School held few priveleges for us. We were routinely told by our teachers that we were “the worst behaved year we have ever had”, and after the seventh fire alarm of the week I was inclined to believe them. Possibly something to do with the fact I was squeezing one out in the toilets in the Science Block at the time and I was torn between finishing the job and running for my life. So, as the old saying goes, it was up to us to create our own entertainment.
And that came in geography class, held in freezing cold temporary classrooms separate from the rest of the school. The teacher, “Harry” Harrison was about ninety years old and was as deaf as a post. Because of this, he relied on the pupils to tell him when the school bell had gone for the end of the class, the poor trusting fool.
Jenny had an innocent face. “The bell’s gone sir”, she would say, fluttering her eyelids rather too unnecessarily. And we were free.
With five or ten minutes to burn, we would slouch up to the “old school” where our next lesson was. We’d hang around in the corridor, a fifty yard stretch of polished floor that became a race track as soon as the first-years were released from their French-lesson hell. We’d lean against the wall outside class 1, our bags full of schoolbooks at our feet, chatting about girls, the latest bands and why Spurs were so crap.
Bell. A door at the far end would literally thump open, and the first formers would explode forth down the hall, idiot grins on their faces evidence of their escape.
Timing was critical. These kids may have been going like the clappers, but make your move too early and you’d be sussed out, too late and it just becomes messy. As the first runner approached, Ernie would nudge his bag out into the middle of the hallway, straight under the feet of the leading runner.
Invariably, there would be a moment of almost serene silence, followed by a cry of “Oh SHIIIIIIII....” as the victim took off and landed somewhere in the cloakroom chin first, coming to a halt among the lost property. With exceptional timing, you could take down two or three of these idiots before the hall became too crowded, and we’d mark the end results out of ten. It never ceased to amaze us that this trick worked day after day, week after week without the fools wising up to us. But we had reckoned without Mr Prince.
Prinny was our games teacher. He was a former boxer of some repute, even if he had a face that looked like every punch had got through. He was as hard as nails, and even if we weren’t scared of him, he had our respect and a certain amount of hero worship. He was also the king of the ironic punishment, as we were soon to find out.
Cut back to the Hall of Fear. First year number 387 is flying through the air, wondering what the hell has happened to his feet, and why is the ground coming up to meet me so fast? Round the corner comes Prinny just in time for the victim to come screeching to a halt at his feet. He doesn’t even have to ask what the bloody hell was going on, we were caught like Treens in a disabled space-cruiser.
Time freezes. He says nothing. We are silent, afraid to be the first to move. The victim scuttles off, like scared townsfolk fleeing from a shoot-out in a western movie. An evil smile fills his face. He silently beckons us towards him. We’re doomed.
Prinny made us polish the school floors for a week, while he allowed the cleaners to sit back and offer us encouragement such as “You’ve missed a bit” and “Only thirty-seven classrooms to go”.
Were we to be discouraged by such a set-back? Well, yes we were to tell you the truth. No more would we attempt the Flight of Doom in the Old School corridor, for we knew that Prince was watching, somehow, somewhere.
One-legged Mike, however, was not to be defeated. One-legged Mike only had one leg, and had a false foot that was held on with buckles. Instead of kicking a bag out at the racing first-years, he’d oh-so-subtly let his foot fall off in the face of the charging hoardes. There were hysterical screams that shattered glass. One girl fainted, while another puked all over our freshly polished floors, and there was the faintest smell of urine which may or may not have been Filthy Pete going past. Even Prinny, not fooled by “Sorry sir, it just dropped off”, couldn’t think of an ironic punishment for that one.
We all got detention, forever.