I wrote this piece 10 months ago, when I was still unemployed and feeling rather nostalgic about the time I spent at school. Luckily I’m now working fulltime and the prospect of writing “The Toilet Wall” for a living is that little bit closer than ever before.
The Fruits of Literature
“Imagine that you have found the most delicious-looking plums on your kitchen table”, Niall Mac Monagle began, in media res on the occasion of my very first English class. “You gobbled them up” he continued, “and now you must write a note to the rest of your family apologising for what you have done”. Luminous sheets of card fluttered onto our desks and twenty -six young fountain pens began to scrawl lines of contrition. “Time up”, yelled MacMonagle. “What have you, Ms Flaherty?” A scoff. “Erm.. Sorry I ate the plums”. MacMonagle beamed. “Excellent!” Then silence, then a poem. I have been hooked on language ever since, and were it not for the brilliance of this man, I would have neither studied English literature at university nor considered writing for life. I am imagining his humble cheeks turn rose petal pink upon reading this, and it gives me pleasure.
Emancipation or “On Covering the Calves”
The fight for girls to wear trousers was won in the summer of 2001, when I was thirteen and about to enter my second year at Wesley College. Clutching the uniform list triumphantly, I dragged my mother to Rita’s uniform shop in the ‘old’ Dundrum shopping centre, and we purchased a pair of over-sized, shapeless navy slacks, which I am waiting patiently to grow into, ten years and several hundred cupcakes later. The design was so ghastly that I was the only girl in the year to condescend to wear the garment and even at that, my resolve faded with the advent of spring.
A Changing World
I have the young and kindly music teacher, Mr Gifford to thank for my introduction to google. One afternoon in the computer room in the library, while my friend and I were typing up our entirely fabricated research project on Simon and Garfunkel, he bent his head tentatively between us and whispered, “There is a great new way to find information. It is called Google”. A rather silly name, I thought. Hardly one that will catch on.
I remember returning to my locker at 4 o’clock on September 11, 2001 and coming across a geeky classmate in a state of excitement. He was pounding his fists together to describe the trajectory of a plane’s crash into a skyscraper. I thought he was talking about a computer-game. Later, on the 48A bus home a lady spoke into her mobile phone, “who knows what will happen now; that Bush is a maniac”. By the time I got home, the TV was on, and the blown-apart pieces came together.
Breaking news and breaking ground
The very best bit of my time at Wesley College was my involvement with the establishment of a school newspaper, Fullstop. The editorial team consisted of seven people: six of my very best friends and myself. (It’s all about who you know in this country!). Tonight I reminisced over a coffee with David Kearney, then-editor-in-chief about some of the gems that the publication produced. The second issue, released on 26 January, 2004 featured a six-page interview with Graham Norton under the promising headline The Full Norty.
No area of school life was passed over by Fullstop: the controversy about the new swipe card attendance system was neatly summarised by the headline Swipe Strife! and tensions between prefects and non-prefects were explored under the provocative question: Prefects or Defects? My baby was a column on page 3 called The Toilet Wall, which is so full of righteous indignation that it makes me cringe with nostalgia.
Seeing the Woods for the Trees
On Thursday 18 November 2004, Fullstop ran an exclusive interview with the one and only Christopher Woods, after he was announced as the new principal of the college. The headline read Out of the woods and boasted an exclusive “fifteen-minute intensive grilling about Wesley, Africa and the secret to a good education”. Mr Woods mused that “ if I can look back in fifty years time when I’m old and grey and can say that everyone enjoyed their time in school and learned a lot … I’d be a very happy man”. It was a privilege, in my final two years at Wesley College to have a principal so dedicated and so interested in his pupils as individuals. I am sure that Mr Woods, old and grey will be a very happy man.
Now and Then
I studied English literature and Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin and now I spend much of my time at home googling jobs but all I can find are telesales positions requiring proficiency in Dutch. I do a little bit of teaching on the side which I enjoy but if I’m honest, what I really want to do is get paid to write The Toilet Wall. Wesley College inspired me to dream of great things and life since graduation has coupled that entitlement with a dollop of humility. The class of 2006 may have considered themselves the crème de la crème, but many of us are still sorry we ate the plums.
I´m deeply disturbed that you, like myself, remember:
a) that John Wesley story and quote. Actually I was just explaining to it to a Spanish friend of mine the other day. Unfortunately I did not know the correct Spanish vocabulary for “brand plucked from the burning”. (This is in reference to the previous post).
b) How you found out about 9/11
Yeah, looking forward on five years, I now wish I had known the school better. It was actually good school even if many of the people there were unsufferable of my adolescent self (not naming names!). I also, alas, missed out on the Mr. Mac Monagle experience, which is probably why I´m not an English graduate… that among other important reasons.
I had to google the John Wesley quote as well – it was on the tip of my tongue but I had forgotten the word “brand”. Must look it up actually.. still not sure! Yeah, I agree. It’s a great school and it was only when I was looking back on it with the benefit of a little more maturity and distance that I recognise it as such. How did you hear about 911? Did a teacher tell you or did you like me overhear somebody else talking about it? Thanks for reading and especially for commenting 🙂
Remember going into a shop after the school day had finished (I remember it was a Tuesday and that I was happy because I had little homework, I hadn´t heard anything yet). In the shop, I think it was a centra, overheard a stuff tough sounding guy, probably military, on the radio saying some rather menacing words like “response”, “air strikes”, “attack” and wondering “WTF? Has something happened?”. The tone of the whole thing was very, very serious but it wasn´t clear what exactly they were talking about. So I went back to the car and asked my Dad why they were talking about a potential war on the radio and eventually it began to come together…
(As an aside, as I soon as I heard about it, the name “Osama bin Laden” came immediately to mind because I remembered watching a segment at the very end of a SKY news broadcast a few months earlier claiming that “Bin Laden was planning new attacks”. This was, I believe, after some story about a group of fireman rescued a stranded kitten from tree who had been starving for three days or something like that.)
TO my adolescent self and not of… memo to self: always check writing before posting. Also “was actually A good school”.
Where’s the directors cut edition… ‘Ida Blast’ – it has to go public!
I thought I might get in trouble 🙂
“I spend much of my time at home googling jobs but all I can find are telesales positions requiring proficiency in Dutch”
Arguably the greatest betrayal of the “Celtic Tiger” team was leaving the young with the realisation that all their country can do is low-level, disposable service work for other richer countries.
Also, thank you for the great reminders of school 🙂
I remembered most of these, but never met Mr Woods.
Ah, Mr Mills…
I also have fond memories of our chats in the wind section of the orchestra, John! Rumour continues to Mill around Wesley.. 🙂