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The literary lion

Gradgrind on a charismatic lecturer and life in the literary fast lane

My tale relates to a liberal studies lecturer who became a legend in his own non-contact time. Seamus, a shaggy, bearded man with deep-set blue eyes, a huge nose and an entrancing Irish brogue, was hired to teach craft apprentices.

Others had attempted it. Like Daniel in the lion's den, most did not last long. Others had grown grey pondering their pensions contributions and trying to interest their boisterous charges in socially-relevant "Ishoos".

Seamus' approach was refreshingly unorthodox. For him, no aspirations to the elegant sophistry of an Oxford Union debate, but instead exchanging quick fire four-letter put-downs. The young apprenctice boys took advantage of this platform to air their somewhat blinkered views.

When discussions got too heated Seamus took them to the union bar where the lesson determined the gravity of Guinness or the capacity of the stomach to hold liquid.

Seamus' breakthrough came with the discovery of the visiting lecturer budget. From then on a succession of minor bards were hired, probably from bars in Camden Town. The students were baffled by the oratory.

Not so Seamus. One of the bards must have suggested to that he write a novel. And so work on what was to be the mother of all Irish novels began. As the masterwork took shape so did Seamus.

He began adopting the mannerisms of a man of letters, sometimes Wildean other times more earthy. His beard grew. His appearance became more shaggy, his manner more distracted.

Mutterings reached the principal's ears. The principal, a small effete man, took decisive action. He approved a request for a massive desktop publishing system. Seamus's artistic outpourings increased. The system was locked in the technician's office but you would always find Seamus in front of it hammering out his words. His enthusiasm corrupted the technician who started a small business with Seamus' literary contacts buying and selling Irish first editions.

Even the prim and buxom deputy librarian succumbed. She was found in the stock cupboard in a state of advanced undress experiencing the Irish romantic tradition with Seamus lending a guiding hand. It was said that the muse had come upon her.

Seamus had assumed the role of unofficial "writer in residence". But the students could hardly get to see him as he had become a minor celebrity. You might find television camera crews and arts programmes editors huddling round his corner of the resources centre.

What became of the book? No one knew. The end of term came and with it Seamus left. He had finally been whisked away to fame and fortune. And me? I am down to teach craft apprentices in the technical block on Friday afternoon. Now where was that unfinished manuscript I had tucked away?

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