Kindred heroes end on the ale

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Tomorrow is St George's Day and time to look at the dragons sitting on our own lives. Annoyingly, if you're a teacher your dragons will always return - even if you won the last battle.

The dragon-slayer's story always ends in one spectacular go. The slayer gets the flash of steel, the taste of death and a few burns from scorched armour. Then a hissing silence and distant cheers. Grateful, quivering villagers do all your clearing up. And everybody loves you.

Have you ever known one day of such shiny finality in teaching? Yeah, yeah, the end of term. But then it all starts again. Our dragons may be smaller, but they are many, and they always come back. When I taught 9K for the last time, I closed my eyes and breathed the peace. Then I had to teach two of their scaly little sisters the following year.

No, the teacher's life is closer to the punishment of poor, dusty, boulder-shoving Sisyphus than to the hunky, red-and-white St George. And if you teach English, you keep being reminded of this.

Some of the most satisfying endings in English literature feature dragons.

In Beowulf: "They pushed the dragon over the cliff and let the sea take it." Splash, blub, doof. The end. Fabulous.

But my favourite dragon finale has to be the one in Spenser's Faerie Queene. It's disgusting. Here, the Redcrosse Knight is being squeezed to death by the huge dragon Errour.

He gets one hand free and throttles the monster. It promptly barfs all over him: "Her vomit full of bookes and papers was."

Spenser was shaking a claw at Catholicism, but he could have been describing the bureaucratic vomit that teachers wade through every day. The dragon's icky puke is not only filled with "papers", but also "with loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke". Haven't we all met inspectors like that?

Friday nights also seem to be the same for dragon-slayers and teachers.

Well, I've often wondered how dragon-slayers wind down after a fight.

According to one chipper little ballad of the 17th century, after slaying a dragon a knight will sink a few pints of ale. It makes sense - and surely it's not just because of the obvious rhyme with "flagon"?

So now I get it. Teachers have a daily hydra of hassles, paper and stress to hack through. Dragon-slayers get a big-bang ending and cheering crowds.

Teachers and dragon-slayers couldn't do each other's jobs. But when the smoke clears, they both end up in the pub.

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