Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I swear every word of this is true.

In 1973 at the height of the Troubles, my mother decided that rather stay in Scotland and deal with a violent, abusive, estranged husband, her life would be a lot easier if she upped sticks, took her five children and moved to Carrickfergus, a small coastal town in Antrim. And so it was we found ourselves living in a little village on the outskirts of Carrickfergus, the place was rather inappropriately named Eden, unless of course the real Eden was a dingy little backwater, with barely two streets, populated mainly with "simple country folks" for want of a better description.

The school in Eden was a small school, set on the main road, and we lived on the other street, which ran parallel to the main road. This meant of course that we were almost literally on the school's doorstep. Being a small school, the number of pupils was not great, so the P6 and P7 classes were combined, and this class was taken by the headmaster of the school. When we moved to the village, my eldest brother was old enough to attend the intermediary school in Carrickfergus itself, whilst the other four children, myself included, went to Eden Primary.
Now I've never worked out if there was something specific about my family, we were after all quite untamed, poor, working class Scots, or if it was plain and simple anti Scots bigotry but the headmaster of the school, let's call him Mr Berkley, didn't like us, not one bit. Unfortunately for them, my second older brother and sister, being in P7 and P6 respectively, had to attend his class. I was in P5, and my younger sister was in P3. Mr Berkely would take every opportunity to make his distaste for us known. On one occasion he refused to accept my brother and sister into the class, and sent them back home, simply because they'd turned up to school without pen or pencils. There were a few other incidents but it all came to a head in the run up to Christmas, when traditionally the school would put on a show of some sort, and parts would be found for all the children. Mr Berkley decided this year that he'd find parts for all the kids in his class, even if it meant some of them would sing in the choir. All the kids that is except for my brother and sister, they were not included. No reason given, there just weren't any parts for them.

So it came to pass that for some afternoons in the run up to the show, the entire school would assemble in the main hall, where a makeshift stage was set up, and rehearsals would take place. When it was the turn of Mr Berkley's class to rehearse, they would all gather on the stage, and go through their routines, whilst my brother and sister had to simply stand there, as observers.

My mother got to hear about this, and it's fair to say she wasn't pleased. One day she decided to call in to the school, in order to have a word with Mr Berkley, and it so happened that the day she chose was a rehearsal day. The whole school was assembled in the the main hall, each class going through their routines, or watching the other classes going through their routines, when from the back of the hall came the sound of my mother's unmistakable Scottish accent, "Berkely, ah want a wurd wi yoo". As one, the entire school fell silent, and every head turned towards the double doors at the back of the hall where my mother was standing. Mr Berkley himself said nothing but I can remember quite clearly the anger rising in  his face as he realised who it was, and the barely contained rage as he strode down the hall towards the doorway where she was standing. When he reached my mother he did not stop walking but simply strode on out the doors, practically scooping her up in the process.

 My mother was not a large woman, she stood about 4' 11'', Mr Berkely was about 5' 6"" so he had the definite size advantage, and I guess she was not expecting him to manhandle her in that way. Anyway, they both disappeared outside the hall, and the doors swung shut. The hall, which had gone from silence to deafening whispers, as both the children and the teachers tried to take in what was happening, fell silent again, everyone trying to hear what was going on outside.

We never did get to hear what was said, or what exactly took place but the next thing we knew, the doors flung open and Mr Berkley came running back inside, his confident angry stride replaced by blind panic, his angry red complexion now a ghostly white. He ran terrified up the centre of the hall, chased by something resembling the Tasmanian Devil. Being taller than my mother, and fearing for his life, Mr Berkley was the faster of the two. realising she was never going to catch him, my mother grabbed the nearest thing to hand, which was a folding chair, raised it above her head and flung it for all she was worth. It was a perfect throw, an Olympic medal winning chair fling, it executed two perfect somersaults then connected neatly with the back of Mr Berkley's head. At that point, two things happened simultaneously, Mr Berkley went down, and a roar went up, from every child in that hall. For a short while there was chaos, my mother said something but it was too loud to hear what it was, satisfied with her handiwork, she walked calmly out of the hall, not one teacher went near her.

Of course, there was a court case, it even made the headlines in the local paper, I still remember it "She Hit Headmaster Over head With Chair" which I always felt was unfair, in that it seemed she had swung a chair and decked him, it didn't mention what a bloody great throw it was. She was given a suspended sentence, Mr Berkely retired shortly thereafter, and no one in my family was ever excluded from taking part in the Christmas show again, hell , the very next year, I even got the lead part of Hansel, in Hansel and Gretel.