I never wanted to be a prefect. I suppose I just didn’t like the idea of having something forced on me. I was being told what to do and I’ve never taken to having roles thrust on me, by anybody, at any time. At the end of the previous year I’d even rejected my prizes saying that I would not be part of the establishment’s rigged, ego-massaging, prize-giving ceremonies. Despite some attempted and extensive re-assurance to the contrary, my annual placing on the league table of such esteemed nonsensical elite seemed ridiculous to me. I had not entered any competition to seek such a position, in fact I had regularly missed assignments and had been, as often mentioned to myself and my parents, rather a pain in the neck in most classes, so why was this being thrust on me? Were they trying to bribe me?
However, I was now in my final year and all those who made it through the gauntlet and torture of previous years were ‘awarded’ the position of prefect, and so prefect I was. It was mandatory. And it came with a special uniform which I adamantly would not wear. In the first place, the gold braid just looked silly and I wasn’t about to ask my mother to purchase some yellow string and then to waste hours stitching it around my makeshift blazer. This was an expense I knew we could do without and there was no way I could ask her to buy me an exclusive tie that would be worn for a single academic year. My white collared t-shirt, normal school tie, black jacket and brown flares would do me to the end of my schooling as they had seen me through from the beginning.
I did get a free badge. This was shaped like a shield, in metallic blue, with the word ‘Prefect’ in gold written across it at a jaunty angle. This was to be worn at all times and I wondered how best to comply. It was the time of Tom Baker’s Dr Who and the idea of a 12-foot-long scarf had appealed to me a few years earlier. Having curly hair I was of course a dead ringer for him, everyone said so, as they had said so rather unimaginatively about Marc Bolan years earlier. My scarf was a poor substitute for a Time Lord’s, being rather dull in colour and curled in on itself, so it was more like wearing a long woollen brown tube than a multi-coloured scarf like his, but it suited my purpose. The badge was duly attached to one end and I delighted as it trailed along the ground, ensuring it met every puddle and mud-covered pathway I could find.
There was more to being a prefect than the wearing of the badge, of course, and I watched in despair at my classmates degenerate, rather rapidly, into defenders of the system. I think amongst the teaching staff there must have been early pioneers of all that was wrong with 70’s town-planning as corridors became a complex interconnection of one-way routes through different colour-coded classroom zones. Bright and prominent signage not being loud enough, it was the prefects’ job to bark instructions at key intersections to ensure the flow of bewildered pupils approached its destination only from the correct cardinal direction. I still wake in cold sweats at having made one poor second year pupil walk an entire loop in order to reach the classroom next door to the one being vacated because it was positioned Northwards and not to the South.
Another job was to guard the back gate. This was a convenient route into the park and, for me especially, a very quick short-cut home. Having used it often, I was never quite sure why it was banned from pupil use and now, on guard duty to ensure no-one else would benefit as I often did, wondered at this new power I wielded. At just the sight of me, younger pupils backtracked and changed direction, returning with heads bent low in a slow suppressed march to trudge the long way around. My duty over, I’d then light a fag and utilise the fact that I was standing right opposite the park entrance anyway, so why not go that way?
I often wonder what being a prefect was meant to teach me. Why was this such an important part of my education that, after gaining solely academic achievements in my former years, it was mandatory in my final year? All I seem to remember learning was that most people underwent some strange transformation when given power beyond their understanding as I witnessed a sickening rise of hypocrisy in my peers and I was saddened by the way they seemed to suddenly enjoy becoming everything they had formerly despised.
I find myself wondering if politicians were once all prefects. That makes sense to me as I see them exercise their former misplaced power over more serious banality, creating rules and one-way systems that cause the proletariat to loop in circles seeking their next, unattainable goal. And looking around at the senior management team within my current place of work, of which I’m a part, I’m suddenly aware that perhaps the prefects are here as well, barking instructions as though they could lift morale on command. Worse still, despite my occasional disagreement with corporate policy and my outspoken viewpoints, I do worry that people might think that I’m actually one of them.