Aeons ago, in 1960’s Australia, the post WWII baby boom hit the high schools and technical schools like a freight train. Now, visually-impaired Freddie could have predicted this but it seemed to take education authorities by complete surprise. Jerry-built schools began to pop up like mushrooms across the suburbs. These ‘temporary’ structures were around for decades and were later supplemented by even shoddier transportable classrooms.
Then the wise and mighty thought ‘What next? Oh, teachers!’ The output from the existing teacher factories was not nearly enough, even with class sizes of 40+, so there was a wave of white Anglo-Saxon imports from the US, the UK and Canada, as well as some well-educated Baltic State refugees with a reasonable command of English. But there was also a smattering of retired teachers called back into the fray, along with people who had some sort of qualification that might vaguely allow them to teach maths, science and the trades.
One such was John Eddie. He was a retired physiotherapist and sports masseur, so our pedagogical masters reasoned he must (a) be able to read and (b) was vaguely medical by profession, and therefore ideally suited to teach science. The fact that he was over 70 was considered immaterial.
Little did we know that we were about to be blessed with the kindest and wisest of men, a gifted teacher and a cornucopia of knowledge on a bewildering array of topics. All these traits were important but for us boys he was a revelation, in that he was possessed of extraordinary strength and agility.
The purpose of one his demonstrations on the first day I have long forgotten but, to illustrate the concept in question, he climbed on to the science bench and proceeded to support himself perfectly horizontally with one arm tucked into his ribcage. He was careful never to make physical contact with the girls but when he wanted the undivided attention of a boy he would grip the lad’s bicep like a vice until he was certain he was understood (or the boy fainted from lack of circulation, whichever came first).
Although clearly very strong, his age showed in the way he moved in a measured tortoise-like manner and in his voice, which could occasionally be weak and tremulous. We’d be highly amused when he needed to rein in our rambunctiousness and he would intone ‘Steady, boys, steady’, so to us he morphed into Steady Eddie.
One of the more obnoxious lads in our class was Warren (Wozza) Clark, who was a bully of the first order, especially towards the smaller boys in the class. With the arrival of Steady Eddie, a group of us hatched a fiendish plot to allow Wozza to experience some of the pain he’d inflicted. We quietly approached Mr. Eddie and confided our concern for Warren. It appeared he’d badly strained a thigh muscle but was too proud to admit it, although he was obviously in considerable pain, if not agony. Eddie nodded knowingly, said he’d take care of it and sent us back to our seats.
At the end of the class, Eddie asked Warren to stay back. From our vantage point outside the window, we struggled to contain our guffaws as Eddie waived off Warren’s protestations and proceeded to knead his thigh muscles as if preparing a loaf of bread. Warren’s supposed ‘injury’ was pretty close to the real thing before he could escape Eddie’s clutches and run headlong from the classroom.
It was then that Eddie spied us at the window, guessed what had happened, winked at us and said, ‘Steady, boys, steady.’