Biographical Non-Fiction posted August 7, 2015


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memories from a long career

Forty-Six Years of Fun

by mfowler


Sixteen Tuesdays. Then that's it; I hang up my spurs, clean out the locker, collect the gold watch, and ride over that ole clichéd hill into the sunset. Yes, the big 'R' is upon me. I'm retiring, leaving teaching.
 
Forty-six years of educatin' them little critters what needs ta learn, or more precisely forty-six years of learning about, and from, thousands of delightful young people who have shaped my adult life.
 
This essay is devoted to a random collection of happenings that made me laugh over the years. They are chosen from a fast-rusting memory, so the details may have been blurred or even exaggerated. I hope you find them as amusing as I did at the time...sometimes a little while later.
 
***
 
The Knighthood Revoked
 
On my second day on the job at an outer suburban school in Brisbane, Queensland, in 1970, a freckle-faced eight-year old named Pryce Surplus (truly) came up to me and announced, 'Mr Fowler, Sir.'
 
'How can I help you, Pryce?'
 
'My mother she says I don't have to call you Sir.'
 
As a nineteen year-old chalkie who was greener than the school's emerald uniform, I had enjoyed the pompous title for the first two days of my career.
 
'Pryce, you know the men go by that name at our school. It shows you must respect your teacher.'
 
'My mother says, until she sees a picture of you getting knighted by a king or queen, I'm not to call you Sir, 'cos you're not a knight.'
 
With no way out of that argument, I replied, 'Tell her, her Pryce is right.'
 
'Yes, Sir. I'll do that.' He walked off happily convinced he'd bested me.
 
I haven't asked any child to call me 'Sir' since that encounter.
 
***
 
Superhero Saves Dog
 
In 1973, I was the first male teacher ever at the little convent school which employed me in Perth, Western Australia. I taught a delightful class of 38 students who 'loved me'. It helped being young and the entire class being female. I was also the school sports teacher which gave me extra kudos.
 
One day, a Year 6 girl brought her dog to school for a special Pets Parade.
 
'Mr Fowler, Mr Fowler,' cried a distraught Carolyn. 'My dog is choking. He's dying, Mr Fowler. Help him. Hurry up. You can do anything.'
 
I rushed outside failing to mention my phobia about dogs. When super-heroes are called on, it's the least he or she can do, not to mention foibles.
 
The poor animal was coughing and writhing around in great pain. X-ray vision informed me that the dog had something in its throat.
 
Without thought for personal safety, I donned my cape and dashed into the fray. The dog cried out in agony as I pried its jaws apart, ascertained the presence of a foreign object in its airway, reached down its throat and extracted a small bone jammed sideways in the behind its tongue.
 
'YEAH!' screamed the class.
 
'Oh, Mr Fowler, you're my hero,' said Carolyn, hugging me.
 
The pooch shook himself off, coughed and urinated on my new shoes. The shine was definitely off the moment, but my quick thinking only added to my status.
 
The children behaved really well for a whole day.
 
The Chihuahua lived a long and happy life. I was no closer to loving dogs.
 
***
 
Be Careful Where You're Looking
 
In 1974, I took the class to Perth Zoo.  Parents supervised small groups and we went our separate ways to answer worksheet questions about the animals.
 
It was a beautiful day and I was really enjoying the monkeys as they flipped and zipped around their purpose-built enclosure. I rarely relaxed on excursions as there were so many things that can go belly-up. The zoo seemed a safe enough option. The animals were secure in their enclosures, weren't they?
 
'Mr Fowler, come quickly, Megan's in trouble.' Carly tugged me by the arm and all measure of calm disappeared. My super-hero self was being called into action, but I really had no idea how a young fool with a clipboard and a First Aid kit was going to be of use at the tiger enclosure.
 
On arrival, I found a deeply disturbed parent helper and four girls crying inconsolably. I imagined a feline mauling, a child swallowed whole, or even a nasty gash on Megan's arm.
 
None of the above. Megan stood up, saturated and shivering. Carly butted in. 'The tiger peed all over her. She's covered in it.'
 
Chihuahua memories flooded back.
 
A mother wrapped a coat around the frightened child.
 
'She was watching the tiger backing up to the bars. He lifted his tail and Megan went closer.' Carly knew all of the horrid details. 'And then he let go, Mr Fowler. It was like a bucket of yellow water being thrown over her, except it kept coming. She was so scared, she screamed and froze on the spot.'
 
Megan's mother came and took the poor child home.
 
I banned students from inspecting animals with raised tails, and we continued on with the excursion, dry and wiser.
 
***
 
The Burglars
 
In 1976, I worked in a Marist Brothers College in inner suburban Adelaide, South Australia. I was the PE teacher and it was my job to organise a Sports Day on a Sunday.
 
I arrived at the school on Sunday morning at 6:30 am to gather equipment. As I entered the main building with one of my colleagues, we heard noises inside.
 
'Did you hear that?' whispered Ian.
 
'Sounds like TV.'
We crept to the Office/Staffroom area which was usually locked. The door was slightly ajar. The TV was on in the staffroom.
 
I had no super-hero status in this school. It was a high school. So bravery was out of the question. Suddenly, a figure emerged from the office carrying something.
 
'Stay still,' said Ian.
 
'Not going anywhere.'
 
'Hell, he's a kid.'
 
We could hear his voice above the TV. 'Time to go Glenys... Turn off the TV.'
 
Ian barged into the room. 'Stay right where you are.'
 
Glenys screamed. The whole saga suddenly seemed so comic, yet so sad.
 
We detained the two young teenagers until police arrived. They were too scared to make a run for it. Besides, we'd locked them in.
 
The boy told us he'd broken in to get money from the safe. Because their single mother was sick in hospital, he had charge of his Down's Syndrome sister. He took her along to the burglary and left her watching television while he robbed the place.
 
It was a touching, yet sad scenario.
 
I still smile when I think about how audacious and responsible that young burglar was.
 
***
 
Red-Faced
 
During the same year I made an assembly speech that I came to regret. My PE storeroom contained a locked-in compartment where I kept the best bats and balls. The students accessed the older supplies during breaks.
 
On this occasion, I'd found the side of the enclosure ripped open and realised that a lot of equipment had been pilfered.
 
I was angry. The students listened as I shared my displeasure.
 
'I demand to know who's been at my balls! Step forward if you've seen them or interfered with them in any way.'
 
It was bad enough that the teenagers broke into uproarious laugher, but when I saw the Headmaster and the teachers cackling in front of me, I blushed and left the stage immediately.
 
I heard about that for the rest of the year. A cartoon was submitted to the School Magazine committee alluding to my gaffe. I protested about its inclusion, but now look back on it with a sense of perspective.
 
I never did find out who'd touched my balls.
 
***
Missing Teacher!
 
In 1989, I began teaching in the beautiful coastal city of Port Lincoln, South Australia. It is a tourist, farming and fishing centre. The locals were a relaxed people; fishing, surfing, sport among their regular pastimes.
 
I was in class early one morning and the Year 9 group alongside me were making a dreadful noise. I walked in to find the group in uproar.
 
'Sit down everyone,' I insisted. 'Who is your teacher?'
 
'Mr Blaney,' said a girl from the back.
 
'Oh, he may be sick. I'll ring through for a reliever.'
 
'He's not sick,' said a scruffy, blonde youth in the front row. 'The wind's a South-Easter.' I looked at him, lost.
 
'The surf's good this morning. He'll be out on his board.'
 
I was flabbergasted. 'You mean he's surfing.'
 
'Hi, Mark.' Geoff Blaney, bleached hair still wet, wandered into the room. 'Good of you to take the class. Man, those breaks were awesome this morning. I'll take you out one day if you want.'
 
'Okay,' I said and returned to my class a little wiser to the ways of the locals.
 
***
 
Feline Nastipus
 
A few years ago, I accompanied a large group on a camp on the Murray River in South Australia. The location was on the banks of the mighty stream with views across to golden cliffs on the eastern bank.
 
The site was magnificent although the facilities were a little rustic. We all shared an amenities block a hundred metres from the dormitories.
 
One night, I got up at 2:00am and made my way through the darkness to the toilets. I heard whimpering a little way ahead.
 
I could see a Year 7 lad, who I knew had Asperger's Syndrome, standing in the half-light of the moon. 'Johnny, what's the matter, mate?'
 
'There's an animal out there. It won't let me go to the toilet.' He shook with fear.
 
'It could be a wallaby, a possum, maybe a stray sheep.'
 
'No.' He shook his head. 'I heard it. It's not any of those.'
 
'What if I walk you to the toilets and wait outside?'
 
'No, he'll get me.' Then, I heard the beast.
 
Meow!  The caretaker's black and white kitten strolled out from behind a tree. Johnny shook in fear.
 
'Keep it away from me.'
 
The kitten came to me and walked a figure of eight around my ankles. I stroked him gently. 'See, Johnny. He's harmless.'
 
The kitten repeated his act of cuteness on Johnny's trembling legs, meowed and looked up for a pat. With encouragement Johnny picked up the kitten and stroked it tentatively. 'I think he's my friend.'
 
Eventually we got to bed and Johnny became braver.
 
***
 
I have a thousand and one other fun memories to share.  To ensure I don't turn into one of those old codgers who live too much in the past, I'll leave you with those I've retold here.
 
Hopefully, life will still have its lighter side as I grow older. You never know, you may be reading tales from Mark's retirement on FanStory in 2025. Hope so.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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The image is of the view from the campsite on the Murray River that I spoke of in 'Feline Nastipus'.
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