Tuesday, 25 March 2014


By Michael Bott

John Fenton was a geeky kid, with sticky out ears, rubbery lips, and blond hair that projected from his misshapen head like the bristles of a toothbrush. He was tall and lanky and made my life hell when I was 9 at school. What I didn't know was that he was an orphan and lived down the road at a foster house run by Mrs Black.

John found out that I was adopted, "Hey Bott ya bastard!" This taunt rang across the playground. Stung by this label - "what the hell was a bastard?" I responded with a feigned disinterest, "Aw shut up Fenton." The bell rang, back to class.

I was sitting in my class, when there was a knock at the door. A student who was acting as a runner had spoken to the teacher. Mr Milne looked at me. "Michael, Mr Scott wants to see you." I got up and didn't know why.

Mr Scott was the deputy principal, he lived at home with his mother, who was in her 80s. He drove the same car an old immaculately maintained Singer Vogue, and always wore a suit with a hand knitted vest. Once a week we held school assembly outdoors. All of us children would form lines, boys on one side, girls on the other and we would march into the asphalted central ground and line up in rows for inspection, in the middle of the baking heat of summer or the frosts of winter. Mr Scott would then address the school. "School attention!" We crack to alert, arms at our sides, backs straight and eyes ahead. "At ease!" That meant we stood with our arms behind our backs, legs apart, facing straight ahead. Teachers looked down the rows. I remember one occasion on a baking summer morning, when my mate Kevin couldn't cope with the heat, he fainted after half an hour in the sun. We broke rank to pick him up. "Leave him be! Attention!" Barked Mr Scott. So we left Kevin to bleed on the padder tennis court as Mr Scott continued to address the school. Messages over, national anthem sung, we were ordered to attention and turned as one, as we marched  back to our class rooms to an old recording of Colonel Bogey as it blared out over the school's loudspeakers.

I was sent by the school secretary to Mr Scott's classroom Room 5, packed full of standard 4 students - the biggest kids in the school. I knocked on the door and walked in. Mr Scott looked up from his desk and said, "Yes, what?" "I'm Michael, you wanted to see me?"

Mr Scott said "Yes, step out into the corridor." As he said this, he pulled open his desk drawer and grabbed a strip of thick brown leather. "Oh no, the strap!" As I turned to walk outside I saw the entire class look at me and smile "Dead man walking. What had I done?"

Mr Scott followed me out to the corridor, he glared down at me, "Well why did, you do it?" "Do what Sir? What do you mean?" I asked. I looked at Mr Scott, he glared down at me, as I looked into his face, I discovered that one of his blue eyes, was lifeless - he had a glass eye! 

Years later he told me, that in the Second World War, he and his best friend were resting in a shallow dugout. A Japanese grenade was thrown, his friend rolled onto the grenade taking the blast and losing his life. A piece of shrapnel took Mr Scott's eye. Damaged he came home, carrying the scars of a shattered youth he became a teacher and visited in turn his scars upon us.

This one eyed giant was now glaring down at me, demanding to know what I said and why? I had no idea what he was talking about and was scared, humiliated and began to cry. I asked for my mother,"Don't give me that mummy treatment!"  I wanted to talk to someone, to get some advice. What had I done? "Hold your hand out." I held my hand out. "Whack, whack, whack!" "Hold your other hand out, "whack, whack, whack". Mr Scott lifted the leather strap to his shoulder and bought it down on my open nine year old hands, for a crime, the facts of which I had no idea. 

After punishment I was told that I was getting the strap for swearing in the playground. "But I only said shut up, after I was called a bastard." "Well you should have told me that when I asked", was Mr Scott's reply. What could I say? I was scared and had no idea, what he was even talking about. The pain was nothing, what stung was the injustice of it and the reality that I was powerless to do a thing about it.

A couple of months's later I had forgotten about the shame of being strapped and our standard 3 class were having a choir lesson with Mrs Treecher in the school hall. We were singing Inchworm. "Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds.... " Two students away from me was John, he was mouthing the words, but no sound was coming out. "Silence!" Mrs Treecher demanded. "You, Snow" she pointed a finger at John, "come here!" "You weren't singing, were you?" "No miss" he grinned an embarrassed grin.

"Right, you think it's funny? Get on the stage and lie on your stomach!" For the rest of the choir lesson we were made to sing Inchworm again and again and again as John Fenton, orphan was made to grovel worm like from one side of the stage to the other as we stood and watched the spectacle of a child belittled because he annoyed a teacher. At first I delighted in the payback, but after two minutes I had had enough.

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