Down at our desks, we carved things in tiny dimensions. Our own initials, usually, but sometimes messages, slogans, catchphrases of a particular week. On my desk was a recurring pattern of U-shapes, a normal one then an upside-down one, repeated all the way along the right hand edge. I often wondered about the type of kid who would’ve had the time, the patience and the opportunity to carve them all in. Micro-scale vandalism was about all you could hope to get away with at Parlings.
When I told people about the school years later, they assume it was for “problem” children, or had some intense religious agenda, when really, I suppose, it was just some sort of strange experiment. The government of the day had set aside significant funds for what it apparently called Phlegmatic Education. The idea was that the less you stimulate a child, the more they were prone to learn. In essence it was a knee-jerk reaction to a stream of images of sugar-fuelled, authority flouting angry children peddled by a popular current affairs show over a nearly two-year period. These children, dubbed “New Delinquents” by various talkback radio hosts, were not only the nation’s most worrying problem, but were made even more sinister by the fact no one had ever really seen one. Still, the tabloids told us, they were out there, waiting.
My parents, who were both magnetically charged to immediately attach to popular trends, began to eye me off suspiciously across the breakfast table, their smiles plastered on across giant cracks of anxiety. One morning, I found all the hoods cut off my jackets. Then I noticed CDs going missing from my collection. The final straw came one afternoon when I tried to turn on the television and nothing happened. I asked my mother if we needed to get it fixed, and she said she had fitted the television with a filter so I could only watch “proper” programming, which, it turned out, meant only current affairs shows and one other where a family of multi-coloured amoebas lives in a forest together and sings songs about inclusion. My natural anger at the curbing of my civil liberties was met with a maternal silence and a “serious talk” later that night from my father, wherein I was informed I had been enrolled in Palings College, a school at the forefront of Phlegmatic Education.
And so now, here I was, three years after my parental intervention, three years after the “New Delinquents” craze had died down, still stuck in Palings, still wondering about the pattern in my desk. We have spent the past two hours in silent study, dry ideas
digging at our brains, starched shirts scratching at our skin. Another day, more of the same, stretched out before us. But today—and this was what no one knew—today was going to be different. Today was to be the day of Pitcairn’s Mistake.