Any of you old enough to remember the media hype concerning the so-called End of the World, back in February 1982? There have, of course, been other examples since then, most notably and recently the December 21st, 2012 one – which promised much in the cataclysmic line, but delivered bugger-all: Not so much as a Horseman of the Apocalypse’s steed’s hoof was heard!
But, back in 1982, I was much younger and far more gullible/less cynical about such claims. As I recall, the Great Event was scheduled to take place on 2.2.82 at 2pm ( a load of twos, or was that just my physiological response to profound terror??!).
Now, before I get on with the main story, I am going to take a little diversionary walk through the generic psyche of the school-bound mid-adolescent. To put it bluntly, many of them go a little weird (or completely effing nuts, in some cases) when extremes of weather happen. Full Moon and strong wind are the worst by a long way: Get the two together and you might as well give up all pretence at teaching and just lock the door so they can’t escape! Seriously…
Imagine, then, the potential disruption caused by Imminent Grim Reaper and His sidekicks!
I was twenty-four back in 1982 – and had been teaching five months when the World was predicted to end. To make things even worse, End Day was going to hit at exactly the time when I was due to teach (pause for a hollow laugh) 11z.
For those not abreast (because teachers, like all professionals, have their weird little codes): Year 11 refers to the fifteen and sixteen year olds – and, in an 11-16 school, such as the one I taught in, they are the oldest kids in the school. Z is teacher-speak for bottom set (either through lack of ability – or, in too many cases, because they are little shits and no one else wants them!).
Later on in my career, I became very good at teaching Z groups; but, back in 1982, I was clueless and terrified – of them! Teach them?! Ha! I couldn’t even control them! So the news that I’d be teaching them, in a Dining Room, when life as we know it ceased did not exactly fill me with rapturous joy.
Anyone who has ever been a teacher will know how excruciating it is to teach in a dining room either just before or just after lunch. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have the greatest of respect for dinner ladies. They do a difficult job with impossible customers. But, when you get a gaggle of women, usually of a certain age, together in a kitchen, the conversation very quickly becomes biological, shall we say? Put it this way, I learned more about uterine dysfunction, childbirth and the menopause from these doughty ladies than I ever did during my own school days. A fount of repulsive and graphic knowledge, they were – and, let me tell you, it is bloody difficult to keep twenty-five teens’ minds on literature when Gladys and company are waxing lyrical about floppy wombs, impotence and sanitary towels!
So there you have it: The background, as you might say (for greater detail, read ‘Long-Leggety Beasties’ which contains the whole sorry affair in fictional form!), to a tragedy almost Grecian in its scope and irony.
Er, no! That was just a moment of hyperbole – and to be ignored!
In I went. There they were, all twenty-five of them. Damn it all, you’d think at least one of the little sods would skive on the final day of their lives. But no. The dinner ladies were in fine voice, clearly audible even from the doorway and disinclined to let a mere rumour ruin their ongoing saga of Our Trace who was, yet again, in the family way.
The day without looked suitably atmospheric for an End of Life Scene, being grey and windy. The kids looked at their watches, and then at me. There then started one of most bizarre, lugubrious conversations I have ever witnessed. It was all in there: Skelingtons (as they all called them), War and that (the only Horseperson any of them could remember), beasts which looked like someone’s mother (which caused a minor scuffle and a bloody nose), ‘them nucular bombs’ and ‘Prawns what live in that Hinkley place and come out the toilet and slither up yer bits…’
All splendid grist to the writer’s mill, but a tad fucking macabre and uncalled-for at the time!
Still, their peculiar take on matters Revelatory and Sepulchral was so absorbing that, before we knew it, it was the end of the lesson – though not, to their evident disappointment, of the world!
I have never forgotten that lesson – and, as I say, turned it into part of my novel about my first two terms as a teacher some twenty odd years later!
Those children are now fifty years of age, or at least approaching that milestone within the next fourteen days, and I am nearer sixty than fifty! Would they laugh now at the memory of that day, that hour, that room trilling with rampant dinner ladies and the nervous chitter of an inept teacher?
Or would it, like so much from our youth, have disappeared without trace?