It seemed as if I’d been standing in the front of the Traders Joe’s freezer for an eternity; just staring down at the neatly arranged boxes of Steak & Stout Pies, and Chicken Balti Pies. For the life of me, I just couldn’t decide between the hearty chunks of tender beef in a stout based gravy, blended with copious amounts of gold potatoes, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms, or the chunks of chicken in mild curry gravy, combined with generous amounts of carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. And then I was distracted from my pie conundrum by a voice just behind me
and if you report them they have people dedicated to that sort of thing and they’ll have them in custody in no time.
It only took a couple of seconds to turn around, but the man with the mobile phone had already moved to the end of the freezer and turned the corner. I was curious about the mobile phone man so I decided to follow him.
I picked up my shopping basket with its two boxes of frozen Chicken Tikka Marsala and a packet of frozen Seafood Paella and set off after mobile phone man. The mobile phone man didn’t have a shopping basket or trolley; he meandered around and through different aisles of the shop, always talking on his mobile. When the mobile phone man stopped in the cereal aisle I feigned interest in a resealable pouch of Organic Rice & Quinoa Hot Cereal. I sensed I must have looked just like an average Trader Joe’s shopper to mobile phone man; he didn’t look twice at me. He spoke into his mobile with a slow and emphatic voice
and that man has saved the country twenty-eight billion dollars.
Mobile phone man wandered down the cereal aisle and into the produce section. I was losing interest in mobile phone man and was starting to think about a warm and savoury Steak & Stout Pie; I headed back to the freezer aisle. As I made my way to the check out I saw the mobile phone man still wandering the aisles; he didn’t seem to care if he was overheard or not. I was deep in thought about mobile phone public conversations and absentmindedly emptied my shopping basket; as the checkout assistant scanned my boxes of Steak & Stout Pies I announced in a faraway tone of voice
there are two types of public mobile phone talkers; those that talk in a wake up the dead hushed voice and those that speak in a deafening booming voice.
I don’t think we trust mobile phones; we can’t believe a human voice can easily travel to faraway places through thin air so when we use a mobile we raise our voice, thinking we’re giving it the oomph it needs to fly through the air. We talk louder than if we were speaking in person; whoever we’re talking to talks louder, and before long we’re both shouting at each other. Our everyday use of mobile phones creates an unrelenting wall of sound; a noisy environment of persistent loudness that threatens noise-induced hearing loss, and other negative health effects.
When I think back, I now realise the teachers at Williamstown Tech knew about the dangers of noisy environments. Those teachers were my guardian angel. I was an innocent teenage boy naive to the hearing issues, and other negative effects caused by second-hand noise. But the teachers knew of the dangers and hazards lurking in a noisy classroom; loss of concentration, fatigue, apathy, boredom, and even disinterest. With our welfare and aural safety foremost in their mind they commanded
there’ll be no talking in class; talking will only be allowed when I ask a question. You’ll raise your hand if you know the answer or I will just call on someone for the answer. Be prepared. And when you have a question you’ll raise your hand. It’ll be the cuts for anyone I catch talking in class; anyone who doesn’t follow the no talking rules. Understood. Any questions. Remember, hands up.
The cuts were the strap; being hit across the hand with a three inches wide, two-foot-long, piece of leather. The cuts were a part of everyday school life. They were a reminder for; no talking in class, that you didn’t do your homework, that you didn’t bring the right books to class, that you forget your apron for woodwork, sheet metal or fitting and turning, that you were caught fighting, that you were rowdy in the corridors, that you left the school grounds at lunchtime without a lunch pass, and that you wagged sport.
Most teachers would bring their straps to class. Mr Stonehouse carried his strap, along with his blackboard duster and chalk, in his chalk box; it was rolled and coiled in a defensive position ready to strike. Some teachers wore their straps under their coats. When they caught anyone talking they’d reach up and into their coat and slip the strap out; similar to Paladin drawing his gun in episodes of Have Gun Will Travel. Mr Baldwin kept his strap in his office. When he threatened the cuts he’d disappear through the door in the front corner of the room, and reappear carrying his strap; he’d leave it resting on the table as if it were a snake basking in the sun. It was a constant reminder there was no talking in class; that Mr Baldwin had our auditory welfare foremost in his mind. You got the cuts in front of the class. When more than one of us were getting the cuts we’d be lined up to wait our turn; teachers favoured an efficient assembly line delivery for the cuts.
None of us knew where the different classroom offences rated on the institutional severity scale; a graduated system only known to teachers. The scale was used to determine the type and number of cuts you earned. We knew that after your third warning you most likely would be in for a double hander; most times it was waiting until the strap was raised above the teacher’s head and you’d listen for
Hand up now (one hander)
Hold straight and don’t move it
This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you
Up again (two one-handers)
Other hand (three one-handers)
The sequence is repeated for six of the best.
Two hands up and hold them together (double hander)
Hold them steady now
Up again (two double handers)
The sequence is repeated for the number of double handers
One hand up (backhander)
This is for your own good
Just as the strap hits the palm of the hand it’s given a flip so it also curls onto the back of the hand.
The backhander is an extremely difficult cut and would need ceaseless practise for one to become skilled enough to pull it off. I think teachers who were masters of the backhander must have practised in the teacher’s staff room; probably putting sticks of chalk on a table and then trying to flick them onto the floor with their strap. It wouldn’t come easy; accuracy and a deft movement of the wrist would need to be seamlessly combined into one fluid action. A lot of chalk would be smashed to smithereens before one became a master of the backhander.
I went to a Technical School in a working-class suburb of Melbourne. A lot of boys had already planned to leave school as soon as they turned fifteen. They spent three years at tech school aimlessly wandering from Form One through to Form Three; most were going into a five-year apprenticeship in the trades and had no interest in Math, English, Science, or Social Studies. Some of these boys saw the cuts as a rite of passage, and it seemed as if they set themselves a goal of getting a certain number of cuts per week; taking it like a man and enduring the pain, demonstrated their readiness for manhood.
I spent five years at Willy Tech as an obsequious, hard-working, well behaved A-grade student. Very few of the boys in Forms 1A through 5A ever got the cuts. The fateful day happened when I was in Fifth Form; during an Art class Mr Allen became somewhat irritated by the occasional creative schoolboy mumbling and chatter and announced
it’s the cuts for the next one who talks.
I don’t remember what I said; I think I was answering a question from someone when Mr McEwan looked up from his table
mcadam go down to Mr Baldwin’s class and ask him for his strap
I stood in front of the class and held my hand out straight and motionless; it was the only one hander I’ve ever received.
The cuts played an important role in reducing public conversations in the classroom. I see no reason why the strap couldn’t be used to quell, and silence mobile phone public conversations in supermarkets and other public places. No mobile phone public conversations signs would be posted at strategic locations; along with a listing of the type, and the number of cuts, for the severity of mobile phone public conversation. A strapper would be stationed at the entrance of the supermarket, or would randomly patrol the aisles, to deliver a one-hander or a double hander to anybody talking into a mobile phone. There could be a private area, maybe alongside the produce section, for anyone receiving the cuts more severe than a one-hander or a double hander. I know most people would applaud any effort taken to ensure humankind a healthier lifestyle; nothing would be more selfless than creating a world where the threat of noise-induced hearing loss and other negative aural health effects, caused by mobile phone public conversations, has been stamped out.
If you’ll pardon me. I have to go grocery shopping so I need to practice talking into my mobile phone in a hushed raucous manner; some made up grandiose conversation sprinkled with utterances about my successes, the demands of my job, how much the project I’m working on is costing, and assertively giving instructions to whoever I’m talking to.