Steele-eyed span

June 24, 2017 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In Year 5 or 6, there occurred one of the most corrosive incidents of my life.

I was in an experimental ‘open area’ – far removed from standard school rooms.

Several classes occupied a common ‘free-range’ space and we were given phenomenal liberty to learn as we pleased.

One day, a group of teaching students came to marvel at our set-up.

They wandered among knots of kids who were very much doing their own thing.

My thing at the time was cubits: small plastic cubes that connected in a kind of low-tech fischertecknic/LEGO way.

I could play with them alone for hours – and even took them home.

Yet I didn’t realise their educative value.

An earnest student teacher quizzed me about my model making, then offered to show me how the cubes could be used to grasp mathematics.

I wasn’t keen, but onlookers had gathered, so the student teacher went ahead.

He explained that 1 cube could be joined to 9 others to make a line of 10. He then joined 10 lines of 10 to make a plane of 100. For 3 x bonus points, he then showed how 10 planes could be assembled to make a cube of 1000.

Unfortunately, he had lost me at 5.

It wasn’t his fault. Looking back, I certainly wouldn’t have tried to engage a twitchy loner with autism.

After considerable effort, his enthusiasm finally waned as he realised I just wasn’t going to get it.

By this time, I was completely overstimulated by the exercise and freaked out by the observers.

I stumbled away muttering, ‘One times ten times ten times one times ten times … etc.’

That could have been the end of it, but Mrs Steele stepped in.

Having watched the botched interaction, she was livid I’d disrespected our guest.

She pursued me, span me round, knelt down and hissed at my face:

‘Paul Hassing:- You. Are. Miserable!!!’

I looked at her cold eyes, iron hair and lined (now frighteningly compressed) lips.

Her words shot straight into my heart.

Where they remain to this day.

When her fingers finally unclenched from my arm, I tottered off in a different direction, this time muttering, ‘I. Am. Miserable. I. Am. Miserable. I. Am. Miserable.’

And, after several 100 repetitions,

I believed it.

At my session last week, a new counsellor suggested a link between this experience and my childhood sexual abuse.

No-one has posited this before, but the years roughly match.

The counsellor said abused children often act up in class, drawing teacher ire.

And while I don’t think I was misbehaving per se, I feel her theory could have


It’ll be fascinating to see if EMDR therapy can finally draw this sword from my soul.

Thank you for reading.

Here is some suitably sad music to play us out.

To keep this tale fresh and strong, you may wish to

Whatever the sum, I’ll be filled with thanks.







Big drama

December 27, 2016 at 8:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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My catholic high school (secondary college) had an approach to teaching drama that modern parents could consider … questionable.

In Year 7 (Form 1), I experienced this method at age 12.

It was 1977. Only now do I appreciate how odd it all was.

The classes were held in a bricked basement, with no view in or out.

The spherical, late-middle-aged man who controlled the (unsupervised) proceedings was known (modified for legal reasons) as ‘Prof’.

Prof never got out of his chair, but seemed forever rotating in it.

We were a gaggle of prepubescent boys – a world away from today’s knowing, sexualised offspring.

The only naked woman most of us had seen was in our black-and-white biology textbook. (And we had to draw straws for that one … but that’s another story.)

In light of our extreme callowness, Prof decided we needed ‘warming up’ before we could stride the stage in earnest.

He therefore announced that each of us would take several minutes to devise a ‘television commercial’

for our own underpants.

And perform it

in them.

This would occur on the dais in front of Prof’s desk.

Reactions in the group were mixed.

A few extroverts relished the chance and fled to corners to rehearse.

Others seemed bemused, but compliant.

I honestly can’t recall my response – possibly because I was fixated on that of one student.

He was low and slight, with a wig of jet hair shockingly matched to alabaster skin. He had buck teeth, red-rimmed eyes and thin limbs that seemed they’d snap in a breeze.

Let’s call him Damon.

Damon was bullied. Cripplingly shy. And at that instant, he looked like the last soul of a wrecked ship on a reef of pain.

By the time Damon scraped enough courage to ask if he could be excused from this ‘exercise’ Prof was already judging performances.

As boy after boy stripped and spruiked his goods, Damon writhed, wrung his hands and became ever more wretched.

Again he begged Prof’s indulgence, this time in tears, but was brushed off.

At last, Damon’s turn came.

Most of the undies so far had been of the jockette style – bought in multi-hued packs at the supermarket.

Damon’s ‘bog catchers’ were altogether different.

They were so white, they gave his skin colour.

They were so big, they shrank him by a third.

They were so ill-fitted, they looked like they could storm off the stage in protest.

All I recall of Damon’s maiden performance was that it was excruciating, and brief.

The mocking laughter that engulfed him from script to stage door lasted much, much longer.

Possibly to this day.

I’m pretty sure Prof marked Damon very low for lack of ‘presence’.

Other boys got glowing reviews.



Yes. Prof produced a handful of currency that drew us like filings to his iron desk.

His fat fingers dispensed largesse to those who’d pleased him most.

We later learned this was Prof’s known modus operandi.

One senior teacher even extolled Prof for ‘generously motivating students out of his own pocket’.

I find this astonishing now.

But at the time, I was so in ‘need’ of funds for my next kit model that I got with the program.

Indeed, I once embraced the role of Female Nurse with such ardour that I rode the school bus sporting my mother’s nail polish – to my father’s chagrin and my future bullies’ delight.

Rumours persisted about certain students who pleased Prof beyond fiscal measure and were treated to private coaching sessions – in his home.

In hindsight, I’m extremely glad my best ‘review’ was $1.60.

I’ll say just one more thing about this unusual episode.

When Bing Crosby died, Prof assigned us to write a journalistic article about his life.

Now this was something to which I could turn my hand.

I spent days researching and crafting the perfect piece.

Prof marked it ‘C++-‘.

I asked where my real mark had gone.

He retorted that, while the article was extremely well written and presented (++) it was too good to have been produced by such a young auteur (C-).

In short, I must have plagiarised the whole thing from a source even loftier than The Sun.

You can imagine



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Paper cut

March 26, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Cut to the quick.

In ‘Prep’ (the entry level primary school class before Year 1) we were introduced to scissors.

Safety was everything.

The plastic handles were colourful.

The blades so short and rounded, you couldn’t find (let alone sever) a vein to save your life.

Along with these scissors came craft paper.

You may recall: sheets about 25 cm square. (Ten inches in the old money.)

One side was glossily coloured.

The other, muted and matt.

The object of the game was to cut the sheets with the scissors and do various arty things with the result.

We were four and five.

So it should’ve come as no huge surprise when Linda (not her real name) on encountering scissors for the first time, tried them on her hair.

Her brown locks fell to the floor before Miss Whiting could intervene.

A parental conference followed.

For the rest of the year, Linda was banned from scissors.

She had to tear her way through Prep.

And given things weren’t heavily academic at this stage,

she did a lot of tearing.

As is the way with children, Linda was marked by the pack.

Like the boy who peed his pants, she was damaged goods.

The sad irony is that these days, Linda’s crude, hand-rendered artistic creations would very likely be considered greatly superior to the norm.

And possibly go viral in their infantile genius.

I observed Linda during the ensuing years.

A slight child to begin with, she seemed to shrink ever further into herself.

Today, I daren’t hunt for her on LinkedIn.

Lest she isn’t there.


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Pic by Rain Rabbit.


Spewin’ chips

March 5, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Sawn and unseen.

I recall the dust man had another role.

A role so awful it may explain why he spent so much time with his incinerator.

Our primary school wasn’t air-conditioned.

And the roof was made of tin.

We had none of today’s namby-pamby, go-home, get-out-of-jail-free temperature thresholds.

We sat and worked and ate and played and laughed and fought in the true-blue, dinky-di Australian heat.

At least, most of us did.

Some of us were of a relatively delicate disposition.

Lily skinned, slender limbed, carrot hued and/or freckle flung.

For these students, summer was a time for spewing.

I don’t know if it was the heat, the lack of glad-wrap on home-made jam sandwiches, or the highly processed tuck-shop fare.

Perhaps a combination of all three.

What I do know is that there was an awful lot of spew about.

The corridor floors were shiny with patina and polish.

When sick hit – often with considerable force – it splattered comprehensively.

Compounding the situation after the fact was the dust man.

His response to spew was to strew it with sawdust.

Appropriate, one might think.

But then,

he left it.

As the hot day wore on, the barf bouquet breached every nook of the school.

And, like so many mouse-trap-taped ping-pong balls, one emetic event could spring kindred reactions from sensitive souls.

By mid-afternoon, the halls could be decked with hazards.

Nor did it end there.

We always yearned to be out of class.

And played ferociously at every chance.

When the bell knelled a return to travail, we lingered as long as we dared, then raced back to class at the last instant.

The sad confluence of this was that one poor, speeding pupil invariably fell foul of dusty chuck.

I can hear it now …

Pounding footsteps down the hall.

The shriek of recognition on turning a blind corner.

The screech of protesting Bata Scouts.

The awkward thump and endless, hideous slither.

The scream of anguish.

The clatter of heels.

The raucous Schadenfreude.

And the wail of the victim who, tarred and feathered, had stinking hot hours to endure.

Why the dust man did it, I’ll never know.

I suppose, these days, we’d call it poor cultural fit.

The chunder down under was always gone by morning.

The scene set for another fool

to fret the stage.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by Maja Dumat.


Mended ways

April 30, 2015 at 6:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments
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This was then.

Mum used to mend our clothes.

When a sock got holed, she darned it.

Her neat stitches lasted long after the rest of the sock fell to bits

in the rag bag.

The darning wool was soft.

Often slightly thicker than the fabric it repaired.

You could feel a mended patch against your heel or under your toe.

At school. On a sleepover. In the park.

A tiny reminder of a mother’s thrift, industry, talent and love.


The years have unravelled.

Now, as I fall to bits, I wish I had one darned sock to keep me safe.

Each time I bin a worn one, I think I should learn to mend.

But not before I wish

with all my heart

that Mum were still here to do it.

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Making tracks

April 6, 2015 at 7:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Why were these so damn popular?

Why were these so damn popular?

Primary school was a great place for fads – some of which became crazes.

One that swept my school (and, from my reading, many more) was Bata Scouts.

The key attraction of these shoes was that their soles left paw prints.

The kids went insane for them and badgered their parents until, one by one, almost everyone had a pair.

And those who didn’t suffered agonies of exclusion.

My family was middle middle class – with scant funds for footwear frippery.

I can’t recall if my imprecations alone were enough to sway my parents.

Perhaps, on investigation, Mum ascertained that the shoes were well made – thus constituting good value.

The shoes were certainly comfortable, and lasted at least as long as bog-ordinary Clarks Shoes.

Perhaps Mum granted my wish to ‘belong’ while presenting a superior home economics case to dad.

Anyway, the day I finally got my pair, along with its spy-related paraphernalia, felt a bit like xmas.

I recall seeking pristine dust patches, to leave perfect prints within.

But what was the intense attraction?

Did I and my peers, still young enough to feel our animal natures, revel in the chance to display these to the world?

Or did we, acutely disempowered by size and youth, crave atavistic abilities to help us endure home, school and wider life?

I don’t know.

And I don’t think Bata knew.

But it was obviously such a winner that they’ve just re-released this decades-old brand.

Mired to their devices, will today’s kids even notice – let alone be impressed?

If you see a modern child go nuts for these shoes, please let us know. 🙂

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Dust man

December 12, 2013 at 7:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Heading out.

Dead and gone.

At primary school there was a small, T-shaped space behind the toilet block.

It housed an incincerator, and the man who kept it.

The area was bordered by trees and strictly out of bounds.

But through the chain-link fence and foliage, you could glimpse the device if you tried.

It looked to be cast iron, painted silver.

The air intakes were shaped like halved grapefruits – almost floral.

The contraption sat in silence, smoking sporadically; awaiting its next meal.

Also mute was its keeper, who wore a coat as grey as the ashes he shovelled.

In six years at the school, I never heard this man speak.

Nor did I ever see him collect refuse from the grounds.

He simply appeared, on occasion, to feed the incinerator with boxes of paper that spontaneously materialised.

There were never any flames; just languid wreaths in the autumn sky.

Today it seems extraordinary  that a strange man in a filthy coat would be allowed to combust behind the boys’ and girls’ toilets.

But in those days, kids could safely knock on strange doors for bob-a-job week.

Like the papers, the dust man, the incinerator and their reason for being,

have all vanished

in time.

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