Chapter 26: Organic Chemistry

It's funny how we sort of sorted ourselves out into gangs. There was me and Dan Myers, John Kavanagh, Harvey O'Sullivan, Michael McKay, John Wasson, Bernard Cuttance, James Northcote-Bade, Kevin Gain. It was sort of like...

"I wish you'd stop staying sort of", said the teacher.

John Kavanagh and me
John Kavanagh and me

It was sort of like organic chemistry with methane and stuff where there were sort of four hydrogen atoms to one carbon atom. And suddenly a hydrogen got up and joined a different carbon that was passing by. And our carbon atom would attract a new hydrogen or something. If you don't understand organic chemistry then you'll not see how our gang worked. They weren't gangs like motor bike gangs, they were more like groups - but saying groups sounds like we were having a discussion or something. Anyway, I'll tell you about our gang in a moment. First of all I want to tell you about organic chemistry. Organic chemistry was my favourite subject. Father Brogan taught us Science.

We called Father Brogan Spike. He'd been high up in the D.S.I.R. before becoming a priest. He was taught by Marsden who was taught by Ernest Rutherford who split the atom and created the twentieth century. Not only that, but we heard Father Brogan had pressed the button that set the bomb off over Hiroshima. We got proof of this one day when he was teaching us about the properties of sulphur. He said "Any questions?" and someone asked him straight.

"How does an atom bomb work?"

Father Brogan went all red in the face and said he didn't want to talk about that at the moment. So the bit about Hiroshima was true.

We had other teachers who did amazing things. Father Forsyth became a priest after killing a man in the boxing ring. It was very hard to believe because he wasn't very big and muscley. One day, two fourth formers were fighting and he walked up and said "Do you want a fight, Sonny?" Well they both stopped fighting and went as white as sheets. Father Forsyth looked after the tuck shop and had it open for us every spare minute of the day when he wasn't teaching Geography. He'd sell a bag of broken biscuits for sixpence which he got from the factory. He'd sort the biscuits out into bags himself, and always made sure every bag had a couple of chocolate macaroons.

Then there was Father Hill, who taught Maths. He was the most brilliant teacher I've ever had. He was so good a teacher that no one ever messed about in his classes. He never had to tell us to shut up or anything. When he shifted to another school, Father Silverwood came. We called him Bottles. He limped, and someone said that it was an old war injury he got when he led his entire flying squadron into the side of a bridge and he escaped with a bit of a limp.

All my teachers were priests. Father Blake taught us Latin. I did really well at it until we got into ablative absolutes and that. Then I had more trouble with the English than with the Latin and gave up on it a bit.

Dan Myers, me and John Kavanagh
Dan Myers, me and John Kavanagh

The most exciting class was Father Moore's. We used to plan his classes. He taught us Christian Doctrine. Whenever he turned to write on the blackboard, the air would fill with paper darts. Sometimes he'd turn around and see a dart still flying and say, "Who threw that dart?" The aim was to have no dart still flying when he turned around, so it was your own fault if you got caught. One day he turned around and there were two darts still hanging in the air. "Who threw that dart?" he said, seeing only one of them. And then, like it was in slow motion, the other dart glided stealthily towards him and lodged itself between the back of his neck and his priest's collar. He didn't even notice that he had a dart sticking out of his neck. He only noticed that the whole class had gone berserk.

Anyway, I was telling you about our gang. It would change all the time. People would come and go. Someone new would come along and someone else wouldn't like them and leave. That's the way it worked. We didn't plan it.

Once though, we did plan it. Our gang had a meeting to decide if someone should be kicked out. I said that if he was kicked out I'd go too. So I did. I was quite lonely for a while, and took several months to work my way back into the gang.

So life passed quickly, and nearly every day I'd write in my diary: "Fine day. Full day's classes". In the summer evenings after tea we'd descend onto the bottom field in the hundreds to play Bull Rush. The Juniors would team up against the Seniors. There was safety in numbers. On a rainy evening we'd go to the library and read books, while the librarian played the Beatles on a record player. We'd hear "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "She's Got a Ticket to Ride". The Beatles had a new one nearly every week.

On weekends, we'd go down to the Hutt River. There among the gorse and broom, generations had built huts. You'd curry favour with Seniors so that when they left school you'd inherit a hut. And there we'd cook up sausages, and swim in the river and smoke and get sunburnt. And we'd tell jokes because we wanted to find out more. One day in the third form, I bought a packet of smokes. They were North Pole. I smoked the whole packet all in one day and didn't even feel sick. Then we'd go back to school for the Saturday night film.

Down at the river
Down at the river - me back right

These were the early days, the sort of summer days, before winter. And I cannot smell the smell of gorse flower, or hear the sound of broom pods popping in the heat, without thinking of organic chemistry and a sort of youthful innocence.


Go to the Next Chapter
Return to the Previous Chapter
Return Home