Mrs. Hogan was a dark, thick set, giant of a woman with a Medusa face which was set in the grim aspect of distain. Her seething cauldron was ever on the verge of boiling over into rage. Mrs. Hogan - Hulk - was our fourth grade teacher, the dictator of a tiny nation who pressed her grapes of wrath. She would crouch before you to unleash her dragon breath – waves of halitosis spiced derision washed over you in a terrifying tsunami of abuse. “You are an imbecile boy – answer the question!” You knew the answer, but your mind was thrall – a rabbit in the headlights. “This boy doesn’t even know that two times two is four!” the class laughs heartily, if nervously. Your face flushed with embarrassment and shame, but the true humiliation came later in the playground – when the humour got physical.
The heavy breasted Spartan tyrant ruled over her Helot minions with a mixture of violence and sarcasm. She sat at the head of the hierarchy of bullies – if she fingered you the rest were sure to follow. The nice kids, the middle class kids, were treated with fawning respect, but the poorer kids were reviled. Mrs. Hogan could strike with sudden fury hauling children by the hair, or dragging them by the arm in a vice like grip to the front of the class to be subjected to tirades of furious abuse while she slapped them around the head.
The days were long in Mrs. Hogan’s class, long and tortuous – especially if you were one of those less favoured children singled out for her special attention. “If brains were taxed you would get a rebate boy!” the children laughed, even those who were not quite sure what she was saying. “What do you have between your ears, a vacuum?” You had discovered long ago that even if you answered her enquiries correctly she would mimic you in sneering tones, and so you had fallen into silence. This was a tactic that had singled you out as the class idiot – your silence was growing ever deeper, until there really was a vacuum at the centre of your being.
Then one day something happened to rouse you from your reverie. The class was filing though the door after recess, some of the other kids were sniggering, and Mrs. Hogan had a face like thunder. When everyone was seated she took up her Mussolini stance – hands on hips before the class. The sunlight glinted off lenses of her horn rimmed glasses obscuring her eyes and giving her an even more inhuman aspect than usual. Her face was engorged with rage, “Who is responsible for this abomination?” she was pointing behind her towards the blackboard which bore the inscription scrawled in white chalk – “The Phantom Piddler Was Here!” beneath which was a small puddle. The class suddenly erupted with mirth, which was cut short by the dragon’s glare. “There is nothing funny about this disgusting display of savagery!” she intoned. “I want the culprit to come forward right now.” Moments of silent tension passed while she stared down the whole class. No one came forward.
For the next two days Mrs. Hogan simmered in her quiet rage, exploding occasionally in a seemingly random pattern at any pupil who irritated her – even her squeaky clean favourites were not immune. The question of the phantom piddler weighed heavy on her mind and was the chief subject of debate and speculation in the playground. Who was our masked hero, when would he strike again? We had not long to wait until he did. Two days after his first attack the phantom struck again in the same spot. This time he left the epitaph “The Phantom Piddler Strikes Again!” Mrs. Hogan could barely control her rage. She flew on her broomstick around the class accusing each of her most ‘troublesome’ boys in turn, until she came to you. “No,” she said, “You don’t have the gumption, even for this.” It was the most hurtful thing she ever said to you.
The next time the piddler struck it was a dagger to her heart. He left a puddle on her desk and scrawled “The Phantom Piddler Strikes Again!” across it. There was the usual rage and enquiries and threats, but it was becoming apparent to everyone that Mrs. Hogan was impotent in this face of the Phantom Piddler, our very own Zorro. From then on the classroom was always locked in Mrs. Hogan’s absence, but this did not stop our intrepid piddler. He struck again in the cloak room taking the time to leave his calling card, “The Phantom Piddler Strikes Again!” and against the classroom door, on which occasion he scrawled, “They Seek Him Here, They Seek Him There, They Seek The Piddler Everywhere!.”
The Piddler was a cause célèbre in the playground; everyone celebrated his exploits and speculated on his identity. Then one day, as we settled into another afternoon of boredom laced with terror, Mrs. Hogan called Alex Harvey to the front of the class. As you turn to watch him pass you notice that Anne McKenzie has turned beetroot red, Alex glowers at her as he passes, she was our quisling – She had seen Alex in the cloakroom and felt it was her duty to squeal.
Alex walked slowly, yet confidently, to the front of the class where Mrs. Hogan launched into a tirade of accusatory abuse, “You dirty little boy! You are the source of these disgusting incidents; it makes me sick to look at you!” Even though The Hulk was livid with righteous indignation and shouting right into Alex’s face he remained quite impassive, until The Hulk laid hands on him to shake him by the shoulders. It was then he came to life wrestling her off him, he cried out, “Leave me alone you old bag!” There was a muted murmur around the classroom. The Hulk stared at him in disbelief, “What did you say?” The shortest boy in the class Alex drew himself to his entire four feet in height and replied, “Leave me alone!” The gorgon grabbed him by the arm and attempted to drag him from the classroom into the corridor. Alex was a blur of hands and feet as he kicked and punched at the hulking woman who outweighed him ten to one, for a moment they actually traded blows, until Mrs. Hogan suddenly disengaged. She stood panting and staring her young advisory for a moment before saying, “Go back to your seat!” Some of the boys let out a cheer, Mrs. Hogan stared at the class and said, “Don’t make me deal with you too!” The unmistakable voice of Malcolm Fox, the class joker, piped up with “When you get your breath back” and the classroom sniggered openly.
The Sensational Alex Harvey, as Foxy dubbed him, was our Spartacus. He didn’t set us free, but he loosened our chains. For the remainder of the term Mrs. Hogan did not raise her hands to any of her pupils and though her sarcasm was withering, it was not as malignant as it was. There was a new attitude too in the playground - there was still bullying, but it was not vicious without the orchestration of the wicked witch. There was a new sense of unity amongst the class and for the rest of term the Sensational Alex Harvey – The Phantom Piddler ruled supreme as our king. When the class reconvened after the summer recess the new term began there was no need for The Phantom Piddler. Our new teacher toted a guitar into the classroom the first day and sang a song about Jesus; we knew we were free at last, free at last.