Childhood memories: Much Ado About Nothing

Here, Alan Rick from SWit’CH (Swinton Writers in t’Critchley House) shares his humorous account of memories from school, learning all about the birds and the bees!

My school, an all-boy’s school, taught us much about creation. We listened in real or feigned rapture, as the black-gowned master explained how a variety of things came into existence: how the frog developed from the tadpole, how the plants and flowers arose from seeds, how the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and many wonders by which nature manifested herself.

Several years later, in the army, an irate drill sergeant was to express wonder that I had managed to make it to the human race at all and to cast doubt on my parentage by calling me a ‘clueless b…….!’ But for the present, all seemed to be in order.

Yet one question remained to be answered: how did I get here? Apparently, I was one of the many creations by which the Lord moved in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. It would have astonished the drill sergeant to hear that the Lord had even fashioned me as fit for military service – irony indeed.

The Headmaster had announced, in a voice that would have blown a hole in a wall, that the First Form were to receive a lesson in what was known as the ‘human reproductive system.’

Nobody in our form, twelve years old, had the remotest idea what it meant, but discussion in the quad threw up some exciting ideas. Those with a scientific leaning suggested that it must be about producing people by machine, an idea culled from the space adventure films becoming popular at the time.

The old ‘birds and the bees’ theory we roundly dismissed as being fit only for infant school tots. We twelve-year-old sophisticates were not to be palmed off with such stuff. Also, the stork cannot have brought us here – it was a long flight from Australia and we had never heard of his burden being lost by accident or by the sea.

None of our parents had a gooseberry bush in their garden either. There was a quiet murmur from a bespectacled boy in the front of the group that if you went to sit on a chair upon which a girl had already sat, a baby would be born due to the warmth of the seat she had sat on.

This was greeted with scorn – no girl in our former primary school was capable of sitting long enough for this to happen. In any case, this was heresy – reproduction by purely human agency so clearly contrary to the thirty-nine articles of the Church of England. We knew this through our instruction in R. I. lessons.

Enter Hamilton, the Aristotle of our form, who was reputed to have the answer to everything in life, ‘You lot are way off the track,’ and we were sure he would have a theory. Whenever Hamilton adopted a lofty tone it always meant that he was having a theory.

‘Your parents get together,’ he answered mysteriously. But our parents are already together, was our reply, so clarification was required. ‘Yes, but they do things to each other.’

There were blank stares all round as the mystery deepened.

‘What things?’

‘Well, things they don’t tell anybody about.’

The stares got bleaker.

‘Did my parents do this?’ was my plaintive cry.

‘They certainly did.’

I was seized with panic. ‘Do the police know? Will they be prosecuted?’

‘Not to worry,’ answered our form lawyer. ‘It’s not a crime under the Official Secrets Act, but only a misdemeanour and the police have decided to let it go.’

In due course, our visiting tutor, himself a wonder of creation, a fresh-faced, spindly youth full of the burning ardour of those determined to propel any novelty into the modern world, appeared. Our school was founded in the 15th century and, we thought, our masters not long after it, so it occurred to us that it would take an almighty heave to bring it into the 20th century. But we were attentive while he explained the process to us.

It seems that it was all about ducks, a figure of speech as we later realised to our relief.

‘Have you noticed as you stroll through St James’s Park how the ducks interact on the lake?’ This was stirring stuff indeed. ‘It is the male duck that makes the strident quacking noise to please the female.’

It was a wonder to us that she could be so easily pleased. The enlightenment went on from one absurdity to the next with the result that we all ended up no wiser than at the start. The picture of my father, a military man of stern character, making quacking noises to my mother was too surreal to be true. His noise would be much more earth-shaking than that. In time of war he was a man of peace – except in his domestic affairs.

The time for our post-lesson discussion in the quad at last arrived. Hamilton assumed his usual managerial air.

‘We are getting another lesson next week,’ he announced.

A voice from the back row murmured.

Not those bloody ducks again!’


This story can be found in the SWit’CH anthology Memories Unlocked available to order here

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