THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE TASMANIAN ADVOCATE.
THE GHOST OF ULVERSTONE HIGH
Some years ago I drove past my old high school and realized I had subconsciously avoided writing a single word about my years there. It’s not that I was particularly unhappy at Ulverstone High, but I was…well, virtually anonymous. I suspect the name ALLEN, Pauline eventually faded from the registers, becoming a blank space between ABBOTT, Kenneth and ATKINSON, Elizabeth.
My best friend was Shirley, who I am ashamed to say I became totally dependent upon. Whenever Shirley was absent I had no idea which classes to attend, or where! I spent the day hiding in the library. I was not particularly good at sport either, but fortunately my dear friend was. Often chosen as captain, she loyally picked me in hockey and softball teams even though I had little to contribute! We once came first in a class badminton competition because Shirley returned every shuttlecock.
Not surprisingly, teachers often confused me with others, with unhappy consequences. Take cooking for example. My theory papers were brilliant. I knew all about pectin in cherry plums and gluten in wheat. However, in fourth year I ended up with 68% and the comment ‘Would be a credit student if she could cook.’ How unfair! My only disaster was allowing a batch of cream puffs to catch fire. It was Shirley who lost control of a pancake and tossed it onto Mrs Woods’ head.
It was Faye Johnson whose Bath buns dribbled off the workbench when she killed her yeast. Yet all such failures were mistakenly attributed to me. In the face of this injustice, albeit unintentional, I failed to thrive. And yet it was at high school that my first literary spark appeared; prompted by my preoccupation with food.
THE MOUSE ROARS!
For some time a battle had raged over lack of patronage of the school canteen. I wrote an article about the matter (anonymously of course) for the school newspaper. It was a spirited attack on limited choices and inflated prices etc. The article was published, along with a comment from the commerce master, for whom the canteen was a pet project. He referred to the mystery author as ‘a radical.’
Oh, the thrill of being labelled a radical! It was my finest hour. Unfortunately only Shirley knew I had written the piece. I could not afford to broadcast the fact, because I was close to failing commerce, surviving only by copying Shirley’s balance sheets. However, I embraced radicalism with the fervour of someone desperate for an identity. I wore my fringe in my eyes and my tie askew.
I took to writing poetry , and submitted a truly dreadful sonnet to the annual magazine. The poem explored the meaning of life, but was rejected because the editor said the wording was ambiguous. It was a blow from which I never fully recovered, particularly as I had signed it. I spent the following year lurking about the quadrangle, never raising my eyes above my ankle socks. My fear was that the editor, a top stream ‘brain’, would point at me and quote the opening lines of my sonnet between hysterical bursts of laughter.
But in my final report card my English teacher wrote; ‘Pauline has very good ideas; when one can read them.’ Yes, well my handwriting is still indecipherable, even to me.. My class teacher added; ‘It appears Pauline has some literary ability.’ I’m sure neither of them realized just how much those comments would mean to me in the years ahead. I am very grateful to them both. And despite my undistinguished career, the old school song still holds true;
ULVERSTONE HIGH SCHOOL. SCHOOL BY THE SEA,
DEAR TO OUR HEARTS SHALL IT’S NAME EVER BE……
WHAT ARE YOUR ENDURING MEMORIES OF HIGH SCHOOL?
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