During childhood, but specifically after being sent away to school at seven and a half years of age, I acquired several useful skills not the least of which was “Slinking.”
Then, as now, Slinking was much misunderstood.
It is not something one does consciously or even as a matter of course. Neither is it something one goes out of the way to learn and it definitely doesn’t feature on a bucket list. It just happens in the same way that noses run and blood flows. As a schoolboy, miles from home, I quickly learned that Slinking was essential to my survival.
Slinkers follow a code of practice: Never look anyone in the eye. Never speak until shouted at first. Never, ever attempt to make light of “the situation.” Never fail to take the blame. Never squeal, answer back, blub or smile in the face of adversity. On entering a room, slide in side-ways, head bowed, clutching schoolbooks tightly to the chest (as if for dear life). Inveigle yourself into the nearest seat as quickly, quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
The dress code of a Slinker is uniform and easily recognisable: Shoes scuffed. School blazer sporting at least one ripped sleeve. Shirt, once crisp and white, stained with blood and ink and the back cut out with scissors. School cap with the gold braid and the lining ripped the first time it was worn. At least one trouser pocket half torn off, no back pockets and the belt loops cut in half.
A Slinker’s homework is distinctive in that the paper is invariably stained, torn and wrinkled after having been rescued from a toilet bowl and hastily dried. Best of all, thighs are sore and bloody from trouser pockets being stealthily filled with drawing pins then smacked hard with a heavy book. Just for a laugh you understand.
Slinking involves no initiation ceremony and there is no training course or manual. Slinkers never speak above a mumble and never undertake any enterprise which might draw attention. Slinkers are present, but strive for invisibility and as such, Slinking is a solitary skill. To be a successful Slinker, all that’s required is a broken spirit, a lonely heart and an overwhelming need to be absorbed into the walls or the floor when confronted by one or more of them. You know, them. The boys who ritually heaped humiliation and contempt upon my bony shoulders. Boys who were faster, cleverer and better able to deliver a punch than I was.
In the context of 1970’s machismo, my parents and guardians considered Slinking to be an essential qualification in the transition from snivelling little shit to amenable public schoolboy.
Such is life.
© Rivenrod 2020
Picture: Deaths Head Moth by Myles Josh