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May 18, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: School Trip Envy

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RomaThis weekend my son Charlie goes to Italy. Not New Italy. Old Italy. The one they keep in Europe. I’m so jealous. My daughter went two years ago. Now it’s Charlie’s turn. He doesn’t even look that excited. It’s not a holiday. It’s a school trip. It’s language immersion. Do these kids have any idea how privileged they are? One month in Italy. That’s incredible. We didn’t do stuff like that when I was at school. Oh we had school trips. But they were beyond shit. Awful encounters into a world that only served to confirm that growing up was depressing and pointless. One time we were taken on an excursion to the Buderim Ginger Factory. We watched them process ginger. That shit should be on YouTube. It was as fascinating as it sounds. When we finished we all got to eat some ginger lollies. In those days ginger was what nasty old ladies ate to get that mean twist to their mouth when they were appalled by the sight of you. The ginger lollies were disgusting. Everyone spat them out. One kid vomited. We climbed aboard the bus certain that the world of adults was ludicrous and disappointing and that none of them seemed to remember how to have fun. We all secretly hoped we’d die before 21 so that we could escape this interminably boring life of ginger production and consumption.

Another school trip we did was to the abattoir. This was one of those days when you wished you’d stayed home. This was a good experience I guess if you had plans to grow up to be a serial killer and wanted to see some impressive knife action. But for most of us, watching someone slice a pig’s face from its head and throw it into a room full of faces and curly tails was that special kind of distressing that some might call ‘scarring’. Especially for the pig. I watched creepy dudes in hair nets electrocute an upside-down living creature hanging from its trotter and then slit its throat. They did it while leering at us high school girls in our short little skirts. They were getting off on killing stuff in front of us. Was this a school trip or the set of a weird animal snuff porn film? I don’t know why teachers liked taking kids to watch animals be killed. And then serve a platter of ham sandwiches at lunchtime? It’s hard to eat ham once you’ve witnessed the murder. Do the same teachers take kids to have a ciggie in the cancer ward?

One time we went to Dicky Beach. I remember thinking at the time that it wasn’t a great name for a beach. You’re kind of asking for wankers. If someone got their dick out and the ranger came you could point to the sign and say, ‘Hey, it’s Dicky Beach’. Dicky Beach wouldn’t get past the education board these days. You wouldn’t have kids staying anywhere with a dick in it. We stayed in cabins at Dicky Beach. Horrible little asbestos huts with four bunk beds apiece sporting urine-soaked mattresses filled in terror by the legions of bedwetters who’d been to Dicky before us. When you opened the door you could smell the wee. Warm and sweetly pungent, it wrapped us like a warm urine-covered blanket. While on that trip we were taken to see some Aussie icons like The Big Shell. It was a big shell. When you got to the big shell you could put your ear to it and hear the ocean. It wasn’t that exciting because we were already at the ocean and you could hear it when your ear wasn’t on the big shell. Then we went to the house where some bloke had created a mini-museum in the downstairs and was inviting school children in to look. I now realise the guy was probably a paedophile. Normal blokes don’t want random kids coming into their garage. He’d built the Spanish Armada out of matchsticks. I bet his wife hated his guts. Imagine how much she wanted to put arsenic in his tea, watching her life eke away one matchstick at a time.

Then we went to an even weirder bloke’s house. He’d made a house out of bottles. Beer bottles. An alcoholic with Apsergers charging a dollar to get in. Aspergers hadn’t been identified then but that was clearly what we were doing. Aspergers showrooms. It wasn’t so much a school trip but an exhibition of dysfunction. Charlie will be going to the Vatican, he’ll be visiting the leaning tower of Pisa and seeing Colosseum. But that’s not the big shell. Or the house of bottles. So in the end, for all his privilege, what will he really learn?

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  1. Big laugh out loud on this one! Ah, school trips. Tick re abattoir tour (what where they thinking??). And an aviary for nocturnal birds that we visited in the daytime. And I think I stayed at Dicky Beach’s twinned camping ground – the Akatarawere Ranges. In winter. In NZ. Character building obviously.

    Thank you again, Mandy – nice work.

  2. School Trips? Never heard of them in my day (1940s) We did have a day at Penrose Park, Silverton 14 miles from town. Spent the day on swings etc. Climbing over the fence to visit the old cemetery and throwing stones across a dam. Very happy memories and good fun – but…. Italy? That was where the war was, wasn’t it? No-one went there on a school trip. No trips to ginger farms or abattoirs either.


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