Monday, 3 November 2008

Lessons outside the classroom

All of us face things we do not like. Sometimes the situation we find ourselves in, is not something we can extricate ourselves from when we feel like it and we just have to plough through all the upsets and difficulties until we find a way out!

School life is not enjoyable for most people, because some teachers hate what they are doing and take their frustrations out on kids. It is not easy to be a teacher either, because most kids have no discipline or manners at home and make it impossible for teachers to manage a class full of kids!

But there are certain lessons in life that we do not learn in the class room.

In my school days teachers were still allowed to issue corporal punishment. I attended an Afrikaans Boys High school in Brakpan called Stofberg. This was more like a military academy. Cadets and rugby were almost worshipped at that school.
Teachers would give you six of the best for anything they could think of and sometimes you received beatings for no reason at all. They had the habit of giving the whole class a thrashing to punish one boy for doing something wrong. When we asked a teacher why he beat the whole class his answer was,'Just in case you do something wrong today!' This was the cruel, sadistic humour we had to put up with - and no parents ever complained!

Ou Skellie, (Mr. Steenkamp) who looked like a skeleton to us, and that is where he got his nickname, used to either pull your short hair above your ear while talking to you or pinch you under your arm and turn the pinch so that you had a bruise for days! My mother once saw the bruise on my body as I got dressed and when she finally got the truth out of me phoned the headmaster, who did absolutely nothing about it.

To give you an idea, in Standard 7 I received 171 cuts! We used to mark them on the red stripe on the inside of our blazers to compare with each other during breaks.
During rugby practice they used to hit you with a kweperlat (a twig from a quince tree) or with the rope attached to their whistle if you dropped the ball or did not scrum properly.

Because I was artistic and got almost full marks for essays and because I played piano, I was regarded as a 'sissy' and constantly mocked and bullied. Why I still went to school is a mystery to me. I hated every moment. But I cherised the challenge to try and get 100% for tests or exams. And I found a sport that I could beat them all at: cricket.

Cricket was almost non-existent in Afrikaans schools in those days because it was regarded as an English sport.We had no cricket nets, so I got my dad and a builder to build the nets for us. We got Dennis Lindsay the Springbok wicket keeper to coach us. I'm still delighted by the fact that I bowled him with the first ball he ever faced from me - in our school nets! He predicted that I would become the next Springbok off-spin bowler.

The teachers had no knowledge of the game and the only coaching you received was normally the coach shouting, 'hit the bloody ball!' or 'catch the ball!'
I went to the local library near the town hall to read up on the game and spent hours in front of the mirror correcting my batting strokes. I also went down to the club cricket nets and used a dust bin as wickets to bowl at. A white handkerchief was used as my marker and every afternoon I would go and bowl for hours until I mastered the technique of bowling off-break balls that spun into the batsman.
One day something amazing happened...

The opposing team only had to get another 20 runs to win the match, with 4 wickets standing. When it was my turn to bowl, I took 6 wickets in 7 balls against Nigel High. Five wickets were taken in succession - almost a double hat-trick! And then there was a dot ball. With the first ball of my next over I took another wicket and the whole team was out! It was like a dream. No one could believe what had actually happened.

The next day it was in the newspapers. I was contacted by the selectors of the Eastern Transvaal schools team and before I knew it was playing for my province! In this way I fought back against the system and used my skill to make room for me in the school.

No matter how harsh the circumstances or how unreasonable, character is shaped by facing the situation and negotiating your way through it until you come out on top.

My parents pastored the Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Brakpan and that is something I was mocked about throughout my school career in Stoffberg, because most of the boys belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church.

But after 5 years my dad took the call to move to Cape Town where he pastored the Maitland assembly and I went to Milnerton High, a school where I got opportunity to express myself in cricket and in the other love of my life: drama. But that is another story...

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