It was the day that Dafydd Hughes got a crayon stuck up his nose. Nobody was quite sure how he’d done it, an act without witness; attention drawn only when Dafydd let out a cry of panic. Mild at first, swiftly moving through the emotive gears to something all the more alarming. A mix of fear and embarrassment propelled by the fuel of unsympathetic mirth from fellow pupils, and the ire of Mr Thomas. A man rarely given to see the funny side of any situation.
It was St David’s Day, 1983, standard 2, just after the register. We were to put the finishing touches to our Welsh themed murals, before heading to the hall for the Eisteddfod. A scene of poorly drawn leeks and daffodils; of traditional black hats and frilly white hems. The waft of Crayola and gloopy glue seeming to hang on the ever-present airborne dust, that danced its Brownian jig in the sunlight.
In keeping with the Nationalistic spirit of the morning, Dafydd’s offending crayon was a crimson red, the pointy tip disappeared from view, lodged midway within his right nostril, and showing no sign of escape.
“What on earth do think you’re doing?” Mr Thomas cried, his exasperation unhelpful to Dafydd’s plight.
The class laughed, bringing Mr Thomas’ helpless anger to the boil. Dafydd’s panic reached stricken, and the crayon slowly moved upwards.
“It might pierce his brain,” I whispered to Ed, sitting next to me on the adjacent table to Dafydd, a thought that made him giggle into his sleeve.
The crayon did no such thing. Mr Thomas retrieving the offending item by pinching the bridge of Dafydd’s nose and slowly tugging on the end of the crayon, gaining enough purchase to withdraw it; and discard it into the bin. Dafydd was unharmed, but sufficiently humiliated to sit and quietly sob until the rest of the class were told to down tools, and get ready to head to the hall.
Memory is a funny thing.
This story is true, more or less. The names have changed, but the incident is as accurate as my mind allows it to be. The recollection of my 9-year-old self, of the North Cardiff primary school, of the supply teacher with a sense of humour defect. And of the typical St David’s Day mornings, replicated by pupils throughout Wales.
St David’s Days that marked the start of the spring. Always sunny – another trick of the nostalgic mind.
The boys would wear red, a synthetic leak attached by safety pin to the sweater. Possibly a daffodil – although that was usually for girls; uncomfortable in their dresses and bonnets.
It was a day that we marked on the calendar; a day to anticipate with excitement. Not because we were filled with Hwyl, or a sense of fervent patriotism. Not out of a sense of reverence to our nation’s patron saint, however saintly he may have been. Although, my fellow primary school pupils and I were thankful to him.
Thankful that, in tribute to this ancient man, we had a half day off school. A morning of singing and pretending to listen to the terrible poems of our classmates, before a lunchtime bell that, for once, did not mean a dash to the dining hall, a scramble for a seat from which to feast on a limp jam sandwich and a sip of squash from a Snoopy flask.
But a bell to signify, glory be, that the school day was over; an afternoon of freedom, away from SMP cards and the Beaufort scale. A Tuesday afternoon, to do as we wished.
I think I watched Pebble Mill and Fingerbobs.