Future perfect but not prefect

6th October 2000 at 01:00
IN MY final year at school, a classmate owned a Ford Prefect with stickie-out indicators and wind-driven wipers. On occasional Friday lunchtimes, six of us would squeeze into it and drive sedately out to a country pub, where, having first removed ties and blazers, we would celebrate an 18th birthday with a half-pint of shandy.

Ironically, this old motor was the closest any of us got to the term "prefect". Our heidie hated the head of physical education, and as we were all "his lads" in the cross-country team, we were denied prefectdom's privilege.

When I started secondary, prefects were something else. Yards of yellow braid encircled the arms of their maroon blazers, so that they looked like petty officers moonlighting as Redcoats. They appeared to be well into adulthood: one, known as Basher Barnes, was reputed to be 27 and married with three children, and they had a wide range of punitive powers.

No wonder, then, we first years were in awe of them: they seemed so huge we needed to look out of first-floor windows to catch sight of their school caps perched atop outrageous Tony Curtis haircuts.

By the time we reached sixth year, the Sixties had taken their toll. Prefect power had been reined in, but the braid and the badges remained - though not, of course, for the gymie's boysin the sports teams. Our exclusion from privilege mattered little to my disaffected mates but I was more of a company man, shyly proud of my alma mater, and incensed that my loyalty was unrewarded.

Of course, there's a limit to how long you can sulk, and it was only as our own sixth year were receiving their shiny new prefect badges that something stirred in the memory. It transpired that not one of our senior management team had been a prefect; even sadder, there still appeared to be a fair amount of resentment about the snub we had all suffered.

We considered self-referring to our educational psychologist to see if she could advise us if our ascent up the management greasy pole had been fuelled by some desperate desire to wipe out the trauma suffered in sixth year. Were we still trying to prove a point to long-dead dominies?

Soothing my angst by watching Taggart that evening, I spotted a former pupil in a leading role. As is the way in this programme, she didn't survive much past the "End of Part Two" and, as the avuncular pathologist chortled over her remains, I remembered that she'd never been a prefect, either.

So to all those in sixth year currently polishing their badges of distinction, a warning: don't be too presumptuous - you may well have peaked too soon!

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