A Hat On A Windy Day

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The tram ride into Collins Street was marked by people trying not to be blown into traffic and girls doing their best to maintain a bit of modesty as the wind was determined to show the world what colour underwear they had chosen for that day.

Sam often wore a hat, but not today.

He remembered the Dickens’ quote, There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.

Sam had enough problems — he wasn’t about to add embarrassment to the list.

When he arrived at Collins Street, there was a noticeable absence of pretty girls sitting at tables drinking coffee.

The wind had swept them away.

They sheltered behind glass and Sam didn’t like his women under glass, he liked them out in the open.

The elevator played its familiar rattly tune, and Dr Doug’s secretary gave her usual smile.

Sam had gotten used to her over the months, but this day he rediscovered her beauty. It’s funny how we get used to things we see every day. Sam’s detective senses were out of practice. There was a time when he observed through eyes that saw everything. It was one of the things that gave his writing such a sharp edge.

“We haven’t talked much about your writing Sam. Do you remember a time when it became clear to you that you would become a writer?” Dr Doug was having a good day. His first patient of the day showed a good deal of improvement from the previous week. Dr Doug’s ego was in full flight.

“No, I don’t. And I don’t mean that it is one of my lost memories, I mean that it was just one of the things that interested me, so I thought I would give it a try. It would make a much better story if there had been a Road to Damascus moment but that’s not how I do things. I just sort of find myself in it, and when I look back, it is difficult to see where it started. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to Scarlett; that was definitely a blinding flash.”

“I should think so. She’s amazing, and I really would have been disappointed if there was not a little lightening and thunder.

“Were you a stand out in English studies at school?” asked Dr Doug.

“Not at all. I guess I did okay. Mostly my marks were around the mid-seventies, which I guess were good but everyone around me was in the mid to high eighties, and beyond, so I didn’t stand out. I remember enjoying the subject, and I’ve always had ‘the gift of the gab’ as my mother would call it.

I had excellent English teachers all the way through high school, which helped. I liked them all, and I wanted to please them, so I guess that drove me on.

I remember one year in particular.

We were in a scholarship year, which meant that at the end of that year we would sit an exam and hopefully qualify for a government scholarship which would pay for some of our expenses for the next few years of schooling.

This was a really big deal as most of us came from working class homes where our tradesmen fathers were working overtime to put us through this private school. It wasn’t a private school in the sense that you see these days. It was definitely at the bottom rung, but we had uniforms, and there were school fees and books and sports equipment and stuff like that and most households were single income back then, so a scholarship was a big deal and our families were counting on the money. If we didn’t get it, there was a chance we would be out of school and placed in a trade. Most of the parents in that era wanted more for their kids. They wanted them to better themselves. These days ‘tradies’ make more money than bank managers but back then it was about moving up in society.

Middle class trumped working class, any day.

The school I went to might have been a private school, but it was full of boys from a very rough part of Melbourne. I’m amazed that the teachers were able to control us considering all that, but the reason it worked was that we were all terrified of our fathers. Dads didn’t take any shit in those days, and we knew that they were working all hours just to keep us at school, so we didn’t dare let them down.

The teachers would merely have to suggest that they might call in our parents and we fell into line.

This was a particularly tough era, and we had a long standing dislike of Preston Technical School, and the dislike was returned. The rivalry continues to this day and every decade, or so it boils up into a pitched battle. It happened when I was a junior. A couple of our students were walking to school [no one got driven to school in those days] and got jumped by a bunch of Preston Tech boys. The word went out, and a group of seniors and a couple of teachers went in the direction of Preston Tech and beat the shit out of anyone they could find. By the time the cops arrived, there were bruised and battered teenagers as far as the eye could see. We received our seniors back at the school as the Romans would have back in the day. Those boys achieved legendary status, as did the teachers who went with them. It was an amazing time to be alive.”

“So how did the scholarship year work out?” asked Dr Doug.

“Most of us made it through and those that didn’t left the school. That was how the school maintained its academic record, and I’m sure that it happens even today. If a boy were not achieving the required marks, there would be a meeting arranged with his parents and the next thing you know he leaves school and starts work at the Railways.

I lost a lot of mates that way.

It put us all on notice that we could be next.

I worked out that in year eight, the scholarship year, I had a wide circle of friends numbering around forty boys. By the time I fronted up for the first day of year twelve, they were all gone — every single one. I was the only one left.

We had a good teacher, but I forget his name. He was a big bloke, and I mean ‘big’. Teachers were allowed to cane you in those days, and many of them did. We liked this bloke, but he would get tough if he had to and the teachers we had in the scholarship year were under pressure as well, particularly the English teacher.

I’m sure that the only reason I passed that year was because the scholarship exam was in the form of multiple choice questions. We had never seen this type of exam before, and I loved them. I guess it was the future detective in me but if I didn’t know the answer I could still work out which was the highest probability by eliminating the answers that were obviously wrong.

Worked like a charm.

I romped it in.

Our English teacher would give us a passage from a book, and we would have to know the meaning of every word in that passage. Naturally, most of us didn’t study the passage, and if you were asked to define a word and couldn’t do it, you got the cane; and it hurt.

At that time there was a student in our class who had transferred in from another school (probably a posh private school which he had most likely been kicked out of). I liked him a lot. He was incredibly bright but didn’t seem to care much. He wore shorts when the rest of us would not be seen dead in them, and he loved to play marbles, again not something that our age group did anymore. He did what he wanted to and didn’t care what we thought.

I really liked that.

I sat next to him in some of the classes, and I was fascinated that he could name every sail on a fully rigged sailing ship.

We alway sat next to each other during these define the word sessions, and we had a Kamikaze pact going whereby we would not study for this exam but would instead ‘wing it’ and try and work out what the word might mean from the context of the sentence.

We also worked out that if we appeared eager to answer, we would not be called on straight away. So we put our hand up right from the start, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.

It worked like a charm.

Some poor kid, who didn’t have his hand up would get called on, would get it wrong and would get belted. We would put our hand up and admit that we didn’t know either but we thought it sounded like it should mean ‘this’ based on the context of the sentence. Even though we may not have gotten it right, we never got walloped. I guess he didn’t want to dampen our enthusiasm or he admired our courage.

This boy and I had our own competition going on. The first to get caned would lose that round. This never happened so we would then count how many correct ‘guesses’ we got and I remember keeping pace with this kid and beating him regularly even though he was heaps brighter that I was.

His dad was a doctor, which was rare at our school. No high flying dads to be seen, strictly working and lower middle class. Although one of my mates had a dad, who drove a Jag and worked in the city. But he didn’t have a mum so in our eyes that made him someone to feel sorry for.

A couple of my mates and I tried to tutor the doctor’s son because he was so far behind due to not caring, and he did make an effort, but he didn’t pass, and his doctor dad took him away from the school, and we never saw him again.

I still think about him, and I remember those word sessions with great fondness. I hope life treated him well.”

 

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