I would’ve been 6 or 7 years old. 1981, 1982, thereabouts.
At home time at my junior school, we all lined up according to our test scores for the day: the highest scoring at the front of the line, the lowest at the back. We were then marched in a “crocodile” to the school gates where the bus awaited to take us home.
I was always a straight C pupil. If a test had a 51% pass margin, I got 51%. If it was 75%, I got 75%. This is a great way to live: you don’t get the pressure that A pupils get and you don’t get the condemnation that F pupils get. Coasting through life has long been my policy.
For whatever reason, one Friday I had top marks in my class. This was my mistake. Perhaps the subject at hand had been one to really interest me, or was about something I already knew. Whatever, I came top.
I found myself at the front of the line. Everybody joined hands, as required of a “crocodile” (and terrible for me with eczema-covered hands: nobody wanted to join hands with the boy with such awful fingers). The pupil at the front of the line, however, got to hold the hand of the teacher.
My teacher was the first male teacher I’d ever had. He seemed impossibly old at the time; a year later he took early retirement at 55. He was well-built and hairy and very fierce. He was also a bit too free with whacking you on the hand with a ruler for imagined transgressions, but those were the times.
I went to the front of the line. He reached for my hand and held it in a gentle but firm grip. I can remember all this in Cinemascope to this day: the bright summer sun and cold East Anglian breeze; that breeze moving the hairs on his hand. The watch on his wrist. My little hand in his big meaty hand. The wait for the bell to go. The walk to the… for want of a better term, staging area, for the bus.
And I knew. I just knew.
This was right. This was how it should be.
All I would ever need was a strong male hand holding mine. Always.