I was 14 years old when I began my fourth year at Sandringham Technical School in 1964. By this time my mother had been banned from the bathroom during my naked necessities, and I had reached the very serious decision that if masturbation made you go blind – then so be it.
I wasn’t sent to Hampton High School, which is where I should’ve gone – as I had been dux of grade 6 in my primary school – but my dad had wanted me to learn a trade, and that was that.
So by the time I began fourth form at Sandy Tech, my interest in learning had waned to one of complete indifference. My lack of woodworking dexterity had become apparent; I had little interest or skill in operating a lathe in metalwork; and my absenteeism during Solid Geometry classes foretold of an un-regretted fail mark.
The only class that I had any interest in was English. But in a tech school, this was regarded in the same way as standing up for the National Anthem – although it had to be done, no enthusiasm was required.
I can only now imagine how difficult it must have been to teach English to classes of bored and restless teenage boys, as the teacher plowed on through the required teaching curriculum.
But all that changed on the morning of our first 4GH class English period.
The change was a modern thinking young woman who introduced herself to us as Helen, but asked to be called Miss Weston in class. I guess we were her first teaching job since finishing teachers college, and, in many cases, she would only have been six or seven years older than the boys she was teaching.
My favourite Miss Weston thing was when she walked between the desks as we were writing. If she needed to check your work, she would bend down to your level, her face close to yours. Her blonde hair would fill your periphery vision, it’s scent invading your pores; and if she rested her hand on your shoulder, it was with an intimacy that was simply never meant for a young teenager’s swimming head.
Sometimes she would sit on the front of her teacher’s table, and place her long mini-skirted legs on the edge of the front row desk. Pens and pencils fell to the floor on a regular basis, requiring testosterone filled boys to bend down, and eventually, to retrieve them.
But I didn’t.
I thought she was beautiful, but not in a photographic way, just in the way that she was. Like, speaking to us on equal terms; throwing her head back when she laughed; and the way she poked out her left hip when she wrote on the board with her right hand.
She seemed to know that she distracted us, but she simply went along with it. This was the swinging sixties, and all was natural, and as it should be to Miss Weston. For the first time in ages I had something to work towards – to improve my English marks to impress her.
I took to laying on my bed dreaming about her, imagining scenarios that could never be, but unchecked in my teenage imaginings: we would be living together in sin the way my older sister did with her boyfriend; or lying side by side with her on the beach, with me slowly spreading baby oil over her back and shoulders, with the straps of her bikini top undone.
Cast adrift with my feelings for her, I wrote a love letter to Helen in the form of a poem. I sprinkled it with a few drops of my brother’s aftershave, and placed it in a sealed yellow coloured envelope addressed to Miss Helen Weston. I dirtied it up, and took it into the school’s front office and told the lady that I found it in the car park.
Helen took me aside the next day, and in the most gentlest of ways, told me how much she appreciated my involvement in class, the improvements in my marks, and what a fine young man she knew me to be. She hoped that I would soon find a more suitable young lady to receive such a beautifully perfumed letter from me.
She also told me how inappropriate it would be for her to except my letter, and the problems it could cause her within the Education Department. She then returned the unopened envelope to me, with the poetic outpourings of my troubled young soul still sealed within, to remain forever unread.
I kept it under my pillow so that we could at least be together in sleep, but it never survived the washing machine when my mother carelessly gathered up my bedding for the next Monday morning’s wash.
I held up the sodden yellow pulp to her, “Do you have any idea just how much you have ruined my life with your endless bloody washing?” I said to her, leaving my tears where they fell.
“Well I’m sorry Andrew – and language please – but it stinks to absolute high heaven in your smelly boys room, and I get in and out of there as fast as I can, so please love, don’t blame your mother for ruining your personal things, just learn to take better care of your stuff”
Some weeks later, my sister’s boyfriend Toby dealt with the matter for me. “Mate”, he said, “We all get our balls busted by love at one time or another. But trust me Andy, it’ll pass in time. You’ll just have to wait for it to wear out in your memory – a bit like an overplayed record.”
And that’s what happened.
Helen didn’t return to Sandy Tech in 1965, and neither did I. She headed off to Europe to do her own thing, and I changed schools to Hampton High to begin my life.