As a boy, the one great promise that the beginning of a school term held was the incontrovertible fact that one day — later rather than sooner, but one day! — the term would come to an end. The inevitability of this matter always made a school term endurable.
I’d always believed that the thrill of going through that last day of a school term was unique. Until I had a school-going child. That thrill was visceral; this is vicarious, participatory, and empathetic. Who is to argue that the one is more — or less — intense than the other?
Supremely confident about the fact that I have no original thoughts, I pulled out for our eight-year-old some stuff that better-equipped minds have turned out on the subject.
“What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?” the rock musician Alice Cooper asked himself in the early 1970s. Christmas morning offered one of those occasions. The other was this: “The last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning. I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.’”
It was. The song, ‘School’s Out’, became the No 1 single on the UK charts in 1972. The eponymous album reached No 2 on the US charts and sold over a million copies. Our daughter loved the lyrics:
“School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces
No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks”
The title of the Alice Cooper song — and not merely the title — unites the song with the poem by the 1871-born Welsh poet, WH Davies. Writing about this lovely little poem in the Guardian, Carol Rumens said: “This little poem could be a medieval lyric: it could be a nursery rhyme or a carol. It’s as timeless as the liberation it delights in.”
If they can,
I had to explain to Oishi that ‘mite’ merely meant ‘a small child’ (among other things), and was not a pejorative word. Satisfied, she took a printout of the poem, pinned it up on her felt, and had it by heart within a day.
Finally, I read out to her a section from RK Narayan’s novel, Swami and Friends. In its magnificent eye and ear for detail, this bit — in which the boys have just emerged from school at the end of the last day — captures those rhapsodic moments. “Mani did some brisk work at the school gate, snatching from all sorts of people ink-bottles and pens, and destroying them. Ecstatic shrieks went up as each article of stationery was destroyed.”
Oishi, while in complete agreement with Mani’s sentiments, is too bashful to do that. After having heard the whole section, she said: “Baba, let’s try and write a poem about the last day of school.”