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Laurence Inman’s Blog




Laurence recalls a time when getting caned didn’t mean having a pharmaceutically enhanced night out.

The Stirrer (himself) and I went to the same school. He’s only a young sprat (must get that spell-check seen to) and was a few years behind me. The complete lack of apostrophes in the title he gave to my piece last week should have been a strong hint of that fact anyway.

It was a very pleasant school.

But before going there I had to suffer three years somewhere else. It was called a Technical School. Bournville Tech. Even the bullying was technical.

Whole days seem to be thrown away filing bits of metal, smashing up bits of wood and trying to throw myself over a mountain of gym equipment.

I hated every minute I spent there. I woke every morning filled with dread and loathing. Caning and summary assault were commonplace.

I and two of my mates were caned, by the headmaster, a man not known for his aversion to corporal punishment, for throwing our caps up a wall at crane flies, after only two weeks at the place! Elaborate sarcasm and ritual humiliation seemed to be all-consuming hobbies with certain teachers.

During the days of the Cuban Crisis one of my classmates thought that if war broke out ‘at least it’ll get us out of here.’

I had to leave following a disagreement with some older inmates over who should be allowed to beat up my younger brother.

I went to King’s Norton. If you drew a line between Bournville and Summerhill, KN Boys was well over half-way along it.

The staff were almost all amiable old men who had gone straight into teaching from Oxford and Cambridge. Some had been there since the early twenties. The years unfolded in an undemanding routine of reading, smoking, a bit of work now and again, more reading, putting on plays and revues, editing the school mag.

A quarter of a century later I was teaching there myself, more or less doing the same things as when I was a pupil. I’m convinced the building itself made you stand back and consider the important things in life.

Anyway, years after that I squashed all my feelings about that time into a poem. I read it again the other night at the Retort Cabaret. It always gets a good response. The title was occasioned by Tone’s meaningless mantra from years ago.


Part 1. Education

In days gone by your Mom and Dad
Could always tell the good schools from the bad
Because the kids at the good ones wore uniforms
And the teachers were called masters and wore gowns
You sat in rows and they walked up and down
You read things in books and wrote things down

That was WORK. You read things in books
And wrote then down, then wrote them down
Again in yearly exams which were designed to test
Who were the hardest working and the best
At reading things in books and writing them down

Not always though. Sometimes you would
Beat up or cut up things that had lived
Like flowers, cows’ eyeballs, sheeps’ testicles
Or things that had never lived, like bits of metal
Or things that were still alive, like smaller kids
And then write down what you had done, but then
We always went back to reading things in books and writing things down

Part 2. Education

I wrote more and more about less and less
And people wrote down things about me
And at the end of all this writing and writing
These people said I could go to university
Where I drank and listened to women talking to me
Then I went home and wrote down what they’d said, in my diary

I went to hear lectures spoken by people
Who had read loads of books and wrote loads of things down
And I wrote down a lot of what they said and tried
To remember it so I could write it all down again
In test after test, term after term, year after year.
I did this and they wrote my name on a list of names.

I had a smart-arsed mate who became a lecturer and wrote
Loads of books. In order to do this he read
Loads of books which nobody else had read
Then he wrote a book made of those books
Which nobody was ever going to read, not even him.
For this they wrote down that he was a doctor

Part 3. Education

Then they let me be a teacher1 What a turn up!
I walked up and down and told kids to write things down.
But then I began to feel that writing things down
Was very much like bringing things down, as in
He brought down the tone of the evening or putting things down
As who should say She put him down and he never got up again.

Shakespeare never wrote things down, not in that way.
He put things up, up on the stage. He talked life up.
People went to the theatre down and they came out up
And what do we do ? We read his stuff and have to think
Of something to write down and by doing this
We bring it down. We bring ourselves down.

So I started to say to kids Never mind what you think
It doesn’t matter what you think, but why you think it
That could be interesting, or that you think, or that
There is something to think with, or to think about.
Don’t write down what you think. Nobody’s interested
Not even you. Put thinking in its place – below connecting

I could have gone on Don’t think especially
Too much about time. It darts away, quick and quiet
As a mouse, leaving you no time to think, so don’t.


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