comrade amongst the beans this morning. A little orange yellow
frog. All the way down one row he kept two bean plants ahead of
me. He was slow moving, confident and visible on the leaves.
Very polite with that air of one who might be poisonous.
But it was his color more than his character that combined with recall to
produce one of those memories that retain virulence. Had he been
green or blue, or slippery I might have drifted happily to the end of the
bean rows and come away content with the knowledge that possibly poisonous
would keep my fearless little friend safe from Kingbirds.
His color reminded me of a Kiwi boot polish tin. The shallow kind
with a little twiddle on the side that opens it. And now pretend for
a moment that you had never seen one before. Which of course at the
dawn of the twenty first century in a land wealthy in shoes is very
At boarding school, a correct relationship
with shoe polish is central to discipline. A well polished shoe is synonymous
with obedient character, proper upbringing and correct breeding. And
inevitably for such a central feature of social structure the polish
itself requires an adequate palette. The shoe must be leather, bulky
and held in place by laces, not straps, or buckles or hemp thongs, or bits
of rubber cut from the inner tube of a bicycle
The footwear I found myself wearing was
uncomfortable in the extreme. The shoes were heavy, I could not feel
the ground. I felt like an unbalanced duck. And, retention,
being never positive in the collection that is me, I had forgotten how to
tie those elegant bows.
Then in the morning, before breakfast, we
gathered in the courtyard to polish shoes. Each with our own shoe care
kit. One cloth, two brushes and one tin of polish.
Perhaps had I joined the class with all
the others, instead of arriving one term late, I might not have been such an
object of curiosity. Instead I was the only one with Kiwi boot
polish. All the others had Nugget boot polish. Apparently I had
in my hands a social faux pas. And it might have helped had I been
able to open the tin.
Some, when they are teased, shrug and
understand the nature of good humouredness. They understand banter as
that road to belonging, a steep climb toward purpose. A calculated
trip for so many on a journey to a uniform end. And sadly, it appears
to be a journey that too often demurs to power.
The fight ended with words in the masters
study. But ignorance is rarely forgiven, until someone gets physically
hurt. Then, because words so often fail, compromise is achieved.
And at age seven, boys are like nations. Compromise is mostly
maintained by fear. For my part, fear of a ritual called 'the
slipper'. For my school chums, fear of a new comer who was clearly
irrational and probably dangerous.