The English education system is made
to inculcate compliance – through failure –
with the nation’s stereotyping.
It remains still a work in progress.
For nearly seventy years most learners,
unless they passed an exam at eleven,
would stay in the same council school from four
to twelve, then thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
When I was seven I attended one
of the last such schools, at the end of our road.
There were two entrances with GIRLS & INFANTS
and BOYS carved in the sandstone lintels,
and so two yards – one for spears, one for distaffs!
Whatever the weather the boys would line up.
Once through the doors we would walk single file
through the cloakroom, zig-zagging past each row
of numbered pegs, each row monitored
by a pupil in his final year, who might
already be fifteen, and even shave.
That year the movie, The Third Man, was released,
and the theme music played on a zither
became popular on the radio,
and part of the film common knowledge:
Holly Martens stumbling after Harry Lime,
his erstwhile friend, through a dripping tunnel
of shadows and echoes, revolver in hand.
One sleety winter day I remember that,
as we were trudging through the cloakroom,
hanging up wet coats – those of us who had them –
one of the monitors began to hum
the zither tune, and the others took it up.
The impromptu choirmaster turned off the lights,
and, smiling in the gloom, not unkindly said,
‘We’re blind in the sewers!’