A slip of the tongue - ooh, Matron!

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Gregor Steele likes cheap jokes - why should humour be expensive?

I was trying to explain the difference between weight and mass, using an idea I had stolen from someone called Chunky. The class was in a hypothetical rocketship in deep space, along with a wasp and the large-ish actor John Savident, who used to play Fred Elliott in Coronation Street. All of us were weightless. What would they do if the wasp landed on their hands? Flick it off. Could they do the same to Fred Elliott if he landed on their hands? No.

Why not? He was too big. Big wasn't good enough for me. "Come on, be more precise. What's Fred Elliott got that's big whereas a wasp has only got a tiny one?" Before I could add, "I mean, what physics quantity..." the smirks had already started. A minute later, most of the class were insensible with laughter, and so was I. It was a bonding moment.

Not known for bonding with his pupils was the World's Most Sarcastic Teacher, a man I came across a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. "I can't give you your test marks back," he once told a miserable child, "because you don't have marks. You only have a mark."

Fortunately, he too was prone to Carry On-style gaffs, particularly when trying to be too clever and, to his credit, he shared his worst one with his colleagues.

A fourth-year boy was lolling idly at his desk, talking to a pal when he should have been completing a worksheet. "OK," said the World's Most Sarcastic Teacher, "I'm going to put you somewhere where you can do something that you obviously can only do on your own."

"Eh?"

"I'll give you a clue. It's a four-letter word beginning with W and ending in K."

"Oh yes!"

"I'm talking about WORK boy!"

He retired shortly afterwards, though it would be going a bit far to suggest a direct causal link. I'm sure that I was not the only person in the staffroom that day who, on hearing the tale, both secretly applauded the boy and was forced to contemplate the very nature of the universe itself.

Surely, some greater power is at work, ensuring that we never get too smart for our own good. Or perhaps it's evolutionary. All I really know is that incidents like that brighten up life, and that's about the size of it, Matron.

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