Friday, April 06, 2007

Archive of the Day

This is from Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James, about his childhood in Australia. It's sadly out of print, but you can find cheap used copies easily enough online, and I suggest you do so. Here, he's writing about being in school at 11 years old. Nelson is an overweight student who has to use two desks pushed together. James was being raised by his mother after his father had died shortly after the end of World War II, in a plane accident on his way home from battle. This passage showcases what I like most about the book's tone, which is its ability to quickly steer between riotously funny and pensive.
The normal curriculum was dealt with in the morning and the afternoon was left free for the development of potentialities. Unfortunately like most educational concepts this idea yielded pretty thin results. No reflection on our teacher, Mr Davis -- who had been a navigator in a Lancaster during the war and could turn a back somersault off the one-metre board -- but learning to recognise aeroplanes is not the same as acquiring knowledge. The inevitable result was that those boys who were receiving some guidance from home flourished while those whose sole stimulus was the school did little more than fool around with 'projects.' Since the choice of project was left to us, the results were hopelessly variable as to quality. One boy with bifocals would be turning an old washing-machine into a particle accelerator while the boy at the next desk would be cutting out pictures of giraffes. I've just remembered the name of the boy at the next desk. His name was Tommy Pillans. He was unhappy at home and committed suicide in his first year with us -- the first premature death in my generation. His desk was empty for only a few days. Then there was a reshuffle. Perhaps part of Nelson moved into it. Anyway, that was Tommy Pillans. Gone without a ripple. Not for the last time, I accommodated myself with ease to the idea of someone vanishing.


Anonymous lfw said...

is there anything better than great writing?

i'll be sure to get myself a copy. thanks for the tip.

9:36 AM  

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