In the year before Pimple Head Thirsky’s class, so this would have been 1965, we disparate 9 year olds were taught by a pair of old spinsters, so bland were they that their names both escape me, one may have been Miss Wrigglesworth but I may be just making that up, I don’t know.
They called each other by their surnames in that way that elderly spinsters do, “Miss Wrigglesworth” one would say to the other, “yes Miss Icantrememberyourname” the other would reply and we kids would sit and wonder if they had worked together all their lives then why on earth had they not got around to calling each other by their first names yet ?
Both wore tweed, of course.
The same tweed twinset for the whole year and liberally doused with some old perfume that was probably the latest thing when Victoria was on the throne, quite frankly after they’d spent five minutes leaning over the back of your chair to read what you’d written in your exercise book you too were liberally doused in the stuff and spent the rest of the day with your friends telling you that you stank like a big puff, or worse, like an old lady, “You stink like an old lady” is perhaps the worst insult that can befall a nine year old boy in a school playground.
It wasn’t a part of the curriculum I’m sure but one day one of the old bags announced that it was about time that we had some bible lessons and so the following week we were all to bring the family bible to school with us.
I hadn’t a fookin clue what they were talking about.
“The family bible ?” I asked of one kid sat next to me
“Yes” he replied, you must have a bible at home surely ?” for he was obviously from a bible family
“Oh yeah” I replied with as much sarcasm as a nine year old can muster, “Except my dad calls it the CIU Book”
The CIU Book was published monthly by the Working Mens Club and Institute Union with details of every club in the Leeds CIU district and the “turns” that they had booked for each weekend, it was my dad’s bible of entertainment and without it he would be lost, his social life was dictated by the CIU Book, heaven would surely have its own district CIU bible although the “turns” might not vary much from “Comedy Duo with Harps”.
I went home and told my mother that next week I had to take the family bible to school for the old bags to read from, I may as well have been speaking Icelandic, “A bible ?” she whispered, “I don’t think we’ve got one” and she paused, “anywhere in our family at all”.
And we didn’t, so she borrowed one from someone slightly more religious than us.
Which is why the following week I dragged my satchel to school rather than carry it for I couldn’t pick the bloody thing up, not with the bible that my mother had scrounged for us, I have my suspicions that somewhere that week a cathedral was missing its bible from the preachers pulpit, one of those huge bibles with a leather tooled cover and several thousand vellum hand painted pages all written in Latin, the bible that I dragged into school every week for the rest of term was the size of a paving slab and at least eight inches thick.
All of my classmates seemed to have brought the same small bibles, the sort that you could easily slip into a pocket, the sort that hotels leave in bedside drawers which is probably where most of my classmates bibles had originated, I can’t honestly say that any of my classmates struck me as being particularly religious at all and the thought that every single one of them had the same bible in their house ready for some bedtime reading just doesn’t ring true at all, whatever, the fact was that they all had nice small bibles that could easily be placed on a desk to follow the old bags when they read out a story – my bible was the size of an advertising hoarding and didn’t seem to have the same indexing as theirs.
You might not know this but all of those copies of the bible that you see, they are all the same book you know, same chapters written in the same order and indexed in the same way, what do you mean, you knew that already, well I didn’t, and my cathedral bible didn’t seem to be indexed in the same way at all, in fact it didn’t seem like it was the same book at all, come to think of it I think my mother may have scrounged a copy of the koran off someone.
“Now children, I want you to open your bibles at Luke, Chapter 4 and we’ll read all about the holy ghost”
“Wow this sounds good” someone whispered, “a ghost story, never knew the bible had ghost stories”
And they all flipped open their tiny bibles to the correct page and the old bag started to read from the front of the class.
Time to get my bible out I thought.
“Give me a hand with my bible” I whispered to Keith Rhodes, my mate, the lad who once shat himself in a cubicle at the swimming baths, but thats another story.
“Jesus wept” he said as the two of us tried to lift my cathedral bible up from my bag on the floor,
“scuse me” I said to the girl sat at the next desk, “can you shuffle up a bit, I need your desk to open my bible across”
It spread across three desks and took two of us to open up, and then could we hell as like find the page that the old bag was reading from, it was like my bible had been written before Luke wrote his bit, and the page turning was starting to annoy the old bag at the front of the class as she started to walk up the aisle towards us, still reading from her copy.
“Suffer little children to come unto me” she read and as she passed the back of my chair upon the word “suffer” she wacked me across the top of the head with a spare hand, leaning down behind my ear she whispered rather harshly, “put that book away you stupid dolt”…
And that my friends is where my bible education ended, with a sore ear’ole and an indecipherable book to lug all the way home again.
These things are formative you know.