Saturday, June 09, 2012

Reading "crap"

Many years ago, me and my mum had just moved to Ireland, and I was facing the daunting prospect of a new primary school, new classmates, and a new teacher. I'd just turned 11, and was a voracious reader - thank you, mum, for that, and so much more. So I would much rather just re-read favourite books over and over, instead of revising, or memorising boring historical facts. This caused some friction between me and the teacher, Mr Crowley.

We'd already had a disagreement about one of my stories. He said it was really good (after everyone in the class had said it was hilarious) but that I shouldn't have used the phrase "little piles of dust", as piles aren't little, normally they're big. I argued that piles of dust could be any size, but he wouldn't have it, and marked me down.

One day, I was having trouble remembering some stuff from the recent history lessons, and Mr Crowley was getting frustrated. He knew I liked reading and writing stories, and asked me what my favourite book was. "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," I replied, without hesitation. I had the book with me, and showed it to him. He started reading from one of the pages - the bit where Ford tries to convince Mr Prosser to swap places with Arthur. He read out the first sentence, and told me to continue - but from memory.

I was proud to oblige, as I'd read it about ten times in the past year or so, and knew I could do it. I recited the rest of the scene from memory, pretty much word for word. Mr Crowley nodded, and I felt like I'd done something right. But it was a trap! He said "so how come you can memorise that crap, but not your school work?"

He wasn't expecting a reply, and I didn't have one for him, apart from "dunno, sir". I was really embarrassed, he'd made me look stupid in front of my new classmates. He had a point, of course. I *was* supposed to be learning the historical facts. But it was still a bit mean. He was a brilliant teacher most of the time, and I looked up to him, until that day.*

So on the off chance that he's still alive and reading this, or even if he's not, I'd like to answer properly now:

Dear Mr Crowley,

The reason I could memorise "that crap" and not my school work, was because "that crap" was important to me. It meant something. It took me away from my life and into an exciting world where anything could, and often did, happen. It inspired me to tell my own stories, to believe that there was something out there worth striving for, to hope that one day, I might be able to get my own "crap" published, maybe even "crap" that would be memorised by some other daydreaming kid.

And because it made me happy. It still does.

So there's your answer, Mr Crowley. You had a point, I wasn't the best pupil, but bollocks to you for telling a kid that a book he clearly loved was "crap", especially a kid that actually read books for pleasure**. By the way, I really like history now, and can recite lots of it from memory. What does that tell you about your history classes??

Yours sincerely or faithfully or whatever, I don't care what the correct sign off is, AND my handwriting is still terrible, so nyerrrr,

The weird, tiny British kid from 5th Class***


* He also started making me read out passages of Irish, so that everyone could laugh at my inability to pronounce any of it.
** One of the non-book-reading kids took exception to me being British, so he started calling me "Nigger". At the time, I didn't know what it meant, but I was still pretty sure he'd got his insults mixed up somewhere.
*** The rest of the kids were actually really nice and welcoming. One of them even taught me how to swear properly, because I only knew a couple of swear words. He taught me how to combine them, and when it was appropriate to say each phrase. Thank you, Martin Coomey, you were brilliant.