My primary school was an interesting place. It was, ostensibly, C of E, which I only learned at the age of nine, actually stood for Church of England. I wasn’t a terribly curious or spiritual child, as you may have gathered.
The Christian aspect of the school was rather more hibernated than celebrated, due to the hight population of Muslim and Roman Catholic students at the school. Or so I thought.
The Roman Catholic kids, by the way were all Irish travellers who lived on the outskirts of Oxford in static caravans. I went to the caravans once – they had pot plants and painting of dogs playing poker on the walls. So, I think the likelihood of anyone actually travelling was about the same as the chances of Mrs Spragg (the gravy-stained-fleece-wearing diner lady with skin like greying tripe and teeth like road chippings) not being a virgin.
There were two traveller families who sent their kids to my primary school. You could tell which family each child belonged to because one family were all very thin with names like Mikey and Michelle, while the other family looked like they were made of dough and every single boy, apart from the eldest, was called Thadie.
I kid you not. Seven dumpy boys, in decreasing height, all called Thadie and all with matching rats tail hairdos. My junior class once had to introduce ourselves to a visitor by going around the circle. It went like this:
“Stephen, Annie, Thadie, Nell, Thadie, Sharon, Thadie, Rukhsana, Thadie, Thadie.”
At the end of the school day their dad, who looked like he’d been built out of offcuts from the Harley Davidson factory and Meatloaf lookalikes, would pull up in a huge blue transit van, open the back doors and let out an air-renting whistle. At this, all the Thadies, along with their stringier cousins, would sprint across the playground, fly over the pavement and throw themselves in to the back of the van, scattering Thadies as they went.
When the last leg had disappeared in to the blue darkness and the last Thadie had cannoned himself in to this unlikely human pyramid, the dad would slam the doors shut, meander along the van, sometimes giving me a wink as he did, and drive off.
So, anyway, they were the Thadies. And they were brilliant. How they felt about hte story I’m about to tell you now, I’ll never know. Because I’m not actually sure how you spell Thadie, so I can’t look them up on Facebook.
When I was about seven, I had a teacher called Mrs King. She looked like a pike and dressed like a nun. In fact, I have it on good authority that she left our school to become a vicar. Mrs King also had a streak of white hair, which Ben Tickler told me was where all the nits lived.
Now, for some insane reason Mrs King had been elected to teach us about the ozone layer. Usually Mrs King was restricted to teaching us about Vikings and the eternal love of Jesus Christ. So, why she got given astro-physics that week is beyond me.
So, to kick off the lesson, Mrs King got us all to copy a diagram of the ozone layer in to our books as she drew it on the board. The first thing she drew was a circle. This, she informed us, was the earth. So far, so good.
Then another circle. This was, of course, the atmosphere, which for any of you taking notes, is a layer of gases that protects the earth from the sun’s harmful rays. You can tell I was copying all this furiously in to my yellow exercise book.
After that circle was the blankness of the universe.
“But, miss, what about Heaven?” one of the class asked.
“Ah, well,” replied Mrs King, with the tiniest of pauses. “Heaven goes here.”
And with that she drew a third circle, outside of the ozone layer. This circle was Heaven. After Heaven there was just space, which was black, so there was no point shading all that in because we’d only blunt our HB pencils. So, that was the end of the lesson.
To this day I regret not asking her why more wasn’t written about people like Uri Gugarin piercing throught the harp-plucking, God-ruling, angel-populated realm of heaven on their way out to explore space.
She probably would have just told me to stop asking silly questions and to finish my Viking collage.