Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sally sticks and humiliation

Not to speak ill of the dead, much ... but since the 'Ould Scal' chronicles have been raised in a recent 'Bridge' story, there's been a spate of stories going the rounds about her.

One is about the time she died, and the brother of one of her former pupils rang to tell him that she was on her way to her native Kerry for burial.

"Are you sure she's dead?" he was asked.

"Yep. Gone. Headed for the graveyard tomorrow."

There was a momentary pause at the other end.

"Right," the former pupil said. "You go out to Spollens tomorrow and order 20 tons of concrete. I'll pay for it. Then have it sent down after her to Kerry and fill her grave with it. No matter what pull she might have with the man above, He'll never be able to rise her on the Last Day."

I have memories of my own of Ould Scal.

I was rarely one of her victims. Scal was many things, with sadism and vindictiveness among her traits. But she was above all a snob, and her worst depredations were reserved for her poorer pupils. My parents were in business, so I was not on her radar for ridicule.

One of her regular things -- especially on a wet day -- was to say that somebody in the room was 'smelly'. She would line up a number of the 'suspects' at the back of the room (actually where Julie's desk in the Library is now) and walk behind them, sniffing loudly.

And she'd come up triumphantly with a 'culprit', always somebody who had probably had to walk in a distance in the rain. And never somebody who was a child of one of the more well off families in the community.

Scal liked to humiliate people. She got off on it, to use a modern expression. And she liked to beat them too. With sally tree switches.

I don't remember how she sourced the sally sticks. They were black and of a suitable length and she kept them 'seasoning' in an outside toilet reserved for the teachers in the school back yard.

She used them enthusiastically. And if, as often happened, such useage resulted in a broken stick, the unfortunate who it was broken on was sent out to the toilet to get another so the punishment could be completed.

That's just a taster of what far too much teaching in Ireland was at the time I grew up. There were people appointed to positions in charge of childern who never should have been.

It was part of a time of Ireland's life. That it was a bad time is no reason why it should be forgotten.

The good news is that, from the educational experiences of my own children, I know that all has changed since Ould Scal bit her last Kerry dust.

And I write this not out of spite against her, but to salute those in charge of our children's education today who are the total anthitesis of what schools and the 'Scals' in Ireland used to be.

The cement mentioned at the beginning of this piece might not actually be holding her in her grave. But the kind of school experience that she represented is well and truly dead.

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