The Prescotian Webzine

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Warped Minds [Allan Brown]
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It was November 1971, when at morning assembly the then deputy head Mr.Elmer lectured the whole school on the problem of the writing on the toilet walls. I remember it so well because it was my first whole school assembly at Prescot having joined the 1970 intake as a new boy. According to Mr.Elmer the perpetrators had “warped minds” and did not belong in a grammar school this being the mentality of Rainhill. At the time I thought that Rainhill must be the local secondary modern but was informed by my father that evening that Rainhill was in fact the location of a Victorian asylum. Predictably enough, a visit to the outdoor urinal situated opposite the 6th form block revealed the culprits to be in full agreement with Mr.Elmer. “I have a warped mind” and “I have escaped from Rainhill” made amusing reading. But it was the indoor toilet situated opposite the main entrance of Spencer Briggs hall where warped minds expressed themselves most fully.  
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Because the scribbling was virtually all in pencil it was a straightforward task for the cleaners to erase that days filth thereby creating fresh whitewash for the following days filth. Twice (sometimes thrice) daily visits to the toilet became part of my school routine. Judging by the monikers there were two main culprits. “Gorbo” was responsible for about 20% of the scribble but the main man, the lad who put the capital “W” and capital “M” into warped mind went by the acronym of S.H.P (S*** House Poet) and was responsible for about 70% of the coverage. Inevitably, considering the frequency with which I went to the toilet, I once caught S.H.P. in mid-flow, so to speak. He gave me a cursory glance and, satisfied that I wasn’t a teacher, continued with his work seemingly determined to cover the whole wall before the sound of the school bell. We didn’t speak to each other; I just stood there awestruck.

What separated S.H.P. from the rest was not the subject matter: masturbatory outpourings directed towards the female teachers and hate filled invective towards authoritarian male teachers (incidentally, the departure of Mr.Elmer and the arrival of the seriously authoritarian Mr.Lunt was an absolute godsend to all of the rhymesters) but the fact that S.H.P. wrote in verse. Now I’m not going to gild the lily here because there was absolutely nothing in his output that rose above the level of doggerel but just about all of it rhymed and some of it even scanned. One piece actually corresponded to the musical rhythm of the Laurel and Hardy intro tune although the vocabulary was somewhat repetitive and simply not up to the standard of his best work.

And then one day ….nothing. Or at least a tailing off but it felt like nothing. Had S.H.P. suddenly grown up and matured? I doubt it. Had his mind magically become unwarped? Probably not. Had S.H.P. finally been caught? Probably. From that day on I only went to the toilet to relieve myself.

It was some weeks/months later that the comprehensive intake finally began to make its mark. There started to appear marker pen archery targets with gobs of yellow/green slime drooling down the whitewash. The pinnacle of wit consisted of Evertonians, with two stokes of a pen, converting the capital “L” of “L.F.C. rule” to “E.F.C. rule.”

Lets move forward twenty-five years. Its 1998 and I’m stood in the boys toilet of Walworth school. This school is an inner city comprehensive (London: L.E.A. Southwark) and is what Americans would call a “sink” school. 49% of the year 9 in-take was not put forward for the key stage 3 English SAT because their teachers did not believe they stood a cat in hells chance of achieving a grade.

I am now a governor of Walworth School and use my position to go into classes several times a week to teach remedial maths on a one to one basis. Its not that the kids cannot count up to ten, they all can, but in the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of those numbers about 90% need a calculator. I’m stood in the toilet because of complaints of an unpleasant smell caused by a blockage of some sort and being a governor several of the teachers thought I should investigate. Actually the smell wasn’t that bad but let that not concern us here. If you haven’t already guessed it was the state of the wall above the urinal that most drew my attention. It instantly brought back memories of the Spencer Briggs post S.H.P. toilet wall. There were no archery targets but the snot was there all the same. Understandably, the cleaners refused to touch it and it was various stages of drying out being all crystallized and flaky. This being sarf London there was no L.F.C. or E.F.C. it was either Chelsea or Millwall. As for the writing “Sharon is a slag” and “Billy is a puff” was the best of it. So there it was, the real face of egalitarian education, seemingly staring back at me: “slag” spelt with a double “g”.

And then a mischievous thought entered my head. Essentially puerile and most definitely warped…..but no, I couldn’t possibly. “Get a grip, Allan” I said to myself. You are a middle-aged married man, a father of four (now six). You are respected by all of the teachers and even looked up to by some of the pupils. The reason you are a governor is that the local vicar put your name forward so how can you even think……..My mind drifted back to a similar spot a quarter of century ago. I could have taken on the mantle vacated by S.H.P. but I didn’t because back then I was a meek and diffident lad and far too afraid of being caught. I might never have covered an entire wall in one lunchtime but sexually I was sufficiently repressed to at least compete with the snot thereby spitting in the face of the comprehensive disaster by offering something literate. In the pantheon of Prescot Grammar filth peddlers I doubt that I could ever have ranked alongside S.H.P. but I could have been a contender.

Back to the present and I nervously looked at my watch. A good fifteen minutes till the next bell. Plenty of time. I reached into my left hand jacket pocket, pulled out a blunt HB pencil and offered the following couplet:

No matter how hard you shake your peg
The last few drops will still run down your leg!

I then stepped back as many an artist has done when admiring their work and mused that although the couplet didn’t scan it did at least rhyme. I turned to exit the toilet smug in the conviction that, if not forever, then for twenty hours at least Walworth school had one tiny corner that was a Grammar school.


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