I was five when I disgraced myself in the lovely Mrs Whiteman’s class.
Mrs Whiteman, the lovely Mrs Whiteman, the lady who took the first year infants, my Uncle Sid had come around to our house the night before my first day at infants school and told me to ask her “Mrs Whiteman, are you married to a black man ?”, it was hilariously funny was that in 1961, what a card my Uncle Sid was, the favourite of my Uncles, “Don’t tell him to say things like that Sid, he’ll get into trouble” my mother scalded him then pointing at me “Don’t you dare say that to Mrs Whiteman, I know for a fact that she’s married to a white man”, it confused the hell out of me at five years of age and I’m not sure I understand it now.
So I’m in the lovely Mrs Whitemans class and its one endless round of playing in the sand pit, playing with plasticine, sticking plasticine in the girls hair, drinking one third of a pint of free milk mid-morning even if it was “a bit off” because the caretaker had left the crates outside on a hot summers morning, even when it was frozen solid like a milk lolly inside a glass bottle because the caretaker had left the crates outside on a cold winters morning, he was a lazy bugger was our caretaker.
At lunchtimes we’d all be made to queue outside the toilets, filing in one at a time to wee at the trough while a permanently angry small tubby Scottish dinner lady stood and watched to make sure we shook the drops off and then washed our hands in a sink of boiling water, yes actually boiling, she’d pour a panful of boiling water from a boiling water gas geyser every couple of minutes and top up the sink with it, every boy in our class lost the use of his hands by the end of the first term because she’d burned all the use out of them.
A lunch of spam with something, salad in the summer, mashed potato in the winter, but always spam even when it didn’t look like spam you’d bite into a pie to find it was a spam pie or you’d bite into a fried flat thing to find it was fried spam, and then something cake-like with custard on for “sweet” for of course we were in Yorkshire and we don’t have “desert” we have “pudding”, or when posh we have “sweet”.
I only mention all of this by way of explanation for what happened on the day I disgraced myself in Mrs Whitemans class for it would have been a normal day, a day when spam would have been consumed in one guise or another, followed by “sweet” with custard and a drink of water from a greasy glass with “Arcorac” stamped back to front on the bottom, maybe I had extras that day, maybe my mates Derek Maitland and Paul Atkinson didn’t want their spam and maybe I did, maybe my spam was just “on the turn” who knows…
So mid afternoon the lovely Mrs Whiteman calls us all to the front of the class for “stories”, that time of the day when the whole class get to sit on a coconut mat in front of her desk and listen as she sits on the corner of said desk to read us a story from a large book of stories that have previously been passed as fit for reading to a class of five year olds by the Leeds Education Board, stories of children who get captured by witches in dark woods and locked in a cage for months as the witch fattens them up to eat them, suitable stuff like that.
But because the coconut mat is so bloody uncomfortable to sit on for half an hour some of the boys, including me, ask if we can sit on the edge of a desk just to the rear of the mat and the lovely Mrs Whiteman agrees and so we do, and I take my place on the edge of a desk right behind a gaggle of little girls who are all rather stupidly sitting on the prickly coconut matting.
So she’s reading todays story of horrific childrens peril and suddenly I start to feel a little queasy, not very well at all actually and before I can say to anyone “I think I’m going to be sick” there erupts a huge belch from my mouth audible three counties away and all of the children sat on the mat in front of me turn, giggling to see who made that monstrous noise as indeed does Mrs Whitehouse but in that same instant my lunch follows the huge belch but by now its more a bright yellow liquid than spam and it sprays all over the little girls sat in front of me, all over their raised giggling faces and in fact all over most of the kids sat on the mat too.
Quite rightly they were all horrified if not a little terrified, conversely having rid myself of my lunch I was now starting to feel a little better and I’d like to think that I may have wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and said “Oh thats better” but I probably didn’t for most of my classmates were now crying and trying to wipe my stomach contents from their eyes and ears.
The permanently angry small tubby Scottish dinner lady is called from her task of winkling the burned off skin from little boys hands out of the sink plug hole to take me to said toilet and pour a sink full of scalding water to clean me down with for I had also managed to regurgitate some backflow of vomit all over my shorts.
She took my pants off did the wee tubby angry lady and made me put on a pair of shorts from the lost property box – you would have thought that being in the first year at infants school that all of the clothes in the lost property box should have been either your size or bigger but somehow this daft bint managed to find a pair of shorts that were too small for me, in fact, and I try not to acknowledge this whenever this story comes to mind, they may have been girls knickers.
The wee tubby angry lady washed my vomit soaked shorts in the scalding water, cursing my stupidity all the time, “Why couldn’t ye have told ye teacherrrrr?” she spat, full of hatred for this stupid Sassenach boy child, “Why ? Why? Why could ye not have told ye teacherrrrr?” and I had no answer for her for my mental capacity did not yet know of the correct syntax to assemble the sentence “It was your fucking spam fritters you stupid tubby bint”.
I got sent home in those red girls knickers, there, I’ve said it, they were red girls knickers, 49 years later I have finally released that dreadful secret from my soul, I got sent home in red girls knickers because I puked all over my own shorts and the faces of several little girls sat in front of me, god knows what they got sent home in.
Worse still, the classroom was closed the next day for fumigation for my puke had dried into the coconut matting and the room absolute stunk to high heaven and in those austere days rather than throw away the coconut matting the headmistress got the caretaker to get down on his hands and knees with a scrubbing brush and clean my puke out of it, bit by spam fritter bit.
Even at five years of age I knew that I didn’t want to be a school caretaker when I grew up.