Every phase of your life contributes to who you are but if I had to say what was the making of me, I think it was the six years in Deerpark school in Cork.
For example, I don’t think I would have been able to do standup comedy without being trained there.
Maybe I’d be able to tell jokes but not deal with hecklers. Dealing with interruption or slagging requires more than just a thick skin. You need to be able to think of the reply immediately as opposed to doing so half an hour later, while wincing on the bus on the way home.
There’s a muscle in the brain which I have just made up called the riposterior cortex that handles all of this and that muscle needs to be exercised.
And a small, pale nerd (to quote one memorable putdown) who left Dripsey one Monday morning on the 8am from-Macroom-via-Coachford bus walked up Friars Walk carrying a Sherpa-load of schoolbooks and wearing my Confirmation shoes, I hadn’t developed that particular brain muscle yet.
I had to learn quickly. City kids are just faster off the mark. That’s why they say streetwise and not lane-wise or field-smart or bush-aware (which sounds like an STI campaign).
I felt I was wading through verbal quicksand by comparison. The little in-jokes, the cultural references based on having more than two TV channels, skills honed from competing in more confined spaces. I learned the hard way how to take them, process them and, after a few years, clap-back, as the young people say these days.
All the teachers were new too. So many of them. One for each subject. How was that going to work, I wondered? How would they all know me so well just like the one teacher at a time in primary school. And there were other teachers you saw briefly who weren’t yours but who you mixed up at the start. I saw a photo of some of them on the Deerpark Facebook page, taken around the time I was there. They all looked so young. I had that realisation that everyone gets eventually as they pass the age most of their teachers were when they taught them. It’s like when you find out Tom Petty was only 39 when he played with Travelling Wilburys.
Realising they were just normal men and women with their own lives. And with real names as opposed to nicknames. I wonder are teachers ever exasperated at the fact that pointless/inaccurate/hurtful/makes-no-sense-actually nicknames get passed on from generation to generation of student. Do nicknames die out? Or does the teacher have to retire and still they see the effing thing recorded for ever on RateMyTeacher.ie?
I often wonder also about teachers and music. It feels like they and music journalists are the ones who have spotted music trends before many. What teacher saw the Clash written for the first time on a schoolbag or IRON maiden on a homework journal? With the font size decreasing as the student went too big at the start and struggled to fit the rest of it in.
What teacher in Deerpark first spotted the dance music hitting Cork? Did they see the gradual reduction in rock/ska/reggae-related graffiti? Did they confiscate a Walkman that was playing a tape of ESSENTIAL HARDCORE or when someone first carved SCOOTER onto a Lemass-era school desk with a compass? A compass that had also been used to jab into someone’s arse sitting in the WT Cosgrave-era desk in front (they had a sort of wrought iron circular flourish on the frame. They weighed the same as a Fiat 131.)
As I anxiously await the school’s Facebook page as it uploads photos from the past, and wonder how much money would it take to make any photos of me disappear, I start to gradually in-fill some of the forgotten memories of six important years. And start to see what I’m made of.
Deerpark CBS celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.