Lamb to the slaughter

8th June 2012 at 01:00

"Why do people call the Welsh sheep-shaggers?"

I was aware that my study skills class on how to prepare for exams wasn't the most interesting ever, but this question really did come out of nowhere.

So, how to answer it? First, the sensible option: "Come on now, let's keep our focus, shall we?" Alternatively, I might choose to take the comment seriously and go down the socio-historical road. This would involve pointing out how urban dwellers have traditionally shown contempt for their rural counterparts.

Third, I could opt for a bit of a digression.

Of course, I chose option three. "Be careful," I said. "Remember, I'm half Welsh." "Which half?" came the reply.

And off we went. First I took the opportunity to give them a bit of Groucho Marx. Back in the decidedly un-politically correct days of the 1920s, the star was visiting a very Wasp-ish New England country club. Partway through the visit, he noticed a sign that said "No Jews allowed in the pool". Quick as a flash, he asked his embarrassed hosts: "My daughter's half Jewish. Does that mean she can go in up to her waist?"

Yes, it's a joke, but who could doubt its educational applications, when it points up so deliciously the absurdities of racially based discrimination? Also, it ticks the ED (equality and diversity, to the uninitiated) box on the class lesson plan. And, as it's funny, it's allowed. Since taking an Inset training day on "transformational teaching", I now know that humour in the classroom is not only to be tolerated, but positively encouraged.

But that was only the start of it. Being half Welsh, I suggested, means that you like male voice choirs but always find yourself listening with only one ear. And then there's the rugby. You find that you can't be bothered with club rugby, but keenly follow the internationals. Naturally, you only half understand the rules. And, being half English and half Welsh, you face real problems when the two sides play one another. This can be solved, I told my audience, by going outside at half-time and beating yourself up.

But none of this was good enough for my antagonist. He wasn't going to let it go. "Does being half Welsh mean that you're half a sheep-shagger?" he asked. A little voice nagged away at the back of my mind: "Better to be hanged for a sheep than a lamb." Luckily, another voice cut in: the voice of the tabloid headline. "Ewe belong to me, says baaah-my lecturer!" "Woolly thinking costs teacher his job." That decided it.

"All right, class," I said sheepishly. "Playtime's over. Now, what can you tell me about the three methods of exam revision?"

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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