Pedro, Bellair Government School and some blubbering …
Days start to shorten, clocks go back. It’s that Sunday in the year again when we commit the same unnecessary confusion – I think Ann puts one clock back an hour and I do another, time zones can vary by two hours from room to room depending on our diligence. Both Monday and Tuesday I was awoken an hour early by one alarm clock, then spending a befuddled five minutes wandering the house, stubbing toes, muttering and checking clocks. Trying to find that clock with the trustworthy face to confirm I have woken too early and, once satisfied, being unable to sleep that loose vagrant hour away – my mind suddenly agile and alert, tripping on memories.
Mind-jogged I recall a round faced boy who often seemed to be in my class as I progressed through Bellair Government School. Names like Rogan Graham, Sandy Thomas, Anthony Dowdall, David Pullen, Derek Keegan, Martin Gardner, Podgy Goodwin, Roland something and Robin BabyWaters still linger from those formative years, but the exotic, easily tongue-tripped Pedro Avellini was the name I pulled out when quizzed by my nephew Paul for people I remembered from my school days. It’s 1997 and we are staying with my sister in Pinetown, Kwa Zulu Natal – it’s my first trip back to South Africa since I left in 1964.
Realising I was off at a tangent again and finding a pen and paper before these acute observations and fleeting quicktime movies of farce, slapstick and madness evaporate, I start to scribble knowing full well that when it comes time to transcribe I won’t be able to read half of it.
‘My first year at school, 1953, Miss Edgecombe’s class held in what later became the woodwork room where I, several years later, cut my finger with a tennon saw. That first year I was introduced to that smell of wooden floors that had been washed with some kind of disinfectant – that became the familiar aroma of school – bottle tops as counters and the gradual realisation that you could not rub out pencil errors with spit on your finger without making a hole in the paper. Oh yes, and that year we all got a coronation mug.’
‘1953 also saw my one and only active appearance on a sports day. The occassion being possibly marred by which ever way you want to look at it – in the 50 yard dash, my tacky coming off in the race and me stopping to pick it up – I prefer to see it as one of life’s calls, but it probably brought as many tears to the eyes of those watching as it it did to me. Morning assembly for the whole school, girls to the left and boys to the right, lined up in rows according to year and class, youngest in the front to oldest at the back. It took me a couple of years to realise that the hymns we sang by rote had actual words to them that meant something, and later that it was ‘All things bright and beautiful…’ and not ‘All things that bite are beautiful’.’
Pedro Avellini: I remembered his name more than the boy, but he was in my class some of the years so he is in class photographs salvaged from my dad’s box. As I recall he was one of those boys who, like me, lived in Hillary but went to Bellair School. But unlike me when we had PE or there were sides being picked in the playground, in the very hierarchical way teams were selected, he was usually picked early by the likes of Sandy Thomas or David Fielding, I was one of those gangly boys left until last – but not the very last. I would have been truly insulted if Richard Wilkinson or Robin Baby Waters were selected before me. Pedro was solid, a truly symmetrically round face topped with black brylcreemed hair. In the last year at Bellair, before we all went off to our chosen High Schools, he and the rest of the class were witness to my blubbering in answer to Mr Williams’, ‘Which High School have you been accepted in Alan?’ My parents had just not followed procedure and where everyone else in class had been accepted at the high school of their choice, I was left to wonder my future, head in hands, tears of embarrassment.
‘On my first day at high school I accompanied my mother to DHS where she made some arrangement (?) with the headmaster, Wrinkles McIver – the result being me accepted in at this prestigious speckled-boater-school, but squeezed into a class of no-hopers, some had been in the third form for 3 years and most lessons were ‘bait the teacher’ affairs. Consquently, lacking the character to overcome this situation, I became a lack-lustre student. Pedro, by the way, went to Glenwood High School, rival to DHS, and also the school my brother Brian went to – presumably to escape my long shadow.’
Surprisingly to all casually assembled in my sister’s spacious living room, Avellini was also a name Paul recognised from his work as a Safety Consultant, the Avellini Brothers is a firm he has done work for, but now, sadly, Pedro wishes to be called Peter.