A Victorian state-schoolyard day today, or what I remember as such, with the mixed scent of a peppercorn tree and warm browning grass. How the years roll away. The grass, already looking threadbare after a week or two without rain, was on the verge of a suburban street in front of a friend's house, the tree across the path in her garden. I was nowhere near a schoolground but the madeleine effect was the same. Warm grass and wispy fronds of peppercorn hanging languidly down brushing the gravel take me back to my first terrified day at primary school aeons ago. The cause of the terror was an elderly male teacher in a dark three-piece suit on a hot day shouting and growling his choleric way around the yard at lunch time. I daresay the effect was a bit like Christ causing that scene in the temple, though it was not money-changers (of whom I doubt that there were any present) who were the object of his wrath but "litterers" discarding the scrunched-up grey greaseproof in which their sandwiches had been swaddled or, equally reprehensibly it seemed, not picking up the papers discarded by others. When he shouted at a boy near me I began to cry and had to be comforted by a motherly older girl. The old teacher saw me and gruffly asked her what was the matter. "I'm scared of you," I blurted between the sobs. I was too, too scared to open my own greaseproof-swathed sandwiches. The old man softened and patted me on the shoulder and said something like, "No need to be scared of me, there there, eat your lunch." On the rare occasions that the aroma of a brown-bread tomato sandwich warm from the sun with the bread juice-soaked and squishy reaches my nostrils it is as effective as the grass and peppercorns in catapulting my memory back to Caulfield South State School, Bundeera Road, and an ancient teacher's bawled exhortations to pick up waste paper or be subject to the cuts competing with the loud and shrill childish chatter of a sunny schoolyard at lunch time.
Friday 27 January 2012