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A Shout From The Attic: Chalk Dust

Ronnie Bray recalls the day he put chalk dust on his face and pretended to be ill.

To read more of Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his engaging weekly column, Letter From America.

In my tenth year a routine insepction revealed that I needed glasses. I got some with round lenses in a gold-wire frame. I was sensitive to remarks about them made by my fellow pupils. Although they helped me to see better, more often than not I left them at home.

Mr Llewellyn referred to me as “professor'', though whether that was because I looked studious in my specs or because I absent-mindedly “forgot” them, I do not know. It would not have occurred to me to ask him, for I was timid. Life was too much of a burden for a young lad to bear without having to challenge figures in authority, of which there seemed to be too many in the world. Even so simple a thing as asking a question would be considered cheeky.

Once I scraped some blackboard chalk on the edge of a tin, collecting the powder. Then, after applying the chalk dust to my face to give me an unaccustomed pallor, I raised my hand and said, “I don’t feel very well, sir.” “Go and stand out in the yard until you feel better,” said the kind teacher. As I reached to door to open it, he called “Why are you laughing, Bray?” “I’m not, sir” I returned with suitable gravity. “Go on then.”

I stood in the schoolyard feeling a fraud but enjoying the freedom of outside when a figure strode along Bow Street, which stood at the bottom side of the school. It was Mr Riley, who became our headmaster on the retirement of Mr Armitage. “What are you doing outside?” he demanded. “I’m not very well, sir” “Are you feeling any better?” “Yes, sir.” “Then go back to your class.”

I returned to class after washing the remains of the dust from my face. It was a relief to be back in class, no longer fearful of having my fraud detected.

The other teacher we had that year was Mr Brook and of him, apart from the fact that he looked like Alan Ladd and was, therefore, quite handsome, I remember nothing.


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