Life, Living, Becoming...
Gerry Coughlan

  Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Let me tell you some things that used to happen when I was still in Low Babies and High Babies (Grades 1 and 2). The almost common thread here is the School Hall but first a few paragraphs about those first significant months of schooling.

I remember how, in winter, the cloakrooms would smell to high heaven, with all the wellington boots left out to dry and to "air" as we shuffled around in our normal shoes. Some poor souls in their slippers.
You can't keep your wellingtons on all day. Your feet will suffer, later in life. You'll get chilblains. or was it frostbite or just smelly feet?

And the tapestry of all the different coloured overcoats, duffel coats and plastic raincoats hanging in rows on their hooks.
Many's the day you walked to school in the dark looking for patches of ice to slide where some child had carefully poured some water, before going to bed, the night before.
When the bell went, we all had to line up and hold onto the shoulders of the person in front and choo-choo off to the toilet. That was interesting for about the first week; then you felt like you were catching the Eejit Express. We used to build up to quite a speed and the guy at the front often bonked his head on the wall before we came to a stop.
That's called Momentum, class.
You had to force yourself to "go". You would've needed a letter from your mother to disturb the teacher and "go" during class.
What's wrong with your bladder? The rest of the class don't need to go. NO! you can wait.
5 minutes later:
What are you fidgeting in your seat about? Go on to the toilet then. and BE QUICK.

They were always swopping us around as they found out who were the ones who were useless and who, of the class, were interested in their work. I had a girl sitting next to me for a while. Girls were called "mollies" and it was no term of endearment. The shouts of abuse that used to go up, a few short years later, after we'd been split up, and the bus would come past the mollies' school were spine-chilling.
Anyway this mollie had a huge lump of cotton wool, drenched in TCP, stuck in her ear. Some home remedy for some affliction, no doubt. It made me want to throw up.

On at least one afternoon a week, we were marched out to the school hall. It felt larger than an aircraft hanger and while the wind whistled around us, the hall echoed with the ill-disciplined footwork of a few classrooms full of uninterested, bored Irish Dancers. That's right. Just like Riverdance. Start them young. Bring them up with a love of their own culture and break their arms if they so much as move them.
Pinch the seams of your pants between your thumb and forefinger and don't move them at all. It's all in the feet. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Listen to the music!
Someone had grand ideas at the school. I recall putting my name down to play the bodhrán (drum you hold and play with a double sided short stick). Some smartarse tried to sign up to play the spoons. Me da showed me. The teacher was having none of it. Next you'll be wanting to play the comb, ye omadán (eejit).
Nothing came of the music lessons. I think they gave it up as a hopeless case. At some other school, in another part of the city, little boys and girls were hammering out a decent rhythm and would delight us all years later.
No, not you Flatley.

We had the odd afternoon fillum (movie) and while someone thought it was a big treat for us all, I recall them showing The 3 Stooges and me sneaking off home early. I hated The 3 Stooges. I guess I actually feared them. I just couldn't see the humour in all that face slapping. So while the rest of the school laughed their heads off, I felt guilty and left, long before the end.

I work in showbusiness. There's fek all glamorous about it but when did I first appear onstage in a performance? I'll tell you true.
We must have been in High Babies. We were all in clean, white long-sleeved shirts - except one poor unfortunate who only had a summer (short sleeved) shirt, freshly pressed grey shorts, long grey socks and dark shoes, arranged artistically on benches. You know the setup. It's used in schools all over the world: back row, standing on the bench (me); middle row seated on chairs and front row crosslegged on the floor.
Now until the night of the show, we thought we just sang the song and that was it. Oh hell, no! As we started the second verse, the Low Babies filed out of the wings slowly, one line from each side. They were dressed like us with one major exception: they were carrying huge cardboard stars, covered in tin foil, in front of them. They were dwarfed by the stars and couldn't see where they were going, and in trying to walk sideways were crashing into each other.
When the song finally finished a few stars had to get rescued from the wrong side of the curtain.

There's no business like show business.

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