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Friday's child

Victoria Neumark on...farting in class

Ere miss, 'oo cut the cheese?" "It were Darren, miss!" "No it weren't, it were Shane!" "It were 'im, the dirty bugger, 'e does the really juicy ones."

Collapse, in howls of laughter, of a class of 14-year old boys. The girls in the front primly rearrange their pencil cases. They are far too mature to discuss such indelicacies - at least, in mixed company. But the boys have no such inhibitions. They simply love the rudeness of it, the irreverence, the sheer smelly untamed revoltingness of letting wind. Yes, it's fart time again on a Friday afternoon, and Darren scores for teenage males everywhere.

In Chaucer's England, a court preacher who vented his flatulence during a sermon reduced the whole court of Edward II and Queen Isabella to helpless giggles for a full 20 minutes. He would have been a wow in Mcdonald's after a skateboarding session.

Meantime, Darren and Shane, fartmeisters of Year 9, get a big kick out of bodily effluents. They may be spotty, they may not be good at English literature, girls may be a mystery and a worry, but at least they can make everyone groan and laugh. Later, they will discover shaggy dog stories, the ability to buy just one more round and motoring magazines. But for now, letting off in Miss's religious education class is the business.

For teachers, of course, it is not so pleasant. There is something humbling and democratic about this particular ability to disrupt a lesson; not for nothing has Darren founded his reputation on timing. Mind you, a diet high in crisps and fizzy drink plays its part, as does his habit of gulping air when nervous - generally when asked a question in history. Some staff, such as Darren's history teacher, are unruffled by the winds of change and can quell comment with a glance. Others, such as the female RE teacher, are not so experienced and fall into the trap of grimacing or being startled. Worse, they may themselves have a nervous digestive system - almost a contra-indication to entering the profession, one might have thought.

"It were Miss, it were Miss!" the cry goes up , accompanied by references to baked beans, cabbage and "a spicy Indian". In this case, there is only one piece of advice: never apologise, never explain. For where Darren and Shane score for adolescents, for adults, flatulence is an own goal.

The whole point is deflating pomposity and celebrating the natural life of the body over the austere life of the mind. Boys whose bodies are growing so fast and in such alarmingly exotic ways, find pleasure in an aspect of physicality which is both rank and powerful - unlike spots or a breaking voice, for instance.

For adults imbued with authority in the classroom, the physical is an unwelcome interruption. And yet, at the same time, the whole thing is harmless, natural, inevitable, part of shared humanity.

Hence the communal delight in Darren and Shane. They can be rebels, but without a cause. Without even rebelling. Just a whiff of sulphur is all.

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