Today is Father’s Day, now the fourth one I’ve had without my silly old Dad around. So as I trawl through some old photos and re-read the eulogy I wrote to bid him farewell, I find this is the first time I’ve done so without crying and I can find a smile. This is a good thing.
I still miss him lot, and his chuckling laugh and his never ending supply of jokes and funny stories. Even though the jokes were terrible (think Kochie joke books), the stories were great. His favourite thing would be to sit around the dinner table after a meal and tell you stories of his school days, recalled and retold in such vivid detail. The more we laughed, the more enthusiastic the telling became and the more he’d wave his arms and put on voices, and we’d kill ourselves laughing. At Christmas dinner, the stories seemed to go on for hours as the red wine flowed. It was a treat.
So often I talked about trying to tape his stories or videoing him, but it never quite happened. You can’t really plan for spontaneous story-telling, which is when it was at its best, with an appreciative audience. But I did capture one, all his own words, his very favourite – and ours – ‘The Boy in the Cupboard’.
How you loved your school days and those spirited boys from Sydney way back in the 1940s.
Miss you, Dad, but I’m go glad I’ve got this one, though it’s not a patch on seeing you in full flight in the telling, all ruddy faced with sparkling eyes and pointing fingers.
I lied. There are still tears. Lots of them. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
The Boy in the Cupboard
When I was in 4th Form at Riverview we had a very strict Maths master, Tex Crowley, who wouldn’t let you get away with anything at all. One time he was away sick for a week or so, so we were minded by a substitute teacher instead.
One day one of the chaps in the B class, John Atherton, suggested to one of the boys in our A Class, Flapper Tom Bryne, that he come down to the B class and listen in to old Brown Pants, their teacher. We had no idea what his real name was – we just called him old Brown Pants because he always wore brown pants. So Tom went down to their class – he wasn’t missed by our minder and Old Brown Pants didn’t have a clue he had one extra. Then Tom told us how hilarious it was in their class with this silly old teacher, a change from Tex Crowley.
Gradually day by day more and more boys joined Brown Pants’ class. I don’t know how I ever got there as well as I wasn’t very venturesome in those days. This was when the fun really began. Adrian Gray was one of the stowaways and at the beginning of the class he decided to hide in the cupboard at the back of the class. From there he could make rude comments and give cheek, anonymously of course.
Brown Pants would ask a question, like ‘What’s the square root of 64?’ and a voice would call out “who cares” or something similar. Brown Pants would look around looking for who said that, but he couldn’t see a thing. This went on all lesson. Another question, another cheeky answer, and no one responsible for it.
Poor old Brown Pants was going off his head. He would say he thought he had a ventriloquist in the class. He’d say “Hands up the boy who heard that?” and of course everyone in the class would put their hand up. This went on for days and eventually more and more came down from the A class to the B class to watch the fun. By the end of the week about a dozen of the A class had switched classrooms.
Then came the knocking. Adrian would be back in the cupboard again and then someone would knock loudly on their desk. Someone would call out,
“Someone at the door, Sir.”
“Answer it boy,” Brown Pants would say, so someone would answer the door then announce:
“Peter O’Sullivan wanted for piano lesson”.
“Right, off you go, Sullivan.”
So Pete would leave and hide out in the toilets. So you see this set a precedent. Then there’d be another knock on a desk.
‘Someone at the door, Sir.’
‘Well, answer it boy.’
‘So and so wanted for violin practice, Sir.’
‘Right, off you go then.’
And someone else would take off and join Pete in the toilets.
This went on a couple of times with more and more boys disappearing. Then there was another knock on a desk and another boy answered the door. This time he announced:
“School band wanted for practice!”
Half the class suddenly stood up and left the room.
While all this was going on Adrian was still in the cupboard giving cheek and calling out rude comments. Brown Pants was getting clever by now, and with only half a maths class left, he eventually seemed to have it worked out.
“I know where he is!”
He walked down the classroom and walked up and down outside the cupboard. We thought he was on to Adrian and we had to rescue him. Someone else knocked on the door.
‘Father Rector at the door for you, Sir.’
Brown Pants had to go to the door, so Adrian quickly got out of the cupboard and hid behind the piano. Brown Pants came back very angry.
“You tried to trick me – the rector’s not there at all.’ Then he stood in front of the cupboard, glaring at it.
‘Out you come, son,’ he announced.
Then he flung open the door and there was no one there. Poor old Brown Pants didn’t have any idea what was going on.
Next week Mr Crowley came back and that was the end of that little adventure.
St Ignatius College, Riverview