A foolish thing to do

This Monday will be April Fool’s Day, and my dad absolutely loved to spot the false and outlandish stories that journalists would come up with to attempt to trick their audiences.

Dad was well practiced in April foolery, using his columns to try to hoodwink his fans into believing some very daft stories. It was certainly the case in his piece from 31st March 1979, where he claimed that the Home Office had announced that we would be converting to ‘metric time’ in the near future.

This would mean that one second would become known as a ‘milliday’, a minute would be a ‘centiday’, and an hour became a ‘deciday’. Although a day would stay as a day, a week would become a ‘decaday’, a month a ‘hectoday’ and a year a ‘kiloday’.

He describes how the the new system would be implemented, along with the impact it would have on working hours, pay, pensions, holidays and the like, and that the Government estimated that it wouldn’t be fully up and running for five years, with the anticipated launch date being 1st April 1984.

I’m not sure children these days perform many April Fool’s pranks, but in the 1980s when I was a teen, teachers across the land must have dreaded it because we always used it as an excuse to play tricks. Most teachers took it in good faith, and the jokes were pretty harmless, like hiding the board rubber or chalk (yes, it is that long ago!), or taking away the teacher’s chair.

But I do remember an occasion when one teacher was not impressed at all, and I was the one who bore the brunt of his wrath. Our maths teacher, Mr O’Donoghue, wasn’t the sort of teacher you would normally choose to prank as you couldn’t be sure he’d take it well, but in our third year (or year nine in new money), he became our form teacher. So we would all congregate for register each morning and lunchtime, and it was in these pockets of time that we got to know him a bit better.

On April 1st 1981, after Mr O’Donoghue had been our form tutor for around seven months, we thought we’d bonded well enough to be able to play a trick on him. So we decided to leave the classroom door ajar just enough to balance a wooden blackboard rubber on the top, so that when he walked in, it would drop on his head. It was a well-known, tried and tested prank.

It worked like an absolute dream. He strode into class, only to jump back as this unexpected missile hit him from above.

We all collapsed in fits of laughter for the first few seconds, until Mr O’Donoghue erupted like Mount Etna.

‘RIGHT, ON YOUR FEET AND STAND BEHIND YOUR CHAIRS!’ he bellowed.

I was miffed that he’d had such a sense of humour failing, and begrudgingly got to my feet. I was the last to do so, and as I grumpily and noisily shoved my chair under my desk, the clatter of it of it echoed around the otherwise silent class.

This act of defiance incensed him even more, and he immediately issued me with a detention which, for someone who hardly ever got them, was the highest of humiliations.

Thing thing about Mr O’Donoghue, though, was that despite the odd angry outburst, he was a kind and gentle soul who didn’t really like handing out punishment. Later that day, he saw me in the school corridor and beckoned me over.

“Forget the detention,” he said, “I know you didn’t do it on purpose.” I felt like a convicted criminal saved from the gallows. And also a convicted criminal who got away with it, because, of course I had done it on purpose.

Funnily enough, that wasn’t my last run-in with Mr O’Donoghue. A couple of years later, a friend and I were play-fighting at the top of some stairs when I lobbed a pencil case at her and it missed and went flying over the bannister, and guess who’s head it landed on? In almost an exact copy of the incident two years earlier, Mr O’Donoghue bellowed at me, issued a detention, then withdrew it later in the day.

So if you’re reading Mr O’Donoghue, thank you for the reprieves, and I promise not to throw anything anywhere this April Fools day.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 29th March and the Gazette & Herald on 27th March  2019

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