It happened one Saturday - on skates

9th August 1996 at 01:00
It was great to see David again. The former member of our physics department appeared for a visit on a day when his school, like the rest of the civilised world, had a holiday. My place had to wait a couple of weeks for a break for a traditional local don't-dare-call-it-a-gala-day festival.

In three years David's hair appears to have receded slightly while I have become a virtual slaphead. Sitting in his old classroom, now the room I use most, we filled one another in on what had been going on at our respective schools. I was at last able to ask him if the hole in the wall I have covered with a poster of the solar system really had been caused by him practising martial arts kicks.

I also thanked him once more for his role in my becoming a published columnist. It all happened on a Saturday about eight years ago. Three girls in David's tutor class had volunteered to roller-skate down the High Street in aid of charity. He took the train out from Glasgow to be there to give them moral support. I made a six-mile car journey for the same purpose. As we waited, the girls bare-armed and shivering, for a photographer who never came, my colleague handed me a copy of the (then Glasgow) Herald. "Have this, I'm finished with it," he said.

When I got home I discovered the paper was running a science fiction short story competition. I entered a po-faced tale about an android and a minister and got nowhere. I continued to either buy the Herald or look at other people's copies for the next three years to find out when the competition was running again. Twice I was a finalist and this gave me the confidence to send pieces off to learned journals. The first to be accepted was about a then unnamed private inspector of schools.

Sometimes our job reminds me of a chase sequence from Scooby Doo. If you have seen this cartoon you will know that Scooby and his master Shaggy are frequently pursued by "ghosts" who turn out to have been Mr Smedley the caretaker all the time, and if it hadn't been for these meddling kids he'd have gotten away with it. During the pursuit the pursuer and the pursued pass a drugstore and a barber's shop then the same drugstore and the same barber's shop again and again.

So it is with teaching. If not every year, then at least on some sort of regular basis the same curricular scenery is passed by again and again: the telecommunications section; the health section; the electricity section. It makes you wonder whether stone circles were constructed by primitive teachers in order to know when it was time to fill in the second-year reports.

Even the endless variety of pupils cannot fully compensate for the predictability. I'm therefore very grateful to David for stepping out of the metaphorical drugstore and handing me the newspaper that took me off into a new and interesting sideline. But if it hadn't been for those meddling kids in roller-skates it would never have happened.

Gregor Steele's best effort at science fiction was about ironing.

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