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Art Ruler

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 27 March 2003
Word Count: 1166
Summary: Memory of a tyrant

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Art Ruler

He was known, to generations of Brylcreemed, broad-vowelled boys, as Abe. Not Abraham, surely, for his surname was as Irish as my two grandmas. Probably Augustus, Brendan, Edward or Alfred, Bernard, Edgar; some pretentious string of saintly names.

Though smaller than many of his charges, Abe dominated the art room as viciously as any emperor ruled Rome or Russia, though on a reduced scale, of course. His armament was a strap like a barber’s strop, thick but whippy, capable of making terrifying cracks when slammed onto inky oak desk tops. Commit one of his petty crimes and, if you were lucky, you would be hit three, four or six times, on outstretched hands, one held alternately under the other to provide a platform. Woe betide the child who tried the trick of arcing downwards to soften the blows; more hits resulted, on the buttocks if Abe were really riled. This was the ultimate sanction; having to bend over for hurt and humiliation on schoolboy cosmic scale.

About art and artists we learned nothing. When, frequently, Abe rambled verbally through one of his irrelevant dream-gardens my response was to stare out of the vast, semi-circular window, the pride of the hill top school, a false lure for parents. A proper art room. Excellent northern light. Nod, nod. As if they knew!

Across the road was the public house where the red-skinned music teacher, who sometimes, when semi-sober, taught us Cherry Ripe and Ash Grove songs, topped up his anti-cosmetic, vein-purpling process with lunchtime spirit indulgence. Sometimes I saw him nipping out of school early and in through the drinking den’s double doors, escaping schoolboy monsters and his undoubted inner demons. As Abe developed his monologues, my eyes would take in the soot-smudged facades of Yorkshire city-edge houses and the escapist’s distant hills on which were stunted, eastward leaning trees battered by fierce breezes which recently had whipped the whelky waves on Southport beach.

‘You boy!’ The shout! Abe would have you out. We would pray that he was in a good mood because then he might choose to use you as a circus extra instead of inflicting physical pain. Provided that you were smaller than he, my lot of course, he would place an object on your head. ‘Please let it be the whistle’ we implored our Catholic god but often, a truer test, he chose a tiny piece of chalk. ‘Keep still boy!’ Abe demanded of the ditherers. Like a golf professional he would eye the target and make practice weapon swipes It took the courage of Xerxes, if indeed he were courageous, not to duck. Swipe, swipe, swipe, like Mossies, like Hurricanes, like Fokker-Wolfs, buzzing before attacking. ‘Please, God!’ we holy boys prayed silently, anxious for our ears.

As far as I know, Abe never missed. All the times I experienced the trick, the tawse flew true and the target shot sideways to be caught by a self-congratulatory lad. ‘Play krikit for Yorkshire, one day, me.’ The sallow, sardonic face of the trickster would melt into a slight smile; his one orgasmic moment?

For a bright, springtime afternoon class, Abe set us the task of designing a poster. I was reliably bottom of the class in his ill-considered termly estimations but I began to enjoy the poster process. Rulers were allowed and there was no need to try to make the picture look like anything real. Words and colours, that was all, and I was at least quite good at words. Abe stalked the alleyways between the desks, hands clasped behind his back against the black, fraying, chalk-dusted academic gown, the clutched strap hanging down like a donkey’s appendage. He stopped behind me. I could hear the wheezy breathing, feel the portly body heat beaming from the hyperbolic belly. I was sure that my ears glowed visibly, so confident was I that for once the tyrant was going to mete out praise.

Adding more colour and inclining my head, making the satisfied aesthetic judgement, I awaited the words of approval. Abe said, ‘Boy!’ We were all ‘boy’ but I knew he meant me. I was instructed to proceed to the roll-around, conveyor-belt blackboard and I found it possible to believe that he was yet bent on the positive. My poster was perhaps outstanding. At his command I picked up chalk,. thinking that he was about to ask me to demonstrate, to the serried sniggering traitors, some trick which I had invented in my poster, some innovation which would revolutionise the advertising world.

Abe called out a name. ‘Hill!’ Perhaps he remembered that there was a boy called Hill, perhaps he was just lucky but there was such a one, a handsome boy who had smart jackets, fresh-pressed trousers and a clean shirt every day. Hill was reputed to have kissed a girl, an enviable feat which he had allegedly proved by producing a handkerchief smeared with lurid lipstick. He was to me, an alien but was memorable, no doubt, to art teachers. ‘Yessir?’ Hill responded smartly.

‘Spell your name, Hill, letter by letter and you, boy, you write it on the board, but,’ he added ominously before Hill could speak, ‘make all the letters touch as you have on this masterpiece.’ Abe gestured downwards towards my prized creation and, in that parentally-valued glancing northern light, I saw the glistening shower of spittle drops which sprayed contemptuously from his lips, thence wreckingly onto my poster. I would rather have been beaten by his stroppy strap than write Hill’s wretched apology for a surname. I was not stupid.

‘H’ Hill intoned. Shakily I wrote, then glanced at Abe whose mouth shape was already changing. ‘I’ chirped the smirking Hill. ‘I’ vanished into the right hand prop of ‘H’ and I convinced myself that the lipstick on Hill’s handkerchief had been stolen from his mother’s film star dressing table. Then, of course, came ‘L’ for laughter, the letter, to my satisfaction, only partially disappearing but the rude noise reverberating, creating a timeless echo of humiliation in my head. How they laughed. HL, HL, HL!

‘Let that be a lesson’ cried Abe, striding forward in his severely scuffed and squeaky shoes, black as his intentions. I thought, but did not say, ‘That’d be a change’, ‘Never,’ added the torturer, relishing his clever triumph, ‘never allow letters in a poster to touch each other.’ An absolute rule from Abe, the advertising guru.

I wanted to point out that words such as ‘Hill’ did not feature in my advertisement, which was replete with Os and Ws, that, had there been any confusion of contiguous letters, I would have ingeniously resolved the problem, that within sight across the road was a huge poster where the letters not only touched but intricately embraced each other but I dared stammer out not a single sentence.

‘Is that clear, boy?’ Abe asked, the leer still evident. I knew the nearest boys could see the water in my eyes, one or two even had the decency to lower their heads. I nodded.

Thanks, Abe.

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Comments by other Members

Jibunnessa at 12:42 on 06 April 2003  Report this post
FANTASTIC! I should have read this earlier. This is brilliant.

You've really conveyed not only the fear and dashed hopes of a young schoolboy so well, but also the pathetic nature of a petty tyrant, who probably finds no other avenues in his life where he can pretend to be somebody of any importance.

I was transported into the classroom with all its fear and humiliation.

But, somehow the writing was not despairing. There was great warmth and humour. You knew while reading that the art teacher was really a very small man, a dying breed. Someone who humiliated the narrator because he found his creativity threatening. You knew that the narrator would probably oneday make something of himself, while the tyrant would no doubt fade away into the obsurity he deserved.

A great piece of writing!

skyblue2 at 14:23 on 15 April 2003  Report this post

You will see that with a lot of my other postings I have an obsession with viewpoint and self-editing.

The bit about the music teacher has absolutely nothing to do with this episode and should therefore be excised especially as it is in a paragraph otherwise about Abe.

Self-editing is about having the rigour to remove stuff even though in itself it is well written and interesting if it does not belong.

Generally though this is good and I enjoyed it.

Jibunnessa at 15:52 on 06 May 2003  Report this post

Your comment above is so arrogant and dictatorial... I almost had to read it twice to believe it.

I personally think it's a wonderful and moving piece of writing.

I loved it! And, I think talking about the music teacher is fine!

Carry on Richard

---Jib :o)

skyblue2 at 14:06 on 09 May 2003  Report this post
I find Jibunnessa's comments interesting because by and large I find much of the writing on this site is sloppy.

I didn't want to cause offence because I know that it is scary putting stuff up for criticism. The comments were meant to be helpful if a little forceful. I don't take any of it back.

Richard Brown at 23:46 on 11 May 2003  Report this post
Thanks, Jibunessa for your welcome comment and for springing to the defence of my slice of memoir but in fact, I didn't mind Skyblue2's critique at all. He's absolutely entitled to his view about relevance and rigour and he did end with a very positive remark. I'm not planning to use the piece so I won't ponder over changes but I'm glad that it at least brought up the self-editing issue and even more glad that it caused some enjoyment. I'll let the music teacher 'aside' stand in the hope that, for some readers at least, it adds to the general atmosphere (as, I hope, does the reference to the local scenery)and reveals something about the state of mind of the narrator (which was the intention).

old friend at 20:16 on 09 September 2003  Report this post
Hello Richard,

I liked this piece for it brought back very fond memories of a wonderful Art Teacher at the Boys' Grammar School I attended.

He handed out 'punishment' by wacking the errant pupil on the bum with a long piece of thin wood. On one side was written OXO and on the other appeared BOVRIL which was refreshed with chalk every time this Wacker was to be used. The pupil would choose his punishment, bend over and a loud wack painlessly embossed the chosen words on the posterior. We wore this badge with pride!

Thanks for the memory.

old friend, Len

Richard Brown at 09:48 on 10 September 2003  Report this post

Thanks for the comment. Sounds like there's almost a basis for a collection of tales of eccentric art teachers! In both our cases there was an element of humour in what was essentially a sadistic business. Strange people! I'd be really intrigued to read an account of your one. Any chance?

old friend at 09:55 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
I think that skyblue2 comments above do raise a point that needs to be addressed.

On reading a number of the works submitted by Members I feel that the most helpful comments would be READ YOUR WORK

Many of the ideas within the works are excellent and original but lose out because of poor construction and it is no help to these writers to read comments that sing their praises, mainly because of the trauma, the expletives or deep nature of the subject matter.

The world 'out there' can be very cold with rejection slips coming in like confetti and criticism biting with sharp teeth. Skyblue2 is right in that much of the writing is 'sloppy'.

Richard Brown at 11:29 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
Oops! Is it that bad? I'm not planning to do anything with 'Art Ruler', it was just a piece of writing for fun, but do point out the errors. One can always learn!


Jibunnessa at 11:51 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
Well, I loved it Richard ....microscopic worts and all!



bluesky3d at 13:37 on 10 September 2003  Report this post

It's great that this piece is having a well-deserved new airing... with a whole new audience (myself included) on here now since March.

Out of many fine phrases that pepper the piece the one which made me chuckle most was...

'...feel the portly body heat beaming from the hyperbolic belly.'

I really enjoyed reading it and it brought back memories of similar tyrants at my school too... although mine was populated with narrow-vowelled brummie schoolboys. I hope that the archetype has now been surplanted, but perhaps I am wrong?

I would take this opportunity to say I am not associated in any way with skyblue2. lol

Andrew :o)

bluesky3d at 13:48 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
The overlapping letters evident in the advert outside in direct contradiction to the views expressed was a really nice touch.


oops meant that as an addition

Richard Brown at 15:44 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
Andrew, Many thanks! Cheered me up no end! Glad that you like my use of language. Not to everyone's taste of course but it's good to know that some, at least, appreciate it.


old friend at 16:13 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
No, Richard, your work is excellent. I think what skyblue2 was getting at is that so much of the work that one reads from Members is 'sloppy' - I have to agree with him.

My main point is that often the most 'constructive' criticism might sound unkind... Following skyblues's comment above the words 'arrogant' and 'dictatorial' are used. These are unnecessary. One may not agree with skyblue2's criticism (I don't!) but do not attack the person, attack what he writes.

old friend Len

bluesky3d at 16:17 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
Since discovering Writewords in June, I've been continually amazed how high the standard of work has been.

I'm sure the general comments relating to 'standard of work' were not intended to relate to this piece.

It's best for discussions of a general nature to take place in the Forum Pages rather than in comments box, so that it is not implied that any of the opinions expressed of a general nature are about anyone's individual work... otherwise the comments can be misinterpretted, (it's particularly ironic to see such comment here.)

But I am sure any misunderstandings are down to not being used to the system, and will be soon sorted out.

A :o)


was writing same time as you Len :o) A

Richard Brown at 17:09 on 10 September 2003  Report this post
Thanks, Len and Andrew - I guessed (hoped!) that the comments were not intended to be specific to my piece but you know how ultra-sensitive we creatives (?) are! As Andrew suggests, it may be worth starting a fresh forum topic on standards and criticism (I think there was a bit of debate before but it's a theme that needs to be constantly addressed, I think). I have recently made some quite strong but (I hope) constructive comments on a few pieces and I entirely concur, Len, with your checklist. OK, much of the writing on the site is in draft form but it's surely worth eliminating, as far as possible, cliches, bad grammar, punctuation and the like. (There's much more to say - especially in connection with 'voice'/point of view - but I guess I'll wait until one of us sets up a forum debate).


Junie Girl at 05:53 on 05 March 2004  Report this post
Wanted to thank you once more for your kind comments, this time, regarding my story, The Last Time I Saw My Best Friend. We were very fortunate to have a wonderful 16 year friendship. We met on a train going up to Scotland and from then on literally 20 to 30 page letters flew across the Atlantic almost weekly, plus visits to Lancashire for me many times.{ Another story}
Thanks also for your comments.I do have trouble with tenses and agree with the comment about blossoms in two consecutive sentences.
I have just read your memoir Art Ruler
and I enjoyed it. I felt it evoked a time and a place I could identify with even an ocean apart.
I too am a product of parochial school and altho-in our school being a girl somehow was the right thing to be; the boys had much more to put up with from the nuns such as cracked knuckles etc.
I did not think your work was sloppy. I often think mine is as I get carried away but I do try to edit it, altho not always successfully. As one Professor once told me. You have to have talent to write and you should do your best regarding spelling,grammer etc. but in truth if you can make someone want to continue reading your work because it interests? intrigues? or fascinates them
then write and that's why there are editors! I always loved that Professor
and he was a published author too.
Thanks again Richard.

Richard Brown at 08:49 on 05 March 2004  Report this post
Nuns eh? Priests in my case - it was a boys only school and girls were a matter of terrifying mystery. Glad you enjoyed 'Art Ruler'. Your professor was, I think, essentially right but I see writing as both art and craft. Artistic insight is innate, craft can be learned. You do write very well (with art!) - the few 'crafty' bits, like tenses and word repetition, can always be pointed out/worked on by an editor. Art comes from the heart and it's the most important part. (I just wrote that little poem!) Please keep on giving us your heartfelt writing. If you want a few 'crafty' comments, I'll always be glad to make them.

Fearless at 08:58 on 05 March 2004  Report this post

A great piece that reminded me of the school room psychotics (read. 'teachers') I had to contend with.


Richard Brown at 09:14 on 05 March 2004  Report this post
Thanks fearless!

I think someone suggested a while ago that it might be worth getting a compilation of teacher-eccentricity tales together. If you (or anyone else) fancy having a go at a brief pen picture I'd love to read such. Anything which appears in the Memoirs group I read as soon as I can. If we can collect enough funny/bizarre tales there might be scope for a self-published volume using the print-on-demand system.


TeeFoley at 18:48 on 05 May 2004  Report this post

Thank you for your positive, up-lifting comments, re the short story/article.
I am currently trying to push my articles. It is a case of finding the right niche lands on the correct desk.
Got a couple of things floating around, so, fingers crossed, legs.. the lot.
Your peice above is exceptional. Both my son (who is studying for his GCSE's) and myself found it descript, full of feeling and easy to visualise with your excellent ability to describe with such detail.


Richard Brown at 19:22 on 05 May 2004  Report this post
Thanks Tee. I'm blushing now. (Not really!)
I'm sure you could, maybe after a touch of the polishing I mentioned, find the niche for your ghost story. There are mags which specialise in such things. As I recall, the WW Directory has a few entries which spring up (ghost-like) if you type the word into the seach box.

Good luck.


TeeFoley at 16:57 on 06 May 2004  Report this post
Dear Richard

I will try. I think because this site is so specialised. I am a little shy to show my work as compared to many other writer's, I have a great deal to learn.
I would like to find the confidence to up-load other peices I have written.
This will come with time.

Tee xxx

Richard Brown at 08:02 on 07 May 2004  Report this post
It's the only way! If you want some detailed feedback why not put a short story or article in the Memoirs group (it's quiet in there!)I'd be glad to do a detailed critique if that's what you want.

Jim Beard at 13:57 on 05 June 2004  Report this post

Just caught up with this so forgive me if much has already been said. I felt that I had to thank you for the memories.

This really struck a chord with me as I was whisked back to the ‘good old days’ of Catholic schoolteachers, a number of whom were slightly right of Genghis Khan. Our old headmaster used to keep his strap over his shoulder under his black gown for quick release at any time. However, on the whole I found the nuns at the primary school were the worst.

Thanks for the memory.



Richard Brown at 08:52 on 07 June 2004  Report this post

Many thanks for your comments. It's astonishing how many of 'us' (ie survivors of Catholic schools) there are around. Maybe we should form a support organisation! We could hold 12 step-type meetings and recount our horror stories. In fact, my experiences were relatively mild but they did me no favours.


roovacrag at 22:38 on 20 July 2004  Report this post
Sorry taken me so long to comment.

A great piece and one I really enjoyed.
Yes can hear the cracks of a whip across a desk and also across a backside. Only time they had control.
I went to grammer school,was our science teacher who was like this.
Glad I read this.

xx Alice

Richard Brown at 11:40 on 11 August 2004  Report this post
Alice, many thanks for your comment. Do you fancy writing a short piece about your teacher-torturers? I'd be fascinated to read more tales of the methods of old.

choille at 17:04 on 28 March 2005  Report this post
I liked this piece. I can relate to it. I thought the tawse was only used in Scottish schools, maybe not.
I think the comments on sloppy writing was a tat scarey. I am here to learn and my writing has mistakes which sometimes you really can't see until someone points them out to you. But there again I'm just probably sloopy through and through.

I think this memoir could be a book and I want to know what happens next.


Richard Brown at 13:28 on 29 March 2005  Report this post
Thanks, Caroline,

I hope the 'sloppy writing' comment hasn't put you off! It didn't have that effect on me! Everyone's entitled to their opinion. In fact I'm a careful self-editor so whatever appears under my name is the result of much consideration - but I don't expect everyone, nor even the majpority, to like it. Anyway, one of the aspects of becoming a better writer it taking criticism. It can be a painful process at times but that's the nature of the business!

So, keep writing and keep uploading!


illuminator at 09:27 on 27 February 2006  Report this post
I loved this, Richard. I began reading and notating indelible descriptions, quite worthy of mention. They became too numerous. I loved them all, and chuckled at many. I'm still there with you, staring "out of the vast, semi-circular window, the pride of the hill top school, a false lure for parents. A proper art room. Excellent northern light. Nod, nod. As if they knew!" Hah. For me, a necessary diversion from boredom or humiliation was counting the holes in the acoustical ceiling squares, sometimes interrupted by the odd, stuck spitball.

Your piece conjured up flashes of my spinster (is that an anacronism yet?) Latin I and II teacher in High School. Yup, my US public (not private) school experience palls in comparison. Anyway, Mrs. Pease too often "rambled verbally through one of his [her] irrelevant dream-gardens," particularly on the Ides of March. We all suspected that she had an obsessive crush on Caesar.

thanks so much for sharing.
i assume that there is no shelf life to memebers' works
i like perusing the archives!


Richard Brown at 16:22 on 27 February 2006  Report this post

Thanks so much for the thoughtful and generous comments. 'Tis true that the Archive seems destined to last for ever! In fact, I had almost forgotten about the 'Art Ruler' piece until David's wonderful 'prompt' system alerted me to your comment.

Can't promise anything immediate because I'm sinking in a sea of work at the moment but if and when I get a chance I'll repay the compliment by reading and commenting on one of your pieces.

Thanks again,


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