The tip of an emotional iceberg;Talkback

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
There's tension in the staffroom. Something must have happened in the Archers - you can tell.

Too right it has. John Archer is dead, cruelly crushed by his Fergy.

Downstairs in the classroom the mood is the same. But a ship, not a tractor, has caused the problem.

It's the movie Titanic. Discussion ranges from "when did you start blubbing?" to "how long did you stay blubbing when you got home and it all welled up again?". Answers vary: "when the curtains opened", "when I first saw the iceberg", "when I saw the lush Leonardo sw- sw- swallow his last" and "three hours".

You can't compete with emotion. So I do a really sad poem by Douglas Dunn. A young husband and wife plan a holiday they know will never happen. She is terminally ill. "Some other day, my love. Some other day" is the poem's last line and at first you think it's him consoling her, pretending she'll get better. But when you read it again you realise she's consoling him, the soon-to-be bereaved, and it's a tribute to her magnificence and bravery. It overwhelms you, especially as the story, like that of the Titanic, is true. Lesley Dunn died of cancer.

The students read. One looks upset and whispers to her neighbour: "It's so sweet." Her friend might have added, although, mercifully, didn't, that appalling utterance, "bless".

I cringe at such schmaltzy reactions. But as a teacher you have to start somewhere. Emotion's as good a place as any.

Cry by all means, I tell them. But think first. Then do both.

And if that doesn't work I'll tell them to imagine it's about Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Richard Hoyes teaches at Farnham College in Surrey

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