More of a memoir than a punchline here.
When I was finishing primary school I had a number of choices regarding where I would go to secondary school. Like many counties, cavan's secondary schools were all based around the town itself with precious little anywhere else in the countryside. There was an all boys school run by some religous order or other, an all girl's school run by nuns (not really an option for me, I only mention it for the sake of completion) a private school and the vocational (government run) school.
I ruled out the all boys' school almost immediately since it had a "reputation" involving sadistic beatings by both staff and student - and as it turned out, rampant drug use, the place was busted more than once in my time in secondary school. The place honestly looked like a borstal and the pupils would not have looked out of place in mountjoy prison.
The private school, well... we got a personal showing of the place by the headmaster and it was a bit dodgy. It was now occupying an old manor house and obviously nothing much had been done to convert it into a working schoolhouse. Some classrooms were only accessible by passing through another room - a tempting prospect as long as you were never ever late for class and could hold your bladder for eighty minutes at a time to avoid questions from the teacher in the entrance room. After viewing it both myself and my mother actually, and mysteriously had to stop the car to be sick on the way home (I was unwell anyway but she was fine) and we both took it as an omen.
That said, the place had a reputation for late night orgies amongst the students in the sports fields, but since I wouldn't be a boarding pupil it was largely irrelevant. I considered asking my mum if I could board there but I already knew the answer. Or I thought I did, looking back now I can't help but feel she would have been delighted to let me learn some new life lessons. Of course, it also had a reputation for savage hazing ceremonies inflicted on first years, which cheered me up no end when I found out that the three guys who had spent several years bullying me in primary school would be going there. Oh how I laughed when I heard that Walter had been assaulted in his bed by a group of fifth years with sticks and I was tickled pink when I found out that that inbred bullethead Stewart was kicked in the balls so hard he had to go to hospital (which sort of makes my previous entries somewhat kharmic)
So that left the Vocational school, a proper, purpose built school with teachers that weren't insanely bitter from years of enforced ceilibacy (and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you). Books were bought, uniforms were tried out and I spent many nights trying to convince myself that it would be nothing like "grange hill" - a series on the BBC for many years on kids TV about a secondary school where all the teachers were ex mental patients or something.
If and when I become a dad I am going to have a lot of issues, not so much about the issues of raising a child to become a well rounded adult - I should be okay there as long as the kid shows no interest in joining either of our main political parties. No, what I'm worried about is the fact that as a kid I had to carry around a sack of books that weighed roughly the same as I did at the time and like everyone else had enough homework every night to ensure that I didn't see the sun except at weekends from 1990 until 1996 and even then given Ireland's climate it was a pretty feeble attempt at sunlight. To this day I can't stand to be in strong direct sunlight because it's actually damned uncomfortable and near blinds me, which, I admit might be more to do with my unsociable nature and tendency to play computer games instead of spending time in the park but I'm trying to stay on track with this story, so enough of that.
My point is that school is a damned unhealthy activity and since cramming for the leaving certificate for a month or two is about all you need to get into most of ireland's finest colleges I figure that's what I'll encourage. Asides from which all I remember of what I learned in secondary school is how to ask for a ham sandwich in french (which backfired badly on me in luxembourg a year or two ago when I ACTUALLY managed to order a raw pork mince patty in a bun with onions), how to weld a joint and that you should always... ALWAYS wear a helmet around machinery, kevlar too if possible.
Ah, one day I'll tell a story by simply saying "I was in metalwork class and got hit by a flying spanner! lol!"
I made a lot of friends in school, as is the norm, though since I lived in the countryside and they almost all lived in various towns and villages around the county I was not able to participate in the weekends they enjoyed which explains my bookish nature, destruction of sheds, chopping wood and terrorising scout troops are only entertaining for so long. Being shot at in pheasant season is no great laugh either I might add. The majority of the guys I knew came from the town itself since I grew up around my parents (obviously) and all my relatives are very well to do english people who rule, or ruled financial empires that stretched the length of great britain and as such was not prepared for the more... rural activities enjoyed by my peers. That's not to say I never helped out around local farms, you don't get kicked in the head as often as I do without being around livestock.
So we had Chris, who liked to pretend he was from dublin by way of jamaica. Francis, a boy who had a lot of problems distinguishing between a friendly smack in retaliation for being teased and grevious bodily harm using anything that came to hand, including walls. Michael who was about five foot nothing and as skinny as a rake who had some sick fetishistic need to be beaten around the place several times a day. Leo, who had one of the most disturbing ability I've ever seen, he could cough up phlegm at any time he wanted (and no one has as much phlegm as this guy) and could also cough up blood on command. Usually this took forty years smoking a carton of Marlboro a day but not for Leo, no sir. There were several Darrens there too, the most noticable of whom was the heir to cavan's fast food empire.
Then there was the school bus. Right, I think by now we all know that ireland in general has a fairly pitiful public transport system. Trains run on impulse rather than schedule and bus timetables can be summed up in "when we get there". If Ireland can be said to have a capital of bad transport infrastructure then that capital would be cavan.
Cavan has potholes that are legendary, some of the potholes are actually *within* potholes themselves. In some areas the road is almost entirely pothole with occasional bits of original tarmac poking up, ready to be a hazard to a visiting BMW. Some potholes, against all the laws of engineering are half way up hills. Incidentally, did you know that cowshit dissolves tar in a matter of days? there were areas around our place where the entrance to a farm was across the road from a field and the bit in between was covered in cowshit one week and the next week there was a trench there.
Right, so the busses. Things are bad enough in dublin if you don't live in an area where the pulic actually votes but out in the countryside you get these.... things, that are essentially a giant metal box on wheels with some seats in them, many of them older than the drivers and quite a few of them rusted very badly. The one we had for several years actually had a roof that lifted off when we hit a bump, no suspension and sold tyres as far as we could see. The only thing that kept us from braining ourselves against the roof of the bus when it hit a bump was the fact that the roof itself partly parted company with the rest of the bus to flip up into the air. The braking distance on this thing could be measured in minutes rather than yards.
This was not helped by the fact that about half the passengers were complete wankers who delighed in helping the bus along it's inevitable path towards the scrapyard - or so we thought, regardless of the destruction wrought on the bus, it was never replace or decomissioned, in fact the last I heard about it it was still in service a year or two back. These people are the reason I often refer to cavan as "Banjo country"
Back to the point, I liked metalwork class, I've always been fairly good with my hands but these days I lack the necessary machinery to do much about it and no doubt my skills and reflexes have atrophied to a finger losingly poor level. Plus it required a minimum of learning compared to a healthy dose of common sense, a surprisingly rare commodity in my class it seemed. I mean it's not too hard to apply, wear goggles when doing anything involving sparks of naked flames, wear gloves in mostly the same situations, don't piss about, keep long hair tied back and so on.
I suppose common sense should TECHNICALLY also dictate that you should do something to protect your kidneys, the back of your head and anything facing the moron at the lathe or drill a few yards away. A SWAT team suit might have stood a chance perhaps, but then the morons are nothing if not inventive, the day they discovered that machine oil was both sprayable AND flammable was a happy one for them.
Not that I was perfect myself though, I went through drill bits at a rate of several a class because I couldn't get into the habbit of hammering a guiding hole into the metal first, one of them infamously shot across the room and buried itself in a notice board. Darren though, ah Darren was a dangerous moron to be around, more than once he had some fairly destructive accidents with the pieces he was working with losing several hours of work at a time. But even Darren paled in comparison to Michael, the scrawny guy I mentioned before. Michael once attempted to spot weld a bolt, to seal it shut. The bolt was about five millimetres in diameter. He used an industrial grade welder which was more normally used to build ocean liners to try this little fix. The plug alone was enough that he needed to heft it over his shoulder to put it in the power socket, the whine of the capacitors as they charged could be heard across the room. A primitive sixth sense took over for most of the room's occupants - except the teacher, for whom many years had given him precognitive powers to judge when an accident was going to be lethal instead of merely very very funny.
I should mention that this was our Junior certificate metalwork practical project, a small set of weighing scales accurate to within... well, if the needle moved when you put something in we were happy enough.
So Michael is lowering the welding rod, which in itself was wider than the nut and bolt, towards the piece which is about half perspex plastic and half steel, copper and aluminium (a material I am sure is still in my system in large amounts after some of our projects). Slowly the welding rod came down to meet the bolt and by this stage some of the more darwinially challenged classmates were wandering forward to watch michael struggle with this thing.
The rod made contact and for everyone present, everything went white (except again I am sure for the teacher who had evolved some sort of light filtering secondary membrane eyelid) for several seconds. Those closer to the blast took longer to recover and even those who had not been facing it were seeing spots since the white walls reflected the searing brilliance of the instantaneous transformation of a metal from solid to gas. I was near the back of the room and got to see the aftermath, a small mushroom cloud of smoke rising from the welding area.
When we surveyed the damage, those of us who weren't laughing too hard we saw what had happened, his piece had an inch wide hole right the way through it, through plastic and all, which had obviously been incinerated by the incredible temperatures involved in reducing the metal to a puddle on the bench.
The teacher's reaction was simple. "Michael, you're a fucking bollocks"