Buchanan Street blues

14th January 2000 at 00:00
If young Lochinvar is riding about in your dreams it's probably a bad case of latent insecurity, says John Cairney

CLIMBERS, like anglers and golfers, are prone to exaggerate. When a fellow mountaineer once told me he had had frostbitten toes diagnosed in May, I did not argue since it was his turn to buy a round. I was, however, sceptical.

His explanation that he had unknowingly been affected by frostbite in an enforced winter bivouac three months previously, and that a barefoot paddle across the Water of Nevis had reactivated the condition, rendered his claim no less bizarre. It just did not seem possible that there was such a thing as "latent frostbite".

A recent event set me thinking that the story might not have been so tall after all, though my experience was more psychological than physical. Most teachers will have been subjected to the ordeal - the nightmare about the lesson where nothing goes right, where pupils ignore requests and take control, "the class from hell" scenario.

Against the advice of my wife, who says that dreams should not be discussed publicly, I have to say that even after leaving teaching I continued to have my sleep disturbed by occasional dreams related directly to my time in the profession. It has happened less of late, but at the end of December I had the daddy of them all.

How it came about made me think of my frostbitten friend and I tell it here in the hope that other teachers and former teachers, if and when similarly afflicted, will take some comfort from the fact that they are not alone.

The dream was set in the gym of the first school in which I taught. It was a prefabricated concrete hut, with a stone floor, though in the dream the floor also had patches of carpeting. I was taking a large class of boys for a basketball lesson, with basketballs far larger than the standard size and, when trying to demonstrate to the class, the balls refused to bounce on the stone and carpeting, resulting in the boys falling about laughing and ridiculing my efforts.

The more I tried to get the ball to bounce the more the class laughed. Many of the boys' faces were recognisable from my later years in school and they were not troublemakers but people of whom I had fond memories. The lesson eventually deteriorated into chaos with boys ignring my directions, shouting at me, fighting and leaning against the walls, smoking. Within minutes of waking up I was in no doubt what had sparked off the dream.

The previous day I had been in Buchanan Street bus station in Glasgow picking up pre-ordered tickets. I was at the front of a queue of about eight people. Ahead of me, a young man, probably a student, was buying tickets for a trip to London. He was very loud and was so set on impressing the young woman who was serving him that he ignored the line of passengers behind him anxious to receive attention.

His chattiness was clearly distracting the attendant, as he told her about how much he intended to enjoy the millennium in London and asked how she would spend Hogmanay. His obliviousness to those waiting in the queue irked me, a lot. Eventually I suggested that he should arrange an assignation for some later date, complete his transaction and let the rest of us complete ours.

He did indeed complete his transaction a lot more quickly than he otherwise would have, but on his way out harangued me, with eyes bulging and arms waving. I harangued back, but controlled myself sufficiently to avoid a very nasty, and public, incident.

On my way out of the station I met one of my former pupils at his usual spot selling copies of the Big Issue. This young man, now so friendly and responsive, even before I gave him a generous festive tip, had been a very difficult pupil. As we chatted I heard a voice from behind shout "Cheeky old bastard", and turned to see my young Lochinvar from the ticket queue speeding off on a bicycle.

Thus was the scene set for my subsequent nightmare. The bus station bust-up was the equivalent of the barefoot paddle which reactivated my friend's affliction. If he had latent frostbite could I perhaps have latent insecurity? If so, am I alone in this? Are other teachers, past and present, similarly affected? After all it is nearly three years since I last faced a class.

Perhaps the condition could be officially recognised and accepted as grounds for early retirement by the McCrone committee.

PS: I can record, with some pride, that had Lochinvar not been on a bike my former pupil displayed every sign of defending his ex-teacher's honour, and not, I hope, just because of the tip.

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