COLUMN:Michael Hand- Penny Lane may have saved my bacon

“COME out in the name of the Law” is a phrase I would associate with 1930’s black and white gangster movies. I still shudder with disbelief to think it was addressed to me as a nine-year-old boy.
When I was at school in the 1960’s it was considered essential if you were to have any creditability as a hard man with your fellow pupils, to have schemed school at least once. I didn’t have the credentials to be a hard man but I had aspirations and I knew that if I had any chance of being accepted into that exclusive club I had to prove my worth. My opportunity arose in 4th class when our teacher was off sick. The headmaster because of his fondness for the drink struggled to supervise his own class and I was quite sure he would not notice a couple of boys absent after lunch, in the class next door.
A plan was hatched at break time with my friend Joe to spend the afternoon on the shores of Lough Major, which was adjacent to the school, then join our classmates at the end of the school day and walk home with them to avoid suspicion. Our crucial mistake was to boast of our plans to our classmates who were outraged and jealous at the same time.
After a hastily eaten lunch, I collected two jam jars to which strings were attached with a view to catching creatures that swam in the lake. A wonderful afternoon was spent by the lakeshore doing what they now call environmental studies. We didn’t have such fancy concepts in those days but we had great fun observing nature in all her elegance. We were thrilled as insects danced on the water before a bird swooped to have them for lunch and all the living creatures that lurked beneath the murky water of the lake amazed us. Unfortunately, none of them were attracted into our jam jars.
We were blissfully unaware as we lazed by the lakeshore that 20 virtuous classmates jealous of their missed opportunity had reported our absence to the headmaster. He in turn contacted the local Garda and a full-scale investigation got underway. Shocked parents were interviewed as to our whereabouts and were outraged to hear that their angelic sons were being accused of such a misdeed. All efforts to find us proved unsuccessful and a decision was taken to await our return at the end of the school day.
Three chimes on the church bells alerted us to prepare to join our classmates. We hid behind a wall on a hill above the school and emerged when we heard the noise of children’s happy voices, freed from a day’s enslavement to the drudgery of schoolwork. We were shocked by what we heard. A roar went up: ‘There they are!’ And a swarm of accusing arms pointed in our direction. At their helm was a portly man in a dark uniform that bore a strong resemblance to a policeman.
We ran for our lives, over walls, across ditches and through garden fences. We ended up in the backyard of a local public house and took refuge in a shed used for storing empty beer bottles. The smell of stale beer did not rest easily on my already queasy tummy. My heart was thumping wildly but outside all was quiet. I was convinced that we had evaded the posse. Then I heard the sound of footsteps and voices that dispelled my fledgling hope. We crouched in terror hoping they would not discover our whereabouts. Then a loud voice boomed out: “Come out in the name of the Law.”
The game was up and we handed ourselves in without further resistance.
We were paraded through the town by the police officer who held each of us by an ear. We were brought before the headmaster who threatened reformatory school if we ever committed a similar offence. The worst was yet to come. I had to go home and face my mother. It was the longest journey of my life.
As I entered the house ‘Penny Lane’ by the Beatles was playing on the radio. To my surprise, my mother who was normally a strict disciplinarian and not averse to using the cane on occasions, gave me a mild rebuke. What a relief!
I don’t know if my attempt to scheme school enhanced my reputation as a ‘hard man’ among my peers but after my brush with the law and the threat of reformatory school, I was quite happy to be considered a wimp!


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