Wednesday, 9 July 2008
The Fine Art
When I was a schoolboy on my 'bad tummy' days, I would look out of the window at around half past 8 in the morning and see all the local kids scurrying off with their satchels or their Gola bags. Some alone, some with mums - though never dads - in tow, kicking cans down the street, munching on their Curly Wurlys and drinking their Panda Pops. Then, there would descend an eerie silence and the walls would echo with the slightest movement in the house. Toast tasted better on those days for being eaten in front of a well established fire, and though there were only Programmes for Schools on the telly, it was fantastic to sit and watch them as I ate, thinking of those other poor souls with their times tables and fights in the playground and the whole day ahead of them. A little later, there would be the occasional squeak of a gate as a neighbour headed out shopping, or an insurance man would arrive to collect his weekly payment (often, hiding behind the sofa would be the order of the day) and a dog would bark somewhere in a nearby garden. There was almost a post-apocalyptic feel - everyone's gone to the moon.
I knew that my Nan loved it too, having me around, and we would play noughts and crosses or draughts, or I would hold the wool while she wound it back on a ball. We would have a bit of Oxtail soup for lunch, and a slice of Battenberg with a cup of tea. I would sit and read, or enact Kung Fu fantasies, while she did the washing or ran the Ewbank across the carpet. Ahhh.
As I grew into secondary school, skiving opportunities were fewer until the latter years, when an element of military planning started to kick in, and the skive became a more comprehensive one, because the dodge was over family as well as school.
Close to my home there was an almost disused railway line (at that time, I think one train a day used to run up to the old quarry. Now, it is completely closed) and a friend one day suggested that we 'bunk off' school (this I find to be a southern expression, and it doesn't sit quite right, but I don't want to overuse the 's' word in this post, so it will have to do) with a trip down this line. At first, I was scared, but at my friend's continued goading, I finally took him up on the offer. Glorious days they were, school bags over our shoulders, climbing fences and feeding apples to shire horses (one tried to eat my bag, and I would have had difficulty explaining that one away to my mum, but I managed to tear it from the big bastard's gob in the end) throwing stones and leaping streams. Returning home with filthy hands and torn trousers, though looking little different to the way we looked at the end of a normal school day in any case. We were rumbled in the end, needless to say, but largely thanks to an unwise expansion of the skiving crew and an unfortunate accident with a stone which left me with some pretty bad damage to my right eye. My mum also wised up when she noticed I was going to school carrying only my transistor radio (Simon Bates was an essential companion) and a Stephen King book. She wondered with a wry smile what exactly I would be learning at school that day.
During my degree, the Fine Art lost its meaning. My 9 hours of lectures a week were not compulsory, and the usual structure of the day disappeared. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. But it was only on my entry to the world of work that I re-discovered the joys of a good slope off. In one of my earliest office jobs, which was blessed with a split site, I would while away many an hour sitting in the park while I was ostensibly shifting paper around, or setting up meeting rooms. I think the bosses knew, but didn't mind too much.
The true measure of a proper skive is the ducking of all responsibility, if you ask me. Facebooking while at work doesn't really qualify in my opinion, because it is so widespread and so insignificant. Neither does conducting an affair, because that's too much like hard work, and one is simply avoiding one set of responsibilities and yet facing another. If one were to have a mistress, top marks would be given for skiving the wife, the job and the mistress, simply in order to sit around and stare at the sky for hours on end.
Now of course, I'm (ahem) far too old and far too responsible for such naughtiness, but I often remember the halcyon days of my youth, and the perfection of skiving briefly achieved.