Random Play by Graham Reid

If your memory serves you well

Yesterday, with the announcement that the Rolling Stones are coming for a Western Springs concert, I wrote a piece for the Herald about the first time I saw them: it was 40 years ago tomorrow actually.

I expect it will run this weekend and I had fun writing it. It was interesting to recall the specifics of that night and I could remember what I wore, where I sat in the Civic (I’m sure I could still point out the aisle seat upstairs), and what the Stones played.

In fact, when I think about it I am surprised about how much of the small and large detail of my life I can remember. Especially given that at various times I shovelled large amounts of brain-damaging drugs and alcohol into my system -- much more so than any responsible accountant, doctor, teacher and/or cabinet minister.

Okay, you can guess where this is going.

Like Mr David Benson-Pope I too spent time as a schoolteacher, although my time was long before his.

After teacher’s college I spent a year at Birkdale Intermediate in 74, then two years at Penrose High looking after problem students, slow learners and kids straight off the plane from various Pacific Islands. (Yes, back then they put them all in the same prefab out the back by the bike sheds.)

After that I took two years off fulltime teaching and finished off my degree while doing a little relief work (Takapuna Grammar, Avondale and so on).

Then I got a job at Glenfield College taking a pre-employment class. These were kids who didn’t want to be at school and I was expected to give them skills to get jobs. (You know, teach them how to fill out forms, write CVs and so on).

Instead, by the end of the first term, I simply got them all jobs -- and so was out of a job myself.

The school then realised I wasn’t just some naff social worker but actually had a proper degree so I started taking English classes, and over the years established their Art History programme. I ended up teaching English and Art History to scholarship level.

By 86 I was pretty weary so did a part-time year and stayed at home the rest of the time to write for Metro, the Listener, the Herald and such like. In 87 I went back but wasn’t given a permanent classroom and after a term of lugging books, overhead projectors, ghetto blasters and my bag all around the school I was offered a tempting fulltime job at the Herald.

I considered it but, because I had bursary and scholarship students for whom I felt some responsibility, I delayed taking up the offer until the August school holidays when I felt the students would have done most of the course and I could leave them with a clear conscience. I started at the Herald at the end of August 87.

I mention the dull details of all this to reinforce a small point: during those many years of teaching I encountered literally hundreds of kids. Sometimes hundreds in a single year.

Of course I don’t remember them all, but in subsequent years I have been approached by dozens and dozens of them in places as diverse as nightclubs, on the Ponte Vecchio, on the wharf one night at 2am, and in Kingsland just a few days ago.

What surprises me is if I don’t remember the names I certainly know the faces and can put them in context quickly. Maybe as Bob Dylan wrote, “I remember the face of every man who put me here”!

I also remember staff members at various schools, incidents in the classroom, the various curricula of certain subjects and so on.

Most people who know me say I’ve got a lousy memory for faces and names -- selective perhaps? -- but I also do pretty well with birthdays and anniversaries. (Today the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death actually).

So, we’ve established I have a reasonable memory -- but pretty typical I am thinking. Nothing special.

What I know I would remember -- especially as a schoolteacher -- is if I had been disciplined, reprimanded or even just told off by a principal or a board.

That’s the kind of stuff -- professional misdemeanour or just bloody embarrassing -- that I would remember in absolute detail. It’s not like it happens frequently if you are a teacher -- and if it does you really shouldn’t be there.

Which is why I just don’t buy Mr David Benson-Pope’s current “a nonsense” position about these new allegations.

Okay, the prime minister says, “I defy anyone to relate in great detail anything that happened eight years ago”. She may well be right.

If you were being asked to remember what you wore or what you watched on television one particular night in 97 then you’d probably be scratching your head.

But if you had been a teacher and the matter was as serious as these current accusations against Mr Benson-Pope, you’d remember. You’d remember all right. You’d remember being called to account, the fact the school sent a letter to the parents, and that it changed its policy in the matter.

You’d remember. As a former teacher I would, whether it had been in 87 or 77, let alone 97. I'd remember, as would you I am sure, with shame-filled clarity.

But Mr Benson-Pope -- "for sure, he is an honest man"? -- says he doesn‘t. That he was “not aware of any complaint of any kind” during this period.

Frankly sir, I don’t believe you.