Life's a barrel of laughs;Comment;Opinion

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Hard though it may be for some of you to believe, the truth is that there was a time when I could be really irritating. Those not raising their voices in disbelief will doubtless include my wife and sister, who have been subjected to my brother-in-law and myself exchanging Fast Show catchphrases. Oooh! Suits you, sir.

Also unlikely to dissent are some friends who stayed on at university to do PhDs when I went to Moray House. They had to put up with me salting, or rather over-salting, my conversation with my pupils' in-words. Everything was barry or radge. Only a medical student talking about dissection over the Teviot Row Student Union dinner table could have been worse.

For my part, I had to endure a daily greeting from my pals of: "Hi there. Still beating the kids up?" It was session 1982-83. Teachers were no longer allowed to beat the kids up, the belt having been banned in most places by then. If my arithmetic is correct, there can be no pupils now in the Scottish state system who have ever had the tawse. Some may have been subjected to manhandling by the shoulders or the odd ear tweak, and teachers may now and again sigh that so and so needs a good slap or a kick up the backside.

It doesn't happen - or perhaps it does and I am working in an exceptionally sheltered area. But I doubt it and would maintain that there has been a gradual cultural shift away from "that sort of thing".

In the first school I was placed in as a student, a technical teacher hit a pupil (using no significant force, I deduced) with a piece of wood. "You cannae dae that," said the boy. His teacher denied an improper motive. "I was just passing it to you. It knocked into you because you were too busy carrying on to pay attention and take it off me."

As a naive, barely-out-of-short-trousers trainee struggling with some classes, I found this concept quite appealing. There was a freckly, sneering second-year boy whose long, sharp nose was an RKO radio mast radiating insolence. He regularly played me up and I began to fantasise about slamming a lectern-sized Bible shut on his beak, or trapping it in a vice. Best of all would be persuading the already-mentioned techie teacher to weld him inside an oil drum.

Before freeing my tormentor, I would assault the metal barrel with a variety of heavy hammers. After releasing him with an oxyacetylene torch, carefully wielded to ruin his regulation hardman denim jacket, I would explain that had he been paying attention and not carrying on he would never have been trapped. But the boy would not hear the explanation as his head would be an oscillating, reverberating blur, like Tom's when Jerry holds up a frying pan for him to run into.

If this sounds like an unhealthy scenario to construct in one's head, it is important to note that that is all it is - a mental scenario, a stress-relieving cartoon strip, something that could never actually happen.

Had I started teaching a few years earlier, I might have been occupied with thoughts on how to improve on my pain-inflicting technique so that I would be a more effective belter the next time I met a particular class. Call me wet liberal, call me namby-pamby, say what you like, but I maintain that we live and teach in better, happier times. Which is nice (as they say on the Fast Show).

Gregor Steele

Gregor Steele's other violent fantasy, stolen from Monty Python's Austrian fish-slapping dance sketch, involves hitting someone on the face with a huge salmon.

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