfolded.
In raced the scout and without ceremony went past me and pulled the stylus away from the record.
He then turned to me and uttered ominously, “Why did you do it? You’re in big trouble now.”
Of course I was totally perplexed, and before I could question him for clarification, the bespectacled principal arrived, looking flushed and angry.
The first thing he did was to repeat the scout’s question, “Why did you do it?”
When I shrugged my shoulders as my way of showing that I had no idea what this was all about, he became angrier still. But to his credit, he allowed the first wave of anger to pass, and he composed himself as all good administrators do.
He went to the record player and removed the LP.
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“From that drawer”, I replied, pointing down and knowing it was no good lying.
“Do you know what’s on it?” he enquired.
“Marching songs, but I did not hear them.”
I stared at the principal, still puzzled.
“Well, then, let me play you a sample,” he offered.
He moved to the turntable and placed the LP in position. Moments later I heard a man’s voice that sounded slightly inebriated singing loudly and with gusto:
“If I give you fish and chips
you must let me kiss your lips.
But please no pork and mash
‘cos it’s gonna give me rash.”
And it went on until:
“And when I kiss and shut my eyes
I am thinking of more lies.”
“Please sir,” I exclaimed nervously. “I really didn’t know what was on it.”
“Yes, I can see that,” the principal remarked thoughtfully. “All right, go to class.”
Needless to say, I lost status with my peers and was replaced as Anthem Monitor, but in time I managed to outlive this embarrassment.
What still intrigues me deeply is why there was a recording of ribald Australian “ballads” in the principal’s drawer.