I was twelve when I got my first detention, and I remember the moment vividly. I had rolled up a piece of scrap paper and threw it across the room into the bin. Mr. Cooper had then swung round, apparently feeling the urge to needlessly persecute someone again, and exacted his vengeance upon me being seemingly the only person who had displayed any form of movement or vague misconduct. I remember exactly where I was sitting as he said the word ‘detention’, I remember his hand moving to fill out the blue form, I remember how I didn’t even say a word. I was shocked; detentions didn’t happen to me, I was a good boy. I think a lot changed that day.
When I’d arrived at Latymer Upper School the year before, I was in awe. It had a thousand students, a theatre, different subjects each taught in different rooms by different teachers, and there were fancy blazers. Although only a few steps down the road, it seemed a big step up from my primary school. There I’d passed each year simply plonked in one room, with my one desk, with our one teacher, doing stuff that I can’t for the life of me remember what it was except that it involved occasional group playings of the recorder. I’d been in some trouble at that school, having had to see the headmistress twice; once because I tossed a rock at a girl’s head (only as I was so malcoordinated and dyspraxic that I had never in a million years dreamed I would actually manage to strike her) and later because I had written on the same girl’s pencil case that she was a cunt (we had a history), though overall I don’t believe I’d ever been too unruly a student. However whatever rebellious streak did lay in me seemed to be instantly and completely zapped out by the vastness of this new operation that confronted me down the road. This place was the real deal, I thought, they had a huge staff, timetables, home work diaries, reputedly difficult entrance exams, financing, they had detentions. This wasn’t a place to mess about, I thought, I wanted to do well, I wanted to get to grips with the system, I didn’t want one of these detentions.
And I didn’t until that day, I didn’t for a full year and a half. I’d filled my homework diary, I completed all my tasks on time, and I got straight 1As in my report card. I wasn’t in awe of the system anymore, and I knew that I didn’t find this new level of schoolwork too hard, yet I’d still avoided that tiny blue card that had not even existed as a possibility in my world until I was 11, that thing I’d only known anything about from American TV shows. But then Mr. Cooper, in a move of irrational ill-temperament and injustice, signed my name to one of those blue sheets of paper, and in doing so, Mr. Cooper introduced me to a new life.
Mr. Payne monitored my first detention. He asked me to write an essay titled ‘the life of a ping pong ball’. I quite enjoyed the idea of the task at first, perhaps for its creativity, though in the end I think I just filled a piece of paper with the repeating words ‘backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards’ and handed it in at the end of the hour. Despite the monotony of the content I was masterminding, the time passed by quite quickly. There was a sense of community in that room. The boys I shared the time with were from different years and forms, and though I’d barely if at all spoken to any of them before, I’d known them all by reputation. Some of them were dopey, some of them had a certain swagger that you couldn’t help but notice, most of them were known to smoke weed. They were cool kids, and they took turns to ask the teacher ridiculous questions in a certain and shared jestingly-whinging and charismatic fashion, usually to the laughter of the rest of the class. The teacher would maybe join in with some funny and damning quips himself, up until a point where he’d then silence everyone viciously, deeming it’d gone too far. We were there to be punished after all. I gradually raised the confidence to join in myself, and savoured the feeling of causing disruption and the resultant laughs from the rest of the class. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I enjoyed the hour, but I certainly didn’t mind it too much. And in that realisation, the last controlling element the school had against me was taken away.
Skip forward some months later, and Mrs. Mawkoski decides to give me a detention and the class then begins to snigger. They know the deal now. She asks me what day I can do, Tuesday? No, I have a detention already that day, I say. Wednesday? No that day too. Thursday? This continues, me hmming and delivering my answers with upmost consideration and in a manner most serious, as if this were my profession, as if I were a doctor scheduling in a patient. The class is laughing, and I’m milking the responses for my audience, all the way up until the climax in which I finally unveil my hand; an eclipsing fan of blue slips from my upper blazer pocket that I peruse while licking my fingers. My punchline gets the respect it deserves, before the scene cools down and I finally schedule another blue slip to add to my ever-growing joke. I’d quickly come to enjoy little moments of being the centre of attention, being able to disrupt classes and make people laugh, and I didn’t mind the feeble punishment it would ever warrant me with. My grades were still good, and in fact I even went on to achieve the prestigious and illusive 5A not once, but twice, where A was the highest score for attainment, and 5 was the lowest you could get for effort.
The above may give the impression that I was thus on my way to becoming somewhat popular at school, one of the cool kids like those I shared my after school reprobations with, but that never really came to fruition, school’s a funny place like that. During detention time, I felt I commanded some liking and vague respect from the others, who probably knew I could be relied upon to provide some entertainment for the hour. However when the door closed and we were set free, we all parted our separate ways with our own groups (where mine was a group of one), as if nothing that happened in there ever counted. Because it didn’t, not in there, not in the classroom, not in the playground; no matter their actions, unpopular kids remain powerless to change their situation for their whole school life. This isn’t to say I was unpopular, more just an enigma, I was Sam, that guy, and like anyone else in any position, I remained powerless to change this for my whole school life. I did try however, and I did have friends, but I remember the frustrations and illogicalness of it all trying to break into some upper echelons of the school hierarchy. Back then, cooler, rebellious kids would sit next to me in class often, knowing that I would be fun, up for joining in their games and continuing and indeed upscaling them, and later the more jockey, stereotypically popular types would sometimes make remarks that I was funny, and they should hang out with me more often. But of course that’s where it ended, these comments and situations were as high (the peak if you like) as I would get in my climb, and I never did hang out with any of them more often. For some reason, school politics just never really changed.
Looking back, it’s hard to say if this sudden burst of disruption was born out of some craving for validation, or if just all along it had been more just intrinsic to my personality behaving in that way. When I talk about myself now and – less recently – think of any antics at University, I can say quite safely that I feel my actions are a result of the latter. That’s why I’m self employed, to quote a cliche of misunderstood rebels without a cause; I have a problem with authority. Which of course is just another way of saying I can’t pull my act together enough for authority not to have a problem with me. Though even back then at school, I like to quite adamantly believe that I was above the hollow and demeaning endeavour of sacrificing myself to please others, and instead, I would have myself and you believe I was only sacrificing myself to please myself. I can even find good evidence to support such a claim in my runnings-in with the late book some many years ago now.
It had taken about a month and a half until I was finally reprimanded by Mr. Hammond, the head of lower school, and the delightful eccentric. Well, the delightful eccentric underneath; he only allowed himself to show this side to students once they were old enough to be trusted with other devices than fear as a primary method of control. Until you reached that age, he was nothing else but that teacher you absolutely did not fuck with, the most intimidating known to a young schoolboy, and a young schoolboy I was when he grabbed me. He seemed to expect me to be seething with guilt that time he took me outside the classroom, as if the grandeur of my crime would leave me constantly fretting its inevitable catch up, that I’d have been looking over my shoulder like a jew in Nazi Germany. But in truth, the incident had been going on so long that I had pretty much forgotten that it might be carrying any significance and in turn was genuinely unable to answer his look that told me you know why you’re here. Gauging my confusion, he proceeded to pull out the school late book. I now knew why I was there.
‘January 10th, late, arrival time: 9:15’, he started, ‘Reason; chased by a dog, signed, Sam Lynn-Evans’. He glanced down to the writings of the next day. ‘January 11th, late, arrival time 9:20… reason; chased by same dog’, he stared at me solemnly. ‘January 14th, late, arrival time 9:18, reason; took a new route to school through park, but dog of before appeared. Chase ensued’. There was a long pause. He then remarked, ‘Sam, surely being chased by a dog would make you faster to school?’ It seemed a half joke, but I knew I definitely wasn’t allowed to laugh. ‘No Sir, I have to lose him,’ I doubt I ever intended this as any kind of actual plea to legitimise what I had written, but instead perhaps it just served as a last ode to my ongoing facade, punishment at this stage was unavoidable. He continued to read my next 15 entries or so, most of them involving different dog situations, with a couple of variations, the only other one I particularly remember being ‘I kept tripping over’. For me the significance of this tale in that I wrote all those reasons knowing no other student would ever see it, vaguely knowing somewhere that it would cause me some great trouble later, but continuing to do so because it made me laugh every morning. And that was it, it was all my way of making myself laugh, it was who I was, it was how I came to live my life. Mr. Hammond relieved me of the half-day break the rest of the school would receive next Friday for being late so often, and to top it off gave me a 3 hour Saturday detention for the reasons. I never regretted it.
It was one year later when Mr. Cooper (successfully) requested to the school that I should be banned from even considering taking Religious Studies and Philosophy as a GCSE choice and A level choice respectively. The joke was on him though, as I wanted to do real subjects anyway. He was the only teacher to ever petition for the outright banning of me picking his subject, and I doubt he’ll ever know that it may have been his unjust detention that gave birth to the boy he deemed so beyond the hopes of his educations.
By the time GCSE years arrived, I’d calmed down quite substantially though, and by the time A levels arrived I was just bored. It was this latter emotion that actually lead to my most unruly years. To be continued.