Saturday, 10 March 2012

The oddest ball in the bag

We have been - well, I have been recalling some of the teachers I had as a schoolboy and their eccentricities. Far and away the most eccentric, definitely the oddest ball in the bag, was "Dinger" Bell. Frankly, he should never have been teaching monkeys let along boys of 12 and 13. His main subject was physical education. Now, our school had no separate gym, the assembly hall doing double duty; neither did we have any gym equipment such as vaulting horses. However, there were wall bars on two sides - and a piano on the stage. So, our PT consisted of wall bar exercises. We would stand facing the bars and grip one at shoulder height with both hands, arms outstretched. As Dinger played Greensleeves on the piano, we went through our routine. Up on tiptoe, knees bend, back on tiptoe, heels to the ground, left leg stretch sideways, back, right leg stretch sideways, back - and start again. Quite what he thought such gentle aerobics would do for energetic young boys I cannot imagine.

I must have been 12 going on 13 when a new subject was introduced into the curriculum specifically for Dinger: survey. I was by then enjoying map reading as a Boy Scout and this, an extension of that, was right up my street. As Dinger explained triangulation it all seemed so obvious. I lapped it up. Now, another of Dinger's eccentricities was to range pupils at desks according to their ability (as he saw it). The best pupil was at the front left of the classroom, right in front of Dinger's desk, then along the front row, working to the back, the corner furthest from the teacher, where the desk was occupied by the least able pupil. I never ever got to the top desk. That was Hobday's. Even though I was just as good as him, it was always the No 2 desk for me. Until...

You might be aware that my mother married a sailor, but what you probably don't know is that her sister did as well. It so happened that my uncle was drafted to the naval base at Singapore for three years and this was an accompanied draft so my aunt and my cousins went along as well. They came back to England during the school year in which the survey lessons were started. One cousin was a year older than me and he went into a class a year ahead of me. Another was a year younger than me but his education had been such that he was on a par with my year and so he was put in the same form as me.

I imagine that my elder cousin played up during Dinger Bell's PE lessons - he would be like that - and so Dinger took a deep dislike to him. That dislike also covered his brother, who went straight to the bottom of the class in survey even though he was just as good as me. It was a few weeks before Dinger learned of my relationship to the two brothers. When he did, I was immediately dispatched to the second bottom desk and never again managed to get any higher. But David and I got our own back.

Dinger, for whatever reason, started to teach us boxing in our PE lessons. At first, this was little more than an extended version of the wall bar exercises. The pupils spread out in neat lines and rows and put up our fists. Dinger then walked among us correcting each individual stance. By the time he had finished the lesson was over. Eventually, we progressed. This involved carrying out a sequence on command: "On dancing feet, commence!" We started dancing from one foot to the other. "Exercise number one, lead!" We jabbed with our right hands. "Exercise number two, double punch!" and so on.

The day finally came when we had to place four benches to form the ring and pair off. David and I were not too different in height and we managed to pair off. When out turn came to enter the ring, David whispered to me, "Pretend to hit me hard". I did so, whereupon he leaped out of the ring, followed by me, out of the hall, followed by me, right round the school, followed by me, and eventually back into the hall and into the ring, where he fell to the floor.

I don't think we did boxing any more after that.

Of course, poor old Dinger should never have been teaching. I have, occasionally, had twinges of guilt when I have thought how we boys treated him, but the really guilty parties were those who allowed him to teach. It may have been that he had suffered shell shock or some such during the war and allowing him to work was intended as compassion. Frankly, if that was the case, the compassion was misplaced. But what ever the background, I will always remember him as the oddest in a bunch of oddballs.


Stephen Hayes said...

Bell certainly sounds like an odd duck. He didn't seem to have much of an affinity with kids. I wonder what ever happened to him.

Buck said...

"Pretend to hit me hard". I did so, whereupon he leaped out of the ring, followed by me, out of the hall, followed by me, right round the school, followed by me, and eventually back into the hall and into the ring, where he fell to the floor.