The nightmares are early this year;Comment;Opinion

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Apparently at least one person at my new school would have expected me to turn up in a trenchcoat and hat, had he realised that I was the same Gregor Steele who writes the Phil Harrass pieces about life as a licensed private HMI.

But I don't know if I really want to be closely associated with a fictional creation. It is true that Phil and I share a fondness for Skodas, chicken pakora, Irn Bru, Triumph Heralds and some of the voices on Radio Scotland. We both grew to respect people we initially had little time for - in my case Michael Forsyth and in his Mickey the Ferret. (Do you know, there were those who thought the latter was based on the former?) There are of course lots of differences. He is a fictional private HMI who lives alone in an apartment and I am a nonfictional teacher who lives with a wife and two kids in a Barratt house. And he has a trenchcoat.

Nor can I admit to any strange psychological effects due to having an alter ego, beyond occasionally thrusting my hands deep into the pockets of my nontrench coat when walking alone down a poorly-lit backstreet.

On the other hand, starting over at a new school has given my subconscious licence to play a few tricks on me. "The good class that becomes gradually more unsettled until they are uncontrollable" nightmare normally visits me toward the end of the summer holidays. This year it booked a weekly spot in my first month. When I began to settle and the corridors were no longer filled solely with anonymous faces, I caught myself thinking I had seen pupils from my last school popping into doorways or rounding corners.

Further to confuse things, I was pottering around my classroom during a free period when an English teacher I knew stuck his head through the door and made a mock derisive comment about a joke I had written for a TV programme.

My first reaction was not surprise - it was just the sort of thing I would expect from Derek. Then I realised that while I should expect this behaviour, I should not have expected to see Derek. He teaches at the school I just left. He proved not to be an apparition, merely an external assessor.

This man once paid me a compliment that he probably saw as having little worth but which I value. On hearing of my imminent small step for a man to a new post, Derek said he felt that the English department was losing an honorary member.

This was vastly overgenerous. It was probably because in 13 years Ihad twice organised visiting writers and had made a couple of constructive suggestions relating to the school's book week.

But I appreciated the comment. It made me feel that I could have been a contender in another field. This is important for someone who dislikes the polarisation of people into arts and science camps. Perhaps we should all have alter egos, versions of ourselves who follow the other camp.

This might not suit some people who seem to think the "split" is a good idea. These people are often nonscientists who cast themselves in the role of guardians overseeing technologists and researchers, making sure they don't do anything unethical or immoral.

But what the hell use are overseers if they cannot understand what they oversee? Get a broad education or go shave your teeth, as Phil Harrass might say.

Gregor Steele has discovered that a teacher at his new school has actually been to the Skoda factory. We're not worthy! We're not worthy!

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