When I think back to my time in the mid-1970s at Holy Child Primary School in Andersonstown in West Belfast I often conclude that the principal qualification for teaching most staff there had was either a hatred of children or a psychopathic desire to do them physical and mental harm. (I am not joking by the way).
Children were hit for any reason, or indeed no reason at all. Once a female teacher dragged me off the ground for a good ten metres by hair alone. My crime was to have, at a school sports day at Casement Park, to have got out of my seat to have congratulated a school mate. No circle of hell is hot enough for people who treat 9 year olds in this way.
(Of course, at the age of 11 the system then went on to throw 75% of its victims on the scrapheap via the 11+ exam. I passed that and went on grammar school, one of the lucky ones. But I remember the waste of talent and the brutality of the system well enough to regard those who think it was some sort of golden age of order and social mobility with a mixture of pity and contempt.)
One of the little scams of our teachers – all of them, not just mine – was to naff off to the staff room for a cup of tea and a cigarette at morning break time having set us some work. The idea that the point of the break was to let the kids out into the playground seemingly never occurred. School was not for our benefit, after all. Failure to do the work, or to have done it badly would quite often result in a beating.
So one day my P6 teacher decided that the task we would all have to do was to write-up on how to tie our shoelaces (as you can see the task was predicated on the need for the teacher to have to make the minimal amount of preparation – sometimes we were simply told to copy out passages of school books). In truth, I did not know how to do this and the task caused more than a little panic. Frantically, experimenting and desperate, I managed to get it done.
And, whatever the reason, the way I learned to tie my shoe laces is, it would appear, the correct way.
When I read this column in the Guardian last night I thought the opposite, and so this morning tied one shoe in the way I have always done (at least since that day in 1976) and one in what I thought, from having read the linked website, was the “correct” way. Needless to say, after about half an hour of walking the shoelace on the “correctly” tied shoe was coming loose and that on the “traditional” side was still firmly fixed.