Parlez vous? Nae never

7th November 2003 at 00:00
It is 1972. With Alice Cooper's School's Out cruelly ringing in my ears - it had been released to mark the beginning of the English summer holidays and had thus peaked in the charts at the end of the Scottish ones - I walked into secondary school for the first time.

I was excited. I was scared. The wall bars in the gym hall, visible over the top of the windows, looked as high as the Scott Monument. I told my pal Minto, who was twice my height, that I was looking forward to learning how to speak French. He stared at me as if I was nuts. Minto was repeating first year. He knew that the odds that I was about to be disillusioned were about three to one.

Our French teacher was severe. She had little time for levity and shot from the hip when any misbehaviour put its head out the saloon door. I got on well in her class because I was fairly smart and didn't misbehave. Minto, who was no clown, hated her. He had a model Volkswagen Beetle which he had painted with an iron cross and the French teacher's room number (she was also a German teacher) claiming it was her car. Actually, she had an Austin 1100. I noticed things like that.

In S2, we got a great guy for French. He was funny and related to us on a personal level. Unfortunately, having coped well with French, I was put in a German class in second year, instead of technical. Our German teacher was 90 or so. Due to staff shortages, she had made more comebacks from retirement than Status Quo. I used to imagine her opening a cupboard in her house and being buried beneath a deluge of carriage clocks and engraved trays.

She hated modern music, fashion and comprehensive schools. I thought she hated me but she wrote in my report that I was a delightful pupil.

I dropped German after S2. The following summer, I made up a song, to the tune of the Wild Rover, about how I would "nae never, nae mair" get this teacher. Wrong. I had her for O grade French, two years of it.

I met both these frosty teachers after I left and they were exceptionally nice. What made them the way they were in class? Was it an assumption that people, particularly boys, disliked their subjects intensely and could thus be given no truck?

Hee hee! Imagine the reaction from some of my colleagues if I finished off "plus ca change . . ."

Gregor Steele always wondered why the German word for "pencil" was about three lines long.

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