Cloudy skies, buses and back to school blues

Grey skies over the bus station on the first day of school

God flicks a curious meteorological switch at the start of every new school year.

As August becomes September and late summer melts into early autumn, we begin to awake to overcast skies, often a bit of mist and that unmistakable nip in the air.

That describes today, Monday September 3 – the first day of the new school year for thousands of children across the Canterbury district.

And that was exactly how I remember my first day at secondary school 32 years ago.

As I put on the burgundy blazer of the Boys Langton for the first time, I was absolutely terrified. That first day, the grey sky was ominous over the first school I’d ever set foot in that had stairs and upper floors.

The Boys Langton as it is today

As I went up to the school, metal boxes on wheels were depositing waves of marooned fellow pupils, some of whom I would come to like, others to loathe.

I learned that among the teachers was a Dr and a Col, the venerable Colonel Haddon, a maths and RE teacher.

I learned that one of the teachers was mad while another screamed so loud at unruly classrooms that he could be heard from adjacent rooms.

I learned that a boy in the fourth year operated an unauthorised tuck shop from a locker in the science room corridor while a third year bought the Sporting Life every morning and took bets on horse races from other pupils. I learned there a was smokers’ union of fifth formers who met at playtimes in the far corner of the field.

In that first term, I was pushed down a bank, the victim of an attempted robbery in the canteen and turned into a human pinball for some fifth years loitering near the aforementioned illicit tuck shop.

Wow. So this is what big school is like. I continued to be terrified of the place.

I watched a teacher repeatedly strike a ginger boy who turned his back on him to talk to a classmate. Another teacher hurled a chair across a classroom. A third used to say stupid things into the microphone at the start of daily assembly like: “May you be silent.”

We quickly learned the various teachers’ nicknames: Ferret, Hare, Jug-Ears, Eggy, Grinner, Dr Death.

One of my classmates learned a salutary tale: that you don’t tell tales. He had complained to the deputy head John Matthews that Bailey of 1G had peanutted his tie. Peanutting, for the uninitiated, is the art of pulling the two ends of a tie so hard that the knot squeezes into something resembling a peanut in size.

Mr Matthews sent the boy off with a stern rebuke not to waste his time with such trivialities. The tie was later cut off his neck and a replacement bought at Deakin’s.

To be fair to the Boys Langton, my fear of it soon disappeared.

Instead the end of every summer holiday was met with not terror of what was to come, but sheer depression at the start of the new school year.

And it was a back to school depression I will forever associate with those grey September skies…


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