Chain-saw messenger


Ernie Binks, the caretaker at my school, could multi-task: not only had he got a very useful left foot, he was also very adept at scattering sawdust.
There was no such thing as after-school club in the ‘60s in Balham, but at my primary school, if you stayed in the playground after the 3.30 bell had rung, the caretaker would give impromptu football lessons. He played in goal for Balham United, as far as we were concerned, it was like having Sir Alf Ramsey coaching us.
Mr Binks did have a very cultured left boot (probably the only thing cultured in Balham in the ‘60s) and this was demonstrated in the playground on many an early evening as he tried to encourage us ten-year-olds to “let them know you’re there”. Even though I played for the school football team my interpretation of this was to involve your opponent in some of philosophical debate (while also being concerned whether I’d ever get dubbin off my hands).
Unless you played football, Mr Binks was largely absent, unless, as they say on announcements on London Transport, there was a Code 3 incident. In which case he would enter our classroom with his bucket of sawdust, scatter it liberally, but accurately, after which we would return to advanced calculus or hitting a Glockenspiel very hard, depending on whether it was a Tuesday afternoon or not.
Mr Binks lived on site, probably with a forest of pine trees (native only to Balham) in his back garden, all ready for sawdust preparation. Thankfully he never mistakenly came into our classroom with a chain-saw rather than a bucket.
They won’t forget Ernie.

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