Pause for Thought

Dear Reader – please see I Corinthians 13 verses 1 – 13
“School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick……..”
We don’t all have such dewy-eyed memories of our school days as the song suggests. Like all human experience there are good and bad times, highs and lows, happy days and bad days; true, there is freedom from earning a living but, by the same token, lack of money restricts the choice of independence which money (and adulthood) brings.
My favourite time at school was the morning assembly – this was school life on an epic scale when almost the entire school population would gather. Escaping from the freezing playground, boys and girls gathered in serried ranks, according to age and gender, in the huge school hall to begin the day with “a corporate act of worship”. There was something militaristic about the event, boys “wisely” divided from girls by a wide central corridor, the youngsters at the front, the old lags towards the rear, prefects mounting guard around the edges. As we entered the soporific heat of the hall, we were met by “Brother” Brian, doyen of the R.E. Department (hence the epithet “Brother”) playing the grand piano at the front of the hall like a contender from the Leeds Piano Festival. Brian was a gifted pianist and treated the assembly to gentle classics from the likes of Chopin, Rachmaninoff or Debussy – ah, the number of times he rendered The Rustles of Spring even while snow was on the ground (presumably he was day dreaming of his next Easter holiday caravanning in Norfolk!).
Then, the tune and atmosphere changed. Out went Rustles of Spring to be replaced by a business-like march – yes, the staff were to make their entrance and it was time to be duly intimidated. March of the Gladiators meant business and we knew that respect was due.
Each teacher was a celebrity to us. Mr Jenkins, head of History, wore his cap and gown with pride. Overweight with a rolling gait, his over-large gown amplifying the whole, he reminded one of a Spanish galleon limping home from the defeat of the Armada. Miss Chambers, bright young thing from the English Department, tons of makeup, a new outfit every day, perfectly balanced on her high stiletto heels, hated and loved in equal measure by the older teenage girls. She left her mark on the school in those stilettos, much to the despair of the caretaker! Mr Coulson, from Science, badly scarred after a car accident, bedecked in a Harris Tweed jacket, leather patched at the elbows, looked as though he had tangled with six gangsters in a knife fight and won – he never had any discipline problems! With the arrival of head and deputy, the staff filled the school stage and the service began. A couple of hymns were sung, with a bible reading interspersed, followed by the notices.
On one occasion Paul Stow, John Towriss and me had our own important business to attend to and, under the sound screen of the second hymn, took the opportunity to dispose of same. Caught for talking in the hymn by a prefect downwind, we were sent to the front to be scowled at by the assembled staff and await our punishment. Oh, the shame of it!
Mr Graham (Geography) was short. “How will you gain knowledge by not listening in school?” he grimaced. “You will each learn by heart this morning’s reading and come to my room before afternoon school to repeat it. You will stand in the corridor outside the Head’s Office at morning and lunchtime break to learn it – I think he will know why you are there! Collect a bible each as you leave the hall.”
Well, not an unreasonable punishment, so we picked up our bibles and joined our class in their first lesson. At morning break we dusted off the bibles and got ready to learn the reading. Then confusion struck – what was the reading? John said, “I think it was all about being blessed.” Paul said, “There was something about a trumpet and cymbals.” A quick skim through took us to I Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 1 onwards which begins, Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. “Yes,” we all decided, that was the reading. Confident we set to with a will and learnt the first eight verses.
Looking back, one can appreciate the value of charity, which in this context concerns expressing warmth, generosity and kindness in our dealings with others. In later years when I studied E.M. Forster’s novel ‘Passage to India’, a similar resonance is found, as Forster warns that For the want of a smile an Empire was lost. At this moment in international relations it would be well to note that a “charitable” approach is probably necessary to achieve satisfactory results.
However, to continue my anecdote.
Looking appropriately humble and ashamed – great character acting – we went to Mr Graham’s room at the duly appointed time. “Well,” he began in appropriately censorious tone, “I hope you now know the reading, or you will miss your next breaks until you do. Stow, find the reading and pass it to me. Take a verse each: Gannon, you do the first, then Stow, you take the next and so on.”
So we each recited the readings. We had done the task well and Mr Graham was satisfied. “If you talk again in Assembly, you won’t just be asked to learn the reading but the hymns as well,” he glowered. “Get out of my room.”
Free to consort with our peers, we were asked how the reciting had gone. “Well, not too bad,” I responded and gave a brief rendition of verse 1. The saintly Pete Grant, a very gentle teenager, who one could assume might seek a career in the Church, gave a quick snort. “That wasn’t the reading,” he smiled. “What we had was from St Mark’s Gospel, not Corinthians”. Perhaps a certain teacher had not been listening in Assembly either!
May God’s Blessings be received by All
Andrew Gannon