These honeyed words

15th May 2015 at 01:00

"So what do you think?" my wife asks. She is examining her reflection in our bedroom mirror rather than looking at me, so I pretend it's a rhetorical question and ignore her. We are getting ready to go out for dinner and the last thing I need is a tricky interrogation that might slow things down. "Well?" she persists.

I refrain from the physical demands of reaching down to put my socks on and admire her new dress. "Wow, you look absolutely stunning, dear," I say, but her frown suggests she is not convinced and I'm forced to go for the hard sell. "In fact, you look so good that if we weren't already happily married I would consider running off with you for a weekend of wild and illicit sex in a romantic location. But we are, so I won't."

She takes a deep breath. "Stop trying to be funny and give me an honest answer - yes or no?'

"Y-es," I reply. But even as the word leaves my mouth we both know I am being insincere. It's obvious from the slight hesitation. If I'd been connected to a polygraph it would have burst into a rendition of "Liar, liar, pants on fire".

As Clint Eastwood's character Harry Callahan says in 1973 film Magnum Force, "a man's got to know his limitations". But in this age of enhanced positivity, where negative comments are not only frowned upon but considered inappropriate to the primary task of raising self-esteem, it's a rule that no longer applies - although where Ryan is concerned it might as well.

"It's crap innit, Mr Eddison," he says when I cast my eye over his painting. My first thought is that it must be a depiction of fried eggs on toast. It takes several seconds for me to realise it is meant to be a version of one of Van Gogh's finest creations.

"Actually, I like how you've put your own interpretation on it rather than copying the original," I tell him. "The bold colours and primitive shapes you've used for your sunflowers are.refreshingly different." I squeeze his shoulder encouragingly and add, "Well done."

"Can I bin it and start again, then?' he asks. And to cut a potentially protracted negotiation short, I tell him yes and wonder why we don't all have such a clear view of our own failings. Trying to see the dark woods of truth for the trees drooping with fruits of lavish praise can be confusing. Not just for students but for their teachers, too - especially those at risk of domestic confrontation.

"Honestly, you look fabulous, dear. I'm just a bit distracted at the moment," I tell my wife. "Yesterday the headteacher went out of her way to praise my efforts to raise attainment. She really waxed lyrical about how hard I must have worked to help some children hit targets and how nobody could have done more for those that hadn't. Now what do you suppose she meant by that?"

My wife examines her reflection one last time before unzipping her dress. "You're probably right," she says. "I'll take it back on Monday."

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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