Monday, May 16, 2005

Desperately Seeking Connect 4

Short and sweet, and all about board games...good times!

Desperately Seeeking Connect 4

Desperately Seeking Connect 4

The last day of school is an important day in Australian school history. I don't know what it's like in other countries, but in Australia, everyone gets to wear casual clothes, bring in board games, and then you put your desk up on top of another desk with your chair on top, and then run outside to enjoy summer freedom. It was a pretty magical event that never got old, in fact, oddly enough, even as late as the last day of Grade 10, we still observed a pretty similar ritual, even with exam pressure (pressure I never had, I had my art scholarship by then, and so didn't need to do anything except drink Fruitopia and listen to Melissa CDs). Fruitopia, there's something I need to talk about one day - iced tea with fruit flavouring and hippy messages on the bottle. But, I digress. Back in Grade 3, all we had was Coke and Big Ms, and on the last day of school, all Big Ms were free, given out by the lovely folks at the canteen. All, as they say, was well.

The move from Grade 3 to Grade 4 was a big one, not least because it meant that we finally got to play Grade 4 netball. For reasons I'm not quite sure about, this always meant players from the Richmond football club (anyone who knows AFL football would know that Richmond are almost always crap, so this wasn't the treat it was meant to be) would be at your training sessions, passing on tips. Yes, it is bewildering as to why. However, that was far from the best part, Grade 4 netball meant that you actually got to play other teams from outside the Richmond region, in a proper competition. This was incredibly exciting, since Grade 3 Netball tended to just involve playing your mates. We were assured that one particular trip involved a bonfire with boys from the local soccer club, and that it was, quote, "pash central". Given the girls at their netball team were equally loose with the lips, it was no surprise that our boys were equally excited to go on the same trip for football or soccer at a later date, and we chatted about our happy dreams for the coming year.

Except for one particular kid in our class, Richard Bastick. It had been a tough year for Richard Bastick, not least being labelled "Bastick the Spastick" before he even had a chance to get a "Hi" out. Yes, we were incredibly witty in Grade 3. I really liked him though, not least for his dogged determination every time he played Connect 4. No one could stretch out a game like Richard Bastick, as he pondered things from every single angle and mathematical point of view. Then, for reasons I'm not sure about, he wasn't in our class anymore, and it was then I first heard the phrase "home school". I didn't know why anyone (and to be fair, I still don't, but don't write in) would miss out on something as ace and fun as school just to sit at home all day (not a view all my contemporaries shared mind, especially my friend Kim, who was the first person I knew to wag). Apparently the teachers and his mum had a massive argument over this, and eventually, this being 1987, the teachers won, and back came Bastick the Spastick. Fate was not finished with him however, as his lack of social skills (and not, as Claire claimed, that he killed a cat and was going to jail) meant that he had to stay back a year and repeat Grade 3. There was part of me that was quite sad I couldn't do the same, since Grade 3 was all kinds of fun, and very low pressure. However, as I saw him sitting on the floor forlornly watching us as we had a talk to our new teacher about our new year, I knew that Bastick the Spastick was going through a pretty tough time.

It got worse though: between the Grade 3 and Grade 4 class room with a giant sliding door, like a curtain you couldn't see through. It was decided that we would begin the process of moving into our newest classroom a little early, and so we took our textas and our bags into the new class room to get a feel of what a slightly different classroom with big wooden desks felt like, as opposed to a classroom with...well, big wooden tables you sat around in a group. The difference was just massive, well, it wasn't, but it did feel like a seismic shift into adulthood. And when we looked across into our old classroom, all we could see in the middle of an empty room was Richard Bastick, cross legged on the floor, playing Connect 4 by himself, and rubbing the pieces together, maybe to start a fire. It was a forlorn and pretty sad sight. Even some of our nastier, crueller kids, were left genuinely sad that poor Richard was by himself, trying to work out a winning combination of red and yellow chips on his own.

However, such sympathy didn't last long. We began having a lovely chat amongst ourselves about the excitement of the day, when suddenly, there was an insane commotion behind us. We turned around to discover that Richard had decided to start treating us to a lovely dance which involved sticking his fingers up at us. A lot. And saying "bastards". A lot. In between times, he would blow what you might call "raspberries" with his tongue, and a glint of evil lurked in his eyes. I was quite taken by this sudden display of righteous indignation that we were leaving the poor boy behind, and as he wiggled his arse in his stubby shorts, we clapped along with him. For a moment, and then, just as quickly, he was back on the floor, playing Connect 4, and talking to the chips. And just as quickly, we ignored him again, going back to talking about Netball and heading up to the country.

I've thought about that day a lot. It was so surreal, such a blinding flash of magic, that I'm not sure if it truly happened. It's occurred to me writing this, you can keep a boy back from school, you can call him a stupid nickname, you can keep him back a grade, and you can leave him alone to play Connect 4 all by himself, but you can never, ever, deny a boy the right to get even with everyone by wiggling his arse and singing a song of joy about how everyone is a "bastard".

I like to think there's something inspirational about that, deep down. Well, at least he didn't choke on a Connect 4 chip, that was something too.


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