Mauling the goods in a stationery shop this morning, I happened to notice a glistening steel engineer’s ruler. It reminded me of a long-forgotten episode from high school, which I’d be pleased to bore you with.
The Bishop, a skinny boy with manky teeth, was a bully. He became a bully because he didn’t have much else going for him. He also wore an impressive orthodontic brace, which had the combined effect of making him look rather menacing and pissing him off through perpetual dental agony.
Snot Rag, on the other hand, was a victim because he had a head like a giant watermelon, tragic 1970s sideburns, an unsightly monobrow, flared horse-like nostrils, bigger boobs than any girl in our year group, and he was constantly blowing his nose on the lengths of ragged toilet paper with which he filled his pockets.
This charismatic toilet paper behaviour, in case you’re wondering, was how Snot Rag got his nickname.
I’m not sure how The Bishop got his nickname. He sometimes came to school wearing a bejeweled mitre but that was an effect of his nickname more than the cause of it. (I’m lying. He never did this).
One day, in mathematics class, I was lucky enough to share a table with Snot Rag and The Bishop.
Snot Rag was famous for his wretched accumulation of stationery. His pen was a chewed-up bic, the plastic barrel of which was halfway-filled with saliva. His pencil was one of those rubbish miniature ones you’d pilfer from Ikea. He never had a ruler, just a grotty-looking 180° protractor. All of this was stuffed into a filthy purse-like pencil case along with numerous shriveled steamers of his famous toilet paper.
The Bishop, on the other hand, was the proud owner a fancy mechanical pencil, a gold-plated Parker I.M. pen, and a steel engineer’s ruler.
The engineer’s ruler provided his signature bullying technique. The threat was that he might smash the ruler’s razor-sharp, steel edge down on your knuckles, with an impressive wham!
He rarely acted on this sadistic little fantasy, but he did so often enough for us to know it was not a bluff.
It was ingenious as a bullying device. The menacing ruler could sit in plain sight of the teachers and prefects and everyone else. He had no need to catch you at the bike sheds or behind the gym if he wanted to intimidate you. All he had to do was get the ruler out and leave it on the desk.
That day, in the mathematics class, I was looking at the ruler and it crossed my mind that someone really aught to teach The Bishop a lesson and take his ruler away.
Just as I was building up the courage to do precisely that, The Bishop made a startlingly similar move and confiscated Snot Rag’s pencil.
Our maths teacher, Mr Tomlinson, enforced a weird rule about our not using ink in his classroom. Only pencils were allowed. I once found myself without a pencil in his class and when I asked to borrow one, he made me write “I must always bring a suitable writing implement to every mathematics lesson” one hundred times on a sheet of paper, which he then tore up and binned.
It was stunts like that which gave Mr Tomlinson his nickname, Darth Tomlinson. He was horrible. It had recently been announced in the school newspaper that Darth Tomlinson was engaged to marry the impossibly-attractive young French teacher, Miss Tilly, which made us detest him all the more.
Poor Snot Rag, with no pencil, would now have face the bizarre wrath of Darth Tomlinson. Why did The Bishop have to be such a horrible dick?
In a strange mood, I gave Snotters my own pencil, raised my hand and said “Mr Tomlinson, Sir. The Bishop has taken my pencil.”
Darth Tomlinson came over to our table, put his hands on his hips, glared at me and then glared at The Bishop. The Bishop’s face went pale. I knew exactly what he’d seen because I’d seen it too: the tiny blue flames deep in Tomlinson’s eyes.
Tomlinson snatched Snot Rag’s Ikea pencil from the groove in The Bishop’s ruler and handed it back to me, all without releasing The Bishop from his death glare.
“This is yours?” he asked me, holding Snot Rag’s abhorrent little pencil.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Just get on with your work, please, gentlemen,” he said, handing me the pencil.
It was a tad vexing that The Bishop wasn’t forced to write “I must not steal stationery from more handsome students and generally behave like a horrible douche” a hundred times over, but it had still been fun to see the colour drain from The Bishop’s face.
For twenty minutes or so, The Bishop kept his head down, seething with rage but feigning intense interest in his algebra. When he eventually surfaced for air, he looked at me and made the universally-understood throat-slitting gesture.
I didn’t care. It had been wonderful to set Darth Tomlinson at The Bishop. I hated them both. I’d be only too happy to pay for it with a knuckle-rapping.
Twenty years have passed and I live in a different country now, but seeing a similar ruler today reminded me that I’m still owed a knuckle-rapping.