Rewriting School Field Trips

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It was about 30 years ago. School field trip. We were on a bus. The way school field trips usually started. Well, they started with a sense of relief that it wasn’t a regular day of school. You walked in a little lighter that day.

The bus would take you to a farm – the closest you got to the ‘field’ in field trip. Or the bus would take you to a shopping mall. Or to something that was very nearly a museum where volunteers tinkered with old engines and bits and pieces they’d restored. And you had a sheet of questions and maybe your name was attached to one of them – there’d be a worksheet component. You’d ask out the questions. A few of you selected to deliver the wooden prose, like the world’s laziest, worst organised press conference. And a reluctant interviewee would build a flimsy answer out of mumble, and everyone would scratch it down onto the paper, holding it against their hand and writing very badly as a result.

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That’s the generic school field trip. As I remember it.

But there’s one I’ll always remember – above and beyond. It was different to all of the others. I doubt they’d even allow such a thing now. There would be letters of complaint. There would be protests. There would be, erm, blood…

And it was never made clear what we were supposed to be doing – or learning – on this school trip. But I still maintain this had the most profound effect. I learned more on this day then I perhaps ever did at school (and I kinda liked school, by the way). I have thought about this often. This trip to the meat works. This bus ride to see how death works.

Earlier this week – I finally articulated some of the memory of this experience.

(Play AFFCO by Skeptics, optional)

The Most Learning I Ever Did At School Was In One Day On A Field Trip To The Abattoir

We watched the cows get loaded up
the ramp where they walked to their
death, a fear in their eyes. They put
their heads down low as the bolt went
through their ear. And then a big dull
sound as they hit the floor. A chain
dragging them, one-by-one, by the ankle
and lifting them up to hang in stench.

And then a guy would walk forward and
put a huge blade to the stomach, a gush of
blood hit his boots and the concrete floor,
as he pulled guts and bits – that already
looked like so many sausages. These were
flung to the side without regard and the
chain would swing the body to the side,
and it would begin again. And again.

We stood frozen for a bit. Then we were
herded along to the next stop. No bolt in
our ear – but as we made it to the end of
the line we were gifted a cow’s eye in a bag.
These were thrown about on the bus, slipped
down the back of girls’ uniforms; remaining
ones poured, like pet goldfish from a bag,
to hide at the bottom of drinking fountains.


What’s your strongest – most haunting – memory of a school field trip?

For a happier experience reading about Cows, may I suggest The Cows by Lydia Davis. A single story of perfectly controlled observation.

If you’re after a great book recommendation (not about cows), this week I’m suggesting Puff Piece by John Safran. I’ve just finished it. Loved it. It helps that I’m a fan of the Australian journalist and filmmaker’s work. But what a brilliant examination of the sheer soullessness of marketing and PR spin. It brings to mind this legendary Bill Hicks clip.

Oh, and back to the cows. Weird but true, that same year of the school field trip I discovered Faith No More’s Angel Dust album. One of the best records I know. One of the albums of my life. Its back cover forever linked in my mind to the events I described. Its sound and feel and anger and flow a perfect score.

It was also the same year I discovered Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. Also linked – given its cover artwork – and a much gentler but fitting musical mood and soundscape too. Well, my mind has forever linked these things.

Happy hump day.

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