It was a throw-away phrase forged forty years ago in a primary school woodwork class. Yet it survives to this day in my household, recited with startling regularity by my children, and still causes me to laugh aloud when it comes to mind.
It was late afternoon and the headmaster, Mr Pearson, was discussing the creation of model boats. While patient and often — but not always — hard of hearing, Sandy ‘Squinty’ Pearson was a man of discipline and not inclined to allow too much frivolity at Happyhansel Primary School in the village of Walls, Shetland.
Having set out his objective for the lesson, and patting his pocket to locate his pipe in readiness for a quick smoke break, he paused and asked: “Now, what time is it?”
It was at this point that my somewhat older classmate, Frank Jarmson, delivered the immortal and equally improbable line.
“Half past a cat’s arse.”
Maybe it came out by accident — a sort of unlikely Tourette’s — or maybe it was intended just for the ears of Graham Georgeson and Brian Isbister, standing next to Frank. But the words seemed to reverberate around the room before unleashing a torrent of laughter from us and a fit of apoplectic rage from Mr Pearson.
I can’t recall quite what happened next. But more than forty years later, anyone who asks the time at home is likely to get Franks surreal line: half past a cat’s arse.
PS: Years later I discovered a rarely-used phrase ‘half past a monkey’s ass…’which may have been the template for the response.