It was 1953 and we had all just started in Grade 4 at St Laurence's College. Such a change from the nuns at a Catholic convent school.
Our new teacher was Brother Cusack (for some reason, the Irish Christian Brothers were referred to by their family name, rather than the more historical given name). It didn't really matter, as we were instructed to refer to them as "Sir" in both the first person (Excuse me, Sir) and the third person (Sir said...).
So here was our first teacher on our road to becoming men.
Brother Cusack (I subsequently learned that his first name was Stan) was an earnest young fellow of around 20 years of age. He was in control of a class of some 60 or so nine year olds. He had us again in Grade 6.
More on that later. This is just recounting one incident.
Amazing though it may seem now, English class included learning clichés.
The textbook would say
- as weak as... (and guys, the answer was "a kitten" not "piss")
- as proud as... (a peacock)
- as pretty as... (a picture)
- as strong as... (an ox)
- as stubborn as... (a mule)
- and so on.
Well on this occasion, Brother Cusack and the class were in disagreement.
The majority of us answered that it was "As pretty as a picture".
Cusack said that was wrong and invited more input.
We tried, even falling back on tried and true Catholic upbringing with "as pretty as Our Lady", a reference to the Virgin Mary which unfortunately gained no brownie points.
At the end of the lesson, Cusack confided to us that the correct answer was "as pretty as a peacock". We went home mulling over that enlightenment.
Research Pays Off... Sort Of
Several of us researched it that evening (there was no internet and the library was closed, so what that really meant was interrogating our parents) and determined that it was indeed "as pretty as a picture" and "as proud as a peacock".
So, armed with knowledge as opposed to opinion, we took our places in class, waiting for English to start.
First cab off the rank was Brian Goodwin, at the time one of the smallest class members (but who underwent a growth spurt in his late teenage years). Displaying inordinate courage, he shot up his hand and, upon being called on to speak, said "Sir, it's as proud as a peacock".
Cusack went apeshit.
Clearly, he'd also researched it overnight. Which meant he'd intended to take the lead in this discussion. And poor little Brian had just shot him down in flames. I recall the phrase "crossing your bridges before you come to them" featured in his rant.
At only 9 years old, we were pretty taken aback. What had we let ourselves in for over the next 9 years?