15 November, 2007

Isn't it Lovely, Kicking up Leaves!

On Sunday, I met up with a pal and spent the afternoon strolling through Hyde Park and Green Park. Hype Park is full of interesting birds - black swans, Canadian geese, mandarin ducks - and a flock of seagulls whose attempts to flashmob the pond were royally honked off until they took refuge elsewhere.

'Isn't it fun - kicking up leaves,' I said to my walking companion, and suddenly remembered that this was the refrain from a poem I learned in infants school over 30 years ago. I've just tried to look it up on the net and couldn't find anything, so I searched for "kicking up leaves"+poem and found that somehow, I'd remembered 'fun' where it should be 'lovely'. Hmmm.

Anyway, here's the poem. None of it rings any bells with me apart from the last line (and I got that wrong too!):

'October' by Rose Fyleman

The summer is over,
The trees are all bare,
There is mist in the garden
And frost in the air.
The meadows are empty
And gathered the sheaves--
But isn't it lovely
Kicking up leaves!

John from the garden
Has taken the chairs;
It's dark in the evening
And cold on the stairs.
Winter is coming
And everyone grieves--
But isn't it lovely
Kicking up leaves!

I was taught that my Mrs Swift [edit - my Mum tells me that it was 'MISS' Swift, which I wanted to call her originally, but somehow thought she was a Mrs], headmistress of my infants school and later headmistress of the primary school when the infants and juniors were amalgamated (which I'm guessing was the first five-sylable word most of the children ever learned). I remember her as a rotund, jolly woman who all the children adored.

One time, there'd been some incident or other and she had me and another boy outside the class to decide what the truth of the matter was. Now, I was a horrendously honest child - it got me into trouble a few times until I learned that sometimes honesty equates to being a 'grass'. I remember that on this occasion, my version of events was he true one, but the other boy, Andrew, was insisting that he was entirely blameless. Miss Swift (who must have only been five feet tall, but then towered over us six-year-olds) said to Andrew 'look me in the eyes and tell me what happened.' I was surprised to see that Andrew seemed incapable of looking her in the eyes as he kept glancing back to the scene of the crime and pointing. How odd, I thought. Surely he realises that all he has to do is look straight into her eyes and say what happened? It came to my turn, and I looked her directly in the eyes, lowered my voice to make it distinct from Andrew's shrill protestations and told her that I was blameless and it was Andrew who had transgressed.

Then Andrew started to cry. As his story looked more and more shakey, Miss Swift quietly encouraged him to confess the truth. Eventually, the boy was in some distress and I was told to return to my class.

Now, that might have taught me the key to a good lie is all in the performance, but the fact that I'd been telling the truth just made me feel grateful that I'd been believed. Maybe that's why I've never had much patience with liars.

A similar situation happened with my one-time best friend, James, who'd asked me to go and kick Sarah, a girl in our class. He was my best friend, and I was loyal - so I did. She told the teacher and once again, I found myself outside the class having to explain my actions. This time, however, I'd actually done the thing I'd been accused of. The thought of denying it never occurred to me. 'Why did you do it?' asked Miss Swift. 'James told me to,' came the reply. She turned to James. 'I didn't,' he said.

I couldn't believe that he could lie so convincingly, and this time it was me that got upset, maybe because I was confused that he would lie about it. He hadn't actually done anything wrong, yet he was lying about being the instigator. Again came the question - 'why did you do it?' Again came the reply, and James's counter-claim.

I came home late from school that night and my Dad was angry for keeping them waiting (and probably hiding his fear that something had happened to me). I can picture all of this so clearly even now. I was sat on my parents' bed and my Dad asked me to tell him what happened. When I explained everything, he told me off for just doing what someone had asked me without thinking about it, and I suspect this must have been the first time I heard the 'would you put your hand in the fire if he asked you to?'

(On a later occasion when someone asked me that question, I managed to find the wits to reply 'No, because I already know what the consequences would be, which I didn't in this instance'. As well as being honest, I've always been a smart arse.)

So, my Dad told me that all I had to do was to stick to my version of events.

The next morning, I was summoned to the headmistress's office along with James. As before, I told her James had told me to kick Sarah, and added that I knew it was wrong, but I felt that Sarah must have upset James, and I was sticking up for him, and that I'd now realised my mistake was to be so trusting.

Then she came to James. 'Is this true?' '... yes, Miss. I told him to kick Sarah.'

Miss Swift grabbed us both in her arms and gave us both a huge hug, relieved that I'd been telling the truth the whole time, and that James had confessed. It seemed she was more worried about there being a liar in her class than a random kicker. When I got home that night, Miss Swift had clearly phoned my parents and told them the good news, as I didn't get chance to tell them my side of the story as they already knew.

And all of this came back to me on Sunday - as vivid as if I'd filmed the events back then and just rewatched them projected on a wall. I wasn't an angel - as an only child, the excitement at being in a room full of other children was sometimes a bit too much for me and I was constantly told off for chatting. And of course, in primary school, there was the incident where I put a condom on the school piano - something my Mum never refers back to, strangely. But generally, I think the teachers liked me. And I adored them too.

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