Ronan's Rant

Ronan McSherry

Primary school and the crazy ’60s

school desk
All I know is back in the day when I went to my first Ulster final with Paps in 1972 he regaled me with stories on the great Tyrone teams of 1956 and ’57.
 
To this little boy, he was talking of a time a million years ago when everything was in black and white and in my mind’s eye folk headed to Clones on horse and cart. Sure it was only 17 summers earlier!
 
Now, I like to reminisce of bygone days when everything was better.
As I watch the old Top of the Pops on BBC4 my 14-year-old daughter scoffs, “That’s the last century.” Yiks!
 
I dare not tell her about the sixties in the annals of the dark ages but I have to share it with someone, dear reader, as it is part of my regressive therapy.
The 1960s through primary school is a mass of random memories when everyone was crazy.
 
My first day at school was terrifying. My gut instincts were correct. The teachers were mad, the pupils were mad, even the lollipop man was out there.
 
In P4 Miss Kay was obsessed with singing when she wasn’t beating my buddy Raymond across the knuckles with a wooden coathanger. Of all things, a coathanger! Poor Raymond would dance in a circle around her like the Siege of Ennis while the wizened aul bat held his wrist and rapped his knuckles.
 
“It didn’t do him any harm,” is the adage, It didn’t do him much good either as he finished in a home for the bewildered. She had hairy legs and hooves like the woman in the Blair Witch Project who put those kids against the wall; only Miss Kay was more terrifying.
 
Songs and poems were her wont. She was obsessed by a sonnet titled, ‘Ducks’ Ditty’…“All along the backwater, through the rushes tall, ducks are a-dabbling, up tails all!…”
What chance had we? It was like the scene in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ when the centurions eat their own lips terrified to laugh as the Emperor talks about his friend ‘Bigus Dickus.’
It was excruciating. Laugh and be damned. Who was even going to ask what a ‘ditty’ is? Not my buddy Raymond that’s for sure.
 
There was no teacher’s pet in those days, rather a scapegoat who took a hammering. Those nutters who were supposedly entrusted with our education would single out an unfortunate snotty-nose little soul to spew their volcanic rage upon.
 
Master Dunne gave Dully a kicking every day, again for no apparent reason. It was a spectator sport for the rows of wide-eyed kids grateful it wasn’t them… echoes of the Christians being thrown to the lions.
 
To be fair they were not all psychotic though. The good teachers were hugely eccentric. Even I thought it was bizarre when Mr Moss praised Deccy who when asked to recite a poem, rattled off, “Up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope, if that doesn’t do we’ll chop him in two and send him to hell with the red, white and blue.”
 
In P6 Mr Moss swelled with pride and said, “Good boy Declan, sit down now” as I looked on stunned, “What in under God was that about?”
 
Our peers were as treacherous and bullying was not only rampant it was obligatory.
Once a month my minder Big Sean would sit on me after school on the Chapel Loonan. He just perched on me for what seemed hours, all 12 stone of him and me barely able to breathe.
 
On the way home Tam would perform to an audience of entranced kids by rolling up his sleeves, grabbing clumps of nettles and rubbing them on his arms.
 
Meanwhile Cub has a monkey in a cage at the back of his house on Barrack Street. Believe me dear reader, he really had. The furious simian spat as Cub taunted it.
Legend had it Cub’s father was seafarer and sneaked the creature into the country. It probably had rabies.
 
These are only snapshots and flashbacks. You don’t even want to hear about the missions coming to town shouting and guldering to packed houses, “… and you go to the grave of Wolfe Tone… a Protestant!!” It was mad I tell you.
 
The first news story I recall was the killing of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 but the biggie was the first man to walk on the moon a year later. Mickey down the street had us petrified as he explained that if the spaceship hit the centre of the earth at the wrong place on its return it would cause a major explosion which would blow up much of the world. Thankfully it didn’t come to pass.
 
We should have known he inhabited a parallel world. Among his past-times Mickey captured wasps and extracted their stings with a pin, pulled out their wings before flicking them across the table like little balls with his forefinger.
 
It’s a long long time ago. We’re middle age men now but I bump into those lads and my mind goes back to those days, 50 years ago when the Beatles ruled the world and Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.
It’s taking a while but I’m still recovering from the crazy sixties.

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