THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY
IN 1969, I had turned 11 on June 2 and on my first day of big school at St Mary’s College in September, I was a very small little boy. My first-day dress uniform blazer was almost bigger than me.
I had spent the whole drive from St Ann’s insisting that my parents were
not to walk me in –and was devastated when they dropped me at the corner of Frederick and Oxford Streets and waved goodbye.
It was a long, lonely walk through those tall grey iron gates and across the postage stamp football field. My best friends, Ricky Alonzo and Edwin Llanos, had passed for Fatima College. Only Eddie Moses had come from St Bernadette’s with me, and we weren’t talking because Linda Knaggs liked him, not me.
Almost everyone was a head taller than me. I looked directly into the belt buckles of Russel Dyer, Jesse Sudan and Celestine “Eric the Red” Smith. If not for Colin Lee, Derek Pena, Figgy Figuera and Shrimpy Da Costa, I would have been the shortest boy in form one. Pre-1970, Roger Toussaint had a fabulous ’fro.
But I knew not one of them that first day.
Despite parental advice, I had formed the conviction that a book bag would make me look like a schoolchild, so I was carrying, in my stick arms, a pile of text and copybooks that started at my waist and rose high enough to block my vision. My pencil case and my sandwich were balanced higher than my head, on top of the loose and shifting tectonic plate of books.
The stairs to Upper 1B were welded to a central steel beam, with gaps I could easily fall through at each riser. Near the top, my sandwich fell to the ground below. By the time I got my teetering books and tottering self to the desk marked in chalk with my name – boys arranged alphabetically, Jeremy Matouk and Derek Pena in the desk in front of the one I shared with Wayne Phillip – and raced back down the stairs, my sandwich had vanished.
Later I saw a boy from Lower 2C eating it with delight.
I had to sit on my desk to be able to put on the lock, the first key I’d ever owned. I’d dismissed my elder QRC brother’s suggestion of a strap attached to my belt to keep my key safe and, before school even started, Bertie Gomes, head boy of the junior school, had to cut my lock open with a bolt-cutter. At Christmas, three locks-and-keys later, my exasperated father gave me a combination lock he said was a Christmas present to him.
A bewildering succession of giants, all men, not one lady teacher – the polar reversal of my primary school – entered the classroom when the bell rang and shouted at us. The first berated us for our massed, “Good mornnnnn-innnnng Sirrrr” and we said good morning to a teacher no more forever.
Bertie Gomes came back to Upper 1B at recess for us to elect a class prefect and vice prefect. An imperfect understanding of the role led me to stand on my desk and shout – the only time I spoke that day – “Vote for me, fellas!” Jeremy Matouk, in the first of many displays that he was not to be outdone by anyone, jumped onto his desk and directed the fellas to vote for him instead. Gomes marched us to the Dean of Discipline, Father Knox (by Night, a dark-skinned Trinidadian priest, distinguished from his white counterpart, Father Knox by Day).
So I became the first boy (Jerry, the second) to be beaten in St Mary’s College in 1969. Knox by Night’s pathetic four strokes were a joke after my mother, who could have gone to the Olympics to beat children, and I almost laughed.
The entire junior school lined up in the small courtyard and, led by Knox by Night and Bertie Gomes, snaked its way to the Centenary Hall at the other end of the school, much nearer to Park than Oxford Street and priests and teachers spoke earnestly. And then my parents picked me up and I chattered non-stop all the way home, until bedtime.
More than 50 years ago this all happened.
And I remember it all clearly today.
Spare a thought for the new 2021 school intake who will have nothing to recall a year from now.
BC Pires is sipping a red seed rink in the Small Yard…in his mind. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at www.BCPires.com