(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – June 2022.)
When I was young my mother would knit various items of clothing for me. Mainly jumpers, beanies (woollen hats) gloves and scarfs. Unfortunately many of the items on completion would be a bit on the small side as Mummy hadn’t anticipated my growth spurts nor the time taken to create the garments. The lack of a comprehensive time, motion and cost analysis greatly impeded productivity – but mothers didn’t talk like that in the 60s as they weren’t pretentious middle manager wankers in competitive industry.
In my middle primary school years she got it just right. She produced a perfectly fitted royal blue sweater with a tiny silvery white speck through it. Most kids moped about in grey jumpers or navy blue cardigans. This was a thing of beauty. Leave that technicolour coat back on the peg Joseph. There I was in my shimmering azure outfit looking absolutely gorgeous. It was the bees knees. The dogs bollocks (as they say in these parts). I was pleased as punch. Happy as Larry (where do we get these phrases from ?) Mum had really come up with the goods this time. How was I to know it would lead to my downfall.
One day I was taken aside by Mrs. Cullen who was not my classroom teacher at the time. She (wrongfully) claimed that I had been observed (by a cleaner I think) rifling through the desks of another classroom after school hours. The culprit had a distinctive blue jumper. She accused and berated me for some time and dismissed my pleas of innocence through trembling bottom lip. “It wasn’t me, Miss !”
When I got home I burst into inconsolable sobbing at the injustice of it all. I knew there was a lad a few years my senior that had a similar styled and coloured jumper (not as fabulous as mine of course) who was a bit shifty. My mother comforted me as mothers do but she didn’t storm down to the school and demand an apology for the wrongful accusation. Was there a seed of doubt that her youngest and dearest could be a petty thief ? This was too much for an 8 year old to bare. I stripped off the bespoke jumper and threw it into the bottom drawer with all the other discarded woollens never to see the light of day again.
I will wear grey from this day forth. I will not stand out from the crowd.
(Fast forward five years and I’m wearing a mauve floppy collared shirt and a multi-coloured tank top !)
Did you know that they call a jersey a ‘Guernsey’ in Australia ? No, I don’t know why either !
I don’t know if this incident shaped my views of fighting for the underdog. Righting the wrongs. Standing up for the dispossessed.
When I was a student nurse in the 80s doing my placement at Drumchapel Hospital I was stopped by a solitary picket at the gates. Most people walked straight by him but I heard him out. He was an Orderly striking for a reasonable wage. He was from the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) as was I so I didn’t cross his line. I was summoned by my lecturers and told I was the first ever student to go on strike. ‘AND ?’ I replied. Stony silence. Chalk that one up for the little guy.
I became a job representative for the Australian Nurses Federation and took industrial action for over a week along with thousands of others for better pay and conditions in the early nineties.
I have led a relatively blameless existence in the eyes of the law bar a few traffic infringements including a fine for not having lights on my bicycle in which an aggressive young officer screamed in my face. “Where’s your f**king drivers licence ?” His colleague had to restrain him when I pointed out you don’t need a licence for a bike. The bastard still gave me a $200 fine.
A few late library books and that’s it. My wrongful primary school accusation has not led me into a life of spiraling crime – YET !
I do miss that jumper though !