Friday, November 07, 2008

Mirth and Woe: On mental teachers

Mirth and Woe: On mental teachers

Zombie Asquith (no relation)I had the very good fortune to run into two former inmates of my old secondary school on the forums at this week. In fact, one of the pair was one of the more excellent fellow pupils at the establishment, and was the subject of one of the original Tales of Mirth and Woe on these very pages.

And what do pupils of any school do when they get back together again? They discuss the weird teachers. This is not difficult, because any student of this site will confirm that all of my teachers were completely barking mad. Mr Prince excepted. And possibly Miss Shagwell.

One or two, however, transcended madness, and lived in the rolling vistas of complete insanity where few men fear to tread.

Take, for example, Herbert Henry Asquith*.

Not the Liberal Prime Minister of Great War years, but a man who could easily be passed off as the stunt double for The Edge out of U2. If The Edge took to dressing up like a 1970s porn actor.

Mr Asquith was an art teacher (what else?) who never actually managed to teach us art, his lessons being long, monotone monologues on anything that happened to be on his mind. And such was the ease he could be nudged off topic, you could steer him to virtually any subject you desired.

"Sir? Have you ever painted a nude?" seemed to be a popular topic, especially when coupled with "And sir? What's the best way to draw breasts?"

Sadly, within two minutes, any instruction on the skills required to paint top-drawer norkery would be side-tracked and would segue in a ten-minute monologue of the rising price of fruit and the minute detail of his bicycle ride into work.

And, Lord, he loved his bike.

He was a militant cyclist, and rode a sizeable round trip every day to talk complete bollocks to his pupils.

And as much as he loved his bike, he hated the man who ran the bike shop in the village.

In fact, I'd go as far as saying he had a bizarre feud going on with the bloke who ran the bike shop in the village, and would often send pupils down to the shop on a letter-running errand.

"Duck," he droned to me one afternoon, "You've got a reasonably good bicycle. Take this message down to the bike shop. Be sure to wait for a reply."

I waited until I got out of the school gates before unfolding the piece of paper. There, written in Asquith's unmistakable copper-plate handwriting were the words "You're a bastard".

I took it to Hairy Peter in the village.

"It's from Mr Asquith," I said, handing him the note.

Hairy Peter – as bald as an egg and the living spit of Stirling Moss – wiped his oily hands on the front of his once-white overalls, took the note and read it with a grunt.

"Wait here," he said, and disappeared into his workshop, where the sound of drawers opening and closing could be heard, followed by a muffled scream and the word "BUGGER!"

He emerged, minutes later, nursing a bruised thumb and holding an oil-stained scrap of paper. On it was scrawled the words "Up yours".

Dutifully, I returned it to Asquith's clutches.

"So, he's going to be like that, then?" he said at length (Sooooo... Heeeeeee's...Gooooingggg...), before reaching into his desk drawer for a sheet of his most expensive vellum paper.

"F", he wrote in his best pen-and-ink, the art of calligraphy learned down the years, culminating in this very moment in his life. "U"... "C"...

...And the school bell went and I was saved.

Shortly after that I volunteered for Home Economics on the strength that was teacher was a lesbian who might teach me a thing or two. She did. CAKE.

* Name changed to protect the guilty Prime Minister

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