Nearer my God to thee by Trevor Plumbly

Dear Schoolteachers

It is some sixty-odd years since you attempted to shape my mind and I thought my recollection of your efforts might be of interest. Despite your forecasts, I never quite made it as a delinquent; I lacked the stomach for deprivation and, as was the norm in those days, for physical punishment.

In an early attempt, I remember standing around a pedal organ with three other snot-nosed street urchins belting out ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’: I became fascinated by the organ stops: they were black and shiny with beautiful writing on the front, practically begging to be pulled and pushed, which I did. This so offended the vinegar-soaked old trout playing the thing that she whacked me smartly on both legs and banished me to a corner for the rest of Religious Education. Jesus, it seemed, already had plenty of sunbeams and could afford to be picky; forgiveness, I found, was more a big word from the Bible than a gentle adult trait.

A class apart

For some odd reason, the welfare folk felt I might do better at a ‘posh’ school, but minor transgressions continued to dog me; reports overflowed with ‘could do better’, ‘Trevor needs to try harder’ and the ultimate crusher for British boyhood ‘he has little affinity with sport and the concept of fair play’. The latter scribe was proved correct because following a disagreement involving me copping a feel from Jumbo Mercer’s bird, we were ordered to sort it out ‘in the ring’. It was something of a mismatch; Jumbo was aptly titled, whilst I was referred to as ‘toothpick’. He opened the bout with a vicious punch to my nose, I replied with a misguided knee to his crutch. Suddenly an accepted method of street-smart defence became ‘despicable’, ‘cowardly’ and a ‘disgrace to the school’.

Jesus/Posh Kids: 2  Plumbly/Forgiveness: 0

Illustration of sycophancy

No man’s land

I don’t think I was inherently bad, any more than a lot of today’s problem kids are; like them, I lacked parental guidance and good role models. Survival seemed more important than success and, as such, cunning was more useful than a sporting attitude: the concept of losing and pretending to enjoy it was totally alien to me. Christ, I had enough battles at home and out on the street without going to school for moral browbeating! Your rules were carrot and stick, in my case more stick than carrot. These days they tend to counsel rather than punish, and I guess that’s OK. But a kid without cunning? That’s just not natural! Cunning is an essential part of boyhood; without it, I assure you, I would not be writing this note today. I trust you and the fawning little sycophants you favoured still muse on ‘the best days of your lives’ at reunions. I don’t and they weren’t! Yours in cunning, Plumbly Minor.

One Comment on “Nearer my God to thee by Trevor Plumbly

  1. Well said, Trevor. However, I think perhaps as much bullying goes on in schools now as then, from teachers and schoolmates. Luckily, overt physical punishment is at last banned, but not without huge protests from parents who desperately want the right to hit their kids. Marching up Queen St, baying for that right. I don’t know anybody who best learns anything by being whacked when you get it wrong. All that teaches is not to take risks. It also teaches distrust of the one doing the whacking – whether parent, teacher, or whoever else. Anyone heard of a business that shows disapproval of staff by locking them by themselves in an office for a certain time, or by hitting them round the legs? Yet we feel that’s the way to treat kids.

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