M is for Monitor #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

I’m a changed man from the large boy who started at his primary school in September 1961. Back then I feared getting into trouble with anyone who could conceivably be considered to be ‘in authority’. These days, not so much. I also thrived on praise and still do. In truth I react well to criticism in the sense that I want to correct any wrong impressions, and not in the sense that I welcome it. Well, maybe that’s less true than once it was.

But back then, this led to a conundrum of sorts for 4 year old me. On the one hand, the best way to avoid trouble was not to be noticed. On the other to receive praise needed putting one’s head above the parapet.

Initially philosophy A held sway and I did the absolute minimum to ensure I  avoided the teacher singling me out in any way. But by the time I was into my third year of school and a still nervous 7 year old, I was just about robust enough to feel philosophy B might now be given an airing.

we towered over our contemporaries…

And this became the first ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment in my school life. I was indeed large for my age – my parents had this thing that calculated your adult height from your height aged 7 or so. Both the Archaeologist and I were destined for 6 foot 2 and yet have resolutely stuck at 5 foot 10 or thereabouts. So much for experts. And this meant it was assumed I was strong. Ha, what rot. I couldn’t even forward roll – even if I taught myself to do a cartwheel of sorts in later life.

And yet so it was that I was nominated ‘bench monitor’.

Oh the kudos. Being appointed to a monitor role was the primary equivalent of getting a gong. Everyday, after morning lessons ended and all the children were ushered into the playground I and one other (name forgotten with the years) were told to go to the dining room and help ‘get out the benches’. These six foot long seats had flip up legs at each end. We collected a bench, flipped the legs and placed them by the table. So long as you concentrated and avoided catching your fingers as the legs sprung into place it was a doddle. And weirdly, now I think about it, even though it meant we missed a few minutes of precious playtime we gloried in our role. We were the Business.

And then came the Shepherd’s Pie Debacle. It still sends chills through me. The monitor role had the reverse element too as we had to put the benches away. One day – a Wednesday, Shepherd’s pie was always Wednesday – this inedible plaster board and meat sauce was placed on my plate and I was doomed. I’d been having difficulty with the increasingly dry potato topping but just about managing to swallow it. This particular day I failed.

Not to finish your school dinner was a crime of gargantuan proportions. I mean if I had gone to the Head’s study, sung the Red Flag, farted on the Queen’s portrait and written ‘Mr Amos is a wally’ on his novelty tea cup I couldn’t have been in more trouble. And the punishment was severe and instant – I was made to go and stand in the corner of the dining hall facing the wall while everyone else filed out. No one said a word. As a result I wasn’t available to put the benches away so one of the catering staff had to help and word got back to my form mistress, Mrs Pritchard who asked me why, in front of the whole class. I had to relive the humiliation once more for her benefit only to be told that, if there was a recurrence she would have to find someone else to be monitor in my place ‘as I couldn’t be trusted to be reliable’.

my cute school uniform…

They certainly knew how to kick a man when he’s already down. What was I to do? I lived, in a pained silence as the week ended and the weekend slipped away. By Monday the upcoming Wednesday dinner began to loom large in my view.

Desperate times required desperate measures. There was nothing for it but to throw myself at the mercy of a notoriously immovable object when it came to me trying to quisling my way out of trouble. I had to ask mum to write a note.

The Writing of a Note was a huge thing. It had much the same impact as a Royal Pardon when you’ve received a death sentence. And the classic note ‘Please can Geoffrey be excused games’ needed at a minimum a leg amputation or strategically placed verruca to stand any chance of success. So the idea of a note asking to be excused Shepherd’s pie was beyond any precedent.

Maybe that’s what swung it; it was such an odd thing to want to avoid. But mum wasn’t unaware when I really really needed something. My terror must have been apparent because, bless her, she sat down and found some form of words to ask that because I had had real difficulty the previous week could I just have the vegetables? I have no idea what went into the note but I took it with me and, at the allotted time – when the register was being completed – I handed it to Mrs Pritchard.

Don’t think I was home free or that I even thought I was. She was a gorgon and a law unto herself. We’d all seen her dismiss notes from gullible parents before. So I laid it on her blotter and scuttled back to my seat. I watched, barely breathing as she read it and slipped it under the register. This had to be good news. Didn’t it? I mean she’d have called me out otherwise for some front-of-class humiliation if she was going to deny my plea.

At 12.10, my colleague and I waited while the class filed out so we could go and sort out the benches. Still nothing had been said. We finished and went to wait where the queues formed before going into the Hall. Still no word. It suddenly occurred to me that I needed someone in authority to tell the serving staff ‘not’ to give me Shepherd’s pie. If I said I was let off it, they’d just laugh and give me a bigger portion. Was this her way of denying me? Why hadn’t I seen that coming?

We snaked forward with no sign of anyone prepared to interject on my behalf. How could this be happening?

Then two things occurred. The queue I was in entered the dining room and I could see, for the first time, those children who had collected their meals. It was meat pie, with lots of gravy and not a scintilla of crusty mash to be seen. I liked meat pie; I loved the pastry soaked in gravy.

Oh frabjous day, Callooh, Callay!!

As I stepped across the threshold Mrs Taylor, on duty that day stopped me. ‘So you don’t want the dinner, Geoffrey? Come with me and we will get you some vegetables.’

What could I say? It’s all a mistake? The problem doesn’t extend to meat pie? Ok, so I was 7 but I knew better than to try and unpick what I’d started. I went with the vegan option and maybe that’s one reason why I still eat meat, because I can.

I suppose it was a fair exchange; I kept the monitor job, I didn’t have to eat that godawful MDF masquerading as food and I’d learnt that, in extremis, mothers are always there for you and they understand when it REALLY matters.

Later when I was 10, I took on the heavy and terrifying role of milk monitor but that, well, that’s for another time…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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11 Responses to M is for Monitor #atozchallenge

  1. willowdot21 says:

    Some many types of Monitor under your belt I think the keeping the head below the partpit was not your role..
    Milk monitor wool! I don’t think i ever got any title at school! 🤗☺💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, and the pictures add to the story.
    Stopping by from A to Z: M for Magic Mike

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ritu says:

    Oh His Geoffleship!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth says:

    I remember the little miniature milk bottles we used to have at break time in primary school – in the harsh Scottish winters the milk used to freeze in the crate, causing a frozen plug of milk to rise up out of the bottle neck, with a little silver foil cap on top – what fun! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      One third of a pint! We had one boy who was intolerant and had a bottle of apple juice, I was so envious! All dropped by Maggie when education minister in the early 70s bless her cotton socks…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I never seemed to have any problem with school dinners and and often went bacck for seconds! What a mean trick though denying you the meat pie (that was one of my favourites)!
    I was a monitor at school for a little while and had a badge which i would pin proudly on my jumper! Didn’t last long though as we moved and i changed schools!

    Liked by 1 person

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