27 April 2017

2p


Wouldn't it be nice if we could control the things that we remember? Then our heads would be filled with positive, happy stuff and bad or negative recollections would be resigned to the memory bin, never to be replayed again.

I can't stop myself from remembering slights or injustices. In my memory bank there is an entire wing devoted to such topics. I just went in there and scanned the shelves to find you this memory from my teaching years...

As a form tutor, I had a class of thirty eleven and twelve year old children to look after. I registered them every morning and afternoon, compiled their school reports, addressed general behavioural matters and so on. Once a week we had an hour in the classroom together. It was called tutor time and you had to fill it with social educational activities signposted by The Head of Year.

We were told that each tutor group had to focus on the work of different charities before coming up with ideas that would raise money for particular charities. When the preparatory work was done, a boy in my class suggested that every pupil could donate a sum of money each week to help our chosen charity and the rest of the class agreed to this. Somebody said "How about a pound?" but in the end we came right down to two pence.

Two pence is a tiny amount of money and sensitive to the relative deprivation in the school's neighbourhood, I was much happier to supervise such a collection. In one week we would raise sixty pence and in a month we would raise £2.40. Over an entire school year we would accumulate about £20. When all is said and done - not very much money at all for all the effort involved. Explanatory letters were sent home and parents were told they could opt out if they wanted.

We had to decide which charity to go for and following discussion and a democratic vote, the tutor group chose to raise money for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals). To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed about that. I would have preferred it if they had gone for a people charity but hey, it was their choice.

Fast forward to the Year 7 parents' evening the following February. 

It's 9pm and plonking themselves at my table in the school assembly hall are Mr and Mrs Birks. They are older parents and their daughter is called Alison. She sits at the back and does her work as instructed. She has caused no problems whatsoever during her first year in the school but she has a surly, slightly superior demeanour and I just cannot warm to her. She is distant.

I say all the positive things about Alison. Her subject teachers have been happy with her and she has settled in well, coping with the work and the process of moving up to secondary school. Mr and Mrs Birks are not naturally happy looking people. You can see it in their body language and in the expressions on their faces.

Having listened to me they then take it upon themselves to address the charity-based learning and the weekly collection of two pence pieces.

Mr Birks says. "People round here can't afford it. It's not right to be asking them to give money every week."

I defend my corner with the obvious points and as I speak to The Birks couple I remember one of the school cleaners showing me a biscuit tin in which the cleaning staff put coins that kids  left on classroom and corridor floors - either accidentally or deliberately. It was filled to the brim. "We spend it on our Christmas night out," said Gwen.

Mrs Birks chips in with, "And we don't think it's right to make kids raise money for the RSPCA. That's for animals. What about people?"

Of course I pointed out that the decision was taken by the children themselves and I was simply following the school's tutor time plan but inside I was deeply annoyed about having to defend the process. I thought their criticism was both presumptuous and groundless and in fact it emanated from the sourness of their daughter and the self-righteous narrow-mindedness they espoused.

Two other sets of parents that same evening had a wholesome and healthy view of the charity learning and weekly collection calling it "brilliant" but I don't remember the details of those encounters - just Mr and Mrs Birks with arms folded, looking as ugly as sin and seeking to call the shots instead of supporting the work of their daughter's school with positivity and goodwill.

For whatever reason, I have never forgotten this and twenty five years later the details of it remain in my mind like intricate tattoos.
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N.B 2p (UK) =  3 cents (US)

30 comments:

  1. There are some folk who are born to be critical, whether towards the major things in life or the minor, insignificant parts of life. It makes no difference to them. They know no other way to be. It's part of their DNA.

    They're, also too ignorant and self-absorbed to know otherwise.

    They have not a clue about how to be charitable - in every sense of the word.

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    1. And that was the whole point of the teaching scheme - to encourage youngsters to think beyond themselves.

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  2. My recurring nightmares are the times I messed up, although I do remember a couple of times I felt slighted.

    Mr and Mrs Birks were berks

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    1. You made me chuckle with that last remark Kylie! Thanks.

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  3. I would like a bad thoughts eraser just to rub out the bits I do not want to remember.
    Briony
    x

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    1. Do you think a lobotomy might work Briony?

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    2. I know I'm not the most clever person but that's a bit too far, and cruel.

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    3. I wasn't thinking about you in particular Briony and I apologise if I gave you that impression. It was just your notion about an eraser to rub away the bad bits that made me think about lobotomies. I guess it was a joke that fell flat. Sorry.

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  4. I like Briony's idea, a bad thoughts eraser. Hard to get through life without coming across small-minded people like the Birks.

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    1. I like people who give credit where credit is due and have glass half full dispositions.

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  5. Wow. What nasty people. And after that, you knew where their daughter got her surly attitude.

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    1. Yes indeed Jennifer. Some things go down the generations.
      By the way - the card arrived today! Thank you! And nice words inside - not like The Birks.

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  6. Everyone I know who works in a school has told me stories like that. Some people are just horrible, and convinced that they know everything better than everyone else. It's a shame you can't just punch them in the face.

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    1. I think a punch in Mr Birks's face at the parents' evening would have been quite a surprise to him. "Take that you mean-spirited know-all!"...Then I would have lost my job.

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  7. It's funny what stays with us. It sounds to me like if they hadn't complained about this specific project, they would have found fault with something else. Complainers at heart, funneling their own unhappiness into criticism of others!

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    1. Then sense of displacement is, I think, present in many unpleasant behaviours.

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  8. Really not very nice people to know. Imagine having them as your immediate neighbours, or in your family! I wonder whether Alison grew up to be just like her parents, or at some stage managed to get rid of their ways.

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    1. Sometimes you could see in a child's eyes the kind of adult they would become. By eleven ot twelve the die is cast in my view.

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    2. don't the Jesuits say seven? It's awfully young, isn't it?

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  9. Some things make very strong memories. Unfortunately we don't seem to get to pick what our brains will remember best.

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    1. Even if something good happened and you said to yourself - I will remember this forever - your memory might block it out and choose other things instead.

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  10. oes explain a lot though about their daughter's demeanour doesn't it?

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    Replies
    1. Yes it does. She was a chip off the old block.

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  11. I love it whem memories like these linger long in the mind

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    Replies
    1. You can buy the memory off me and keep it. I don't need it any more.

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    2. The event and the memory of it made you a better person

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  12. Mr and Mrs Binks. Charming people indeed. And their lovely daughter.
    Let's hope the giving idea stuck with some of the other kids into adulthood.

    Alphie

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  13. Whoops, now I've offended the Binks clan, when it should have been Birks. I've just had another Einstein moment, something the optician may be able to fix.

    Alphie

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    Replies
    1. I guess that The Birks family might have had a poster above their fireplace - "Charity Begins and Stays at Home". Morons!

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