FIFTEEN MINUTES


More than four decades ago, I taught English
in a boy’s grammar, waiting for it to go
comprehensive. I can think of three
notable alumni: a Labour PM,
whose only school magazine piece was
‘Ephemera’; the lover and killer
of a fêted, controversial playwright;
and a cult film director (see below).

The classrooms were built round a courtyard –
as if the architect had worked to some
Mediterranean model. Mine
was opposite the staffroom. One lunchtime,
I was marking at my desk and looked up
to see the said director, furtive,
at the staffroom door. I continued marking.

I heard shouting and looked up again to see
a colleague pounding on the door. (There was
a gap between the lintel and the door
into which three large screws had been driven).

There was huffing and tutting and enquiries –
low profile to deter imitation –
by the Deputy, an overweight caner.
‘You were at your desk. What did you see?’
‘I was intent on my work,’ I said, grinning.
‘This is serious!’ ‘Indeed it is,’ I said,
laughing. Courtesy of Mrs. Thatcher,
the school never went comprehensive. I left.

It never occurred to me to betray
such a consummate piece of performance art,
such an exquisite act of irony –
the masters trapped in their privilege,
imprisoned in their ignorance – but rather
held the knowledge close like a password
to my identity. I disclose it now
I am almost certain who I am.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Howard Gardener - September 24th, 2015 at 19:35

    Well – who’d have thought it? Mr Selzer has a darker side tucked away in there . . .

  2. #2 by Alan Horne - September 27th, 2015 at 21:21

    Hahaha! I never knew about this. Good for Alex. And for you, David.

  3. #3 by John Huddart - September 28th, 2015 at 12:11

    A really fine piece – full of drama and mystery – and a superb ending, as clever and as puzzling as a password itself, and to provide answers in the tags! Genius!

  4. #4 by Simon Taylor - October 4th, 2015 at 11:24

    Identity passwords – or those memorabilia-filled shoeboxes?

    Courtyard schooling feels imperial British – township South Africa, as we know David. Cane? Tawse? A language of Instruction not your own? Many forms of punishment and a curriculum to belittle, humiliate.

    And worse: yours a Grammar School, mine a ‘Residential School for Educationally Subnormal Boys’ (1971) a refuge for adult serial abusers – 2 receiving 10 year sentences this year. Naively, I too talked and probably laughed with both. I too left.

    This memorabilia remains in my shoebox, but also those who stayed to change things throughout their careers: Pete Spencer, Margaret O’Hanlon and many more, and the ’81 Warnock Report.

  5. #5 by David Selzer - October 4th, 2015 at 18:34

    Many thanks, Simon. Your impassioned, cogent comment alludes to so much history, raises so many issues and roll calls those who changed things. I think the stirring and shaping of memory is one of poetry’s functions.

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