I could have expanded the previous essay on “The Catechism” to explain in further detail what the class was like. Just to remind you, we were in the first year at the Grammar School and were therefore, most of us, eleven years old. In due course, some of us went on to University, and a select few found fame in academia and the arts. My knee-fighting friend Syd, however, left school at the earliest opportunity and got a job in a scrapyard. V, who was in the class above us, left to manage the family brothel. While V was at school he ran the numbers racket. I hope that needs explaining. Essentially it was an illegal lottery. New York gangsters would sell numbered tickets to poor people in their district. If the number coincided with an arbritrarily chosen number, such as the Dow Jones Index to be published on a certain date, the lucky winner claimed the prize. That is the racket than V ran; he took the boys' sixpences. I do not remember how the winning number was selected.
Diligent readers will be aware that I devoted Catechism lessons to self-inducing suspended animation. The following is therefore intended to represent a typical lesson and not an actual snapshot of the boys' indoctrination into Anglican Christianity.
“Please Sir, my sister's a girl, Sir.”“Ha Ha Ha!”
“Philpotts is a monkey so his sister must be a monkey too!”
“I'll get you, Chambers!”
“Hoo Hoo Hoo.”
“Ha Ha Ha!!!!”
“Silence! What are you trying and failing to tell me, boy?”
“Please Sir, my sister is at the Girls' Grammar School and she says they don't have Kitty Chasm lessons there.”
“Yes Sir, did girls have to do Cataclysm in those days?”
“You know, Sir, those old days when they were asked 'What is your name N or M?'”
“Yes, of course they did.”
“Well, Sir, my brother says they could smoke and have sex when they were twelve.”
“Could they ride motorbikes?”
“Ha Ha Ha!!!”
“Please Sir, Watmough's dead, Sir.”
“Yeah, he's gone rigid.”
“He's starting to stink.”
“There's flies crawling all over him.”
“There's maggots coming out of his earholes!”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!”
“Philpotts, go and yet your detention register.”
“But I'm Philpotts, Sir.”
“All right. You boy that seem to be intent on trouble-making. What is your name?
“N or M, Sir.”
“Ha Ha Ha!!”
“Get me your detention register at once, and you will be the first in it.”
“If your name isn't Philpotts, what is it?”
“Ha Ha Ha!
Noises of bowel motions, cisterns emptying, basins flushing, farting.
“I'll keep you all in after school if I have any more of that. Now where were we?”
“Please Sir, we were discussing N or M, Sir.”
“Don't be silly, boy. We dealt with that last term.”
“Please Sir, I only joined the school this term.” (He didn't).
“Please Sir, I've been trying to tell you. If they could get married when they were twelve, surely N means their first name and M means their married name”.
“Ha Ha Ha!”
“You boy. Yes, you. The one who's grinning like a baboon. Do you suppose you will ever be married?”
“Why are you so definite?”
“Please Sir, I'm going to have a big house with a woman in every bedroom.”
“I suppose you will do the rounds every night.”
“No Sir. There will be a bell in every room and I will ring for the one that I want.”
“How absurd. What woman would agree to such an arrangement?”
“That's what my dad does.”
“Please Sir, if the girl was married then surely M means her Maiden name.”
“There's not many maidens in Watford.”
“Ha Ha Ha!!!”
Sound of school bell. I have not yet mastered the art of immediate recovery from suspended animation. I have low blood pressure, a reduced heart rate, a pallid complexion, and I mumble and walk with difficulty. Fortunately nobody notices in the general scrum.