What ever happened to propriety?

28th July 2006 at 01:00
onday I never thought that I'd say this, but the holidays are dragging on somewhat, as so many of my teaching colleagues depart on exotic trips abroad. Alas, our status as new parents has meant that Gail and I are firmly home-based for the summer, and have only two July highlights, one past and one to anticipate.

The latter is Sunday's baptism of our second child, Fraser, while the former was my nephew's graduation ceremony. This was an unusual affair, even if I take into account the newly-accorded university status of the awarding institution, as well as my advancing years, and try to accept that things have changed.

In my day, for example, the Senate would march in slowly from the back of the hall and the entire assembly would stare fixedly to the front, with only the occasional daring parent, or student, risking a shifty sideways glance to view the great and the good. At my nephew's ceremony - if I can use that word - more than 50 per cent of the attendees turned and looked, with over half of that number pointing a video camera at the same time!

And in my day, the awarding of the degree was marked with reverential hush and solemnity, but here, people were standing up - during the speeches, for heaven's sake! - to make digital record of the occasion, and even, on one occasion, marking their delight at the academic success of their offspring by jumping up to punch their fists in the air and shouting aloud: "Gaun, Billy! Guid oan ye!"

For my part, I shuddered.

And in my day - and at my university - there were strict regulations concerning the apparel and appearance of those graduating. We would never have been allowed, for example, the hob-nailed boots and yellow spiked hair sported by several male graduates and one or two females as well.

Intriguingly, the most appropriately suited participants were those of foreign delegations, especially the Chinese students, all of whom were attired in full and proper Highland regalia, and looking completely the part. They, at least, seem to have learnt the meaning of the word "respect".

uesday I am constantly embarrassed by the explicit nature of advertisements on commercial radio these days. I have grown accustomed, I suppose, to the audible intrusion of recommendations for women's sanitary products, but today I was taken aback by one on our local station aimed fairly and squarely at men experiencing erection problems.

The sponsors seemed extremely keen to get a message across, because in their 30-second ad the phrase "erection problems" had been thrust, so to speak, into the debate at least six times.

As I was driving our 9-year-old daughter Margaret to the ice rink at the time, I was in consequent receipt of her questions regarding the issue, to wit: "What's an erection problem, Daddy?"

Frankly, it was just as well that I was driving at the time because I was able to avoid eye contact and fluster a response of sorts. "Well, Margaret, you remember that time I was putting up the temporary gazebo for our barbecue last week and I didn't get the poles put together properly, so it all fell down in the back lawn?"

"Um, y I eh ... s?" she responded suspiciously.

"Well, that's what they're talking about when they're discussing erection problems."

She narrowed her eyes. I don't think she believed that it was the fullest of answers, but she had enough sense not to press the matter further.

ednesday This evening was our last baptism class, ahead of the weekend's festivities in honour of Fraser. Alas, festivities were the last thing on the mind of Reverend Soames, who makes the late lamented Rikki Fulton's Rev I. M. Jolly look like a hedonist of the first order.

"So, d'ye think ye'll be comin' tae the kirk a bit mair regular, like, after the wee wan's bin welcomed intae the Church family?" he asked us gruffly at the end of the session, eyebrows beetling.

I gulped and assured him we'd be among the keenest of his flock in the future, even if I did have my fingers crossed.

Personally, I'm not too sure about it all, but Gail's mum is adamant that we have Fraser duly christened in the same way as we had Margaret "done".

"In my day," she assured us, when the subject came up for discussion, "they wouldn't let a child across the church doors if it hadn't been christened."

Personally, I felt like assuring her that this seemed as good a reason as any to avoid involving ourselves in such superstitious mumbo-jumbo, but I bottled out of it. As Charlie Brown used to say: "You can't fight city hall."

It's just that, as a professional teacher, I feel quite strongly that Reverend Soames hasn't got much of a clue about communicating with the younger generation, or even with Gail and me. And it crossed my mind that his questioning technique leaves an enormous amount to be desired, as he made his follow-up remark to my mumblings of uncertain assent about our future attendance plans.

"Ah'll tekk that as a 'yes' then, Mr Simpson?" he smiled, without an inch of pleasantry in his body.

hursday Gail is completely consumed with cleaning the house and other assorted preparations for the weekend, as Friday's family gathering assumes the prelude to three days of sybaritic excitement. Myself, I always feel it best to retire unannounced to my study, as Gail's cleansing activities bear close resemblance to Hercules' purging of the Augean stables. There is only so much hoovering that a man can stand.

And it was in my study that - internet connected via our new broadband link - I came across the appalling website that presumes to "Rate My Teacher".

It has been some months now since our senior biology teacher, "Coarse Davie" McManus, suggested that his professorial colleagues "check out this sexy site" (a judgment, I now believe, based on his own extremely high rating). As so often before, I am moved to question his judgment, motives and actions. Clearly, it seems extremely straightforward to place any anonymous rating on this contemptible website without fear of authorial identification, hence (I suspect) the near universal acclaim for Mr McManus's biology lessons and the pass rate of his examination candidates (mostly submitted, I believe, by the man himself).

One contributor proclaimed: "This man is a legend!", a view endorsed by another which claimed that "my Intermeedyate biology pass cude never of maked it withowt him". Either this submission was Mr McManus being extremely clever, or it reflected the general literacy level of our senior students.

Alas, my queries on this line of enquiry paled into significance when I plucked up the courage to look at the ratings for Morris Simpson. My fears were ignited by a host of blue faces with grimaces across their features, and they were completely inflamed by some rather distressing ratings on the easiness of my teaching approach, and some even worse ones on my helpfulness and clarity.

"This man is a complete tosser!" one contributor remarked, a judgment amplified by the semi-literate outpouring of another post-pubescent judge of my professional abilities, to wit: "Wot a wank!! Simpy is 2 crapp 4 wurds!!"

I could not believe that the law of this land allows such uncensored and personalised remarks to be made in a public forum. At least, I see, there is the option of blocking access to such sites on the school's network, even if such action is likely to place Greenfield Academy on a "Wall of Shame". I fully intend to ensure that we are on that wall before the new session begins.

riday Tonight's pre-baptism gathering of the clans was not an entirely successful event, due largely to the over-inebriation of Bruce, my odious brother-in-law, who chose to engage his niece, Margaret, in some conversational topics that I would rather he had avoided.

Subsequent to that conversation, and in a completely unprogrammed speech to the assembled company, he first of all chose to congratulate Gail and myself on the latest addition to the family, but expressed the hope that we would be more careful in our choice of names than we'd been with Margaret's acronymically embarrassing choice of Elizabeth Saunders for her middle names, "making her 'a bit of a mess', as she's just been reminding me," he laughed heartily. "So let's just hope that you've not picked Anthony Roger Thompson for Fraser Simpson's middle names!" he roared.

It took a while for the assembled company to work it all out, but they did eventually, and much hilarity ensued, although I remained impassive throughout.

Alas, I could not maintain my equilibrium when he took me aside later on and confided his earnest hope that my future sex life would improve.

Unable to believe what I was hearing at a family event, I bit my lip and cast my eyes downwards.

"Ah, look away all you like, Morris," chided Bruce, "but from what Margaret tells me, you've been having some erection problems recently. Personally, I don't know if I'd have shared those with my daughter, but that's up to you, pal. All I can say is: give it a few months, and things can only get better."

I probably resembled nothing so much as a goldfish in the next few minutes, as I looked between my brother-in-law, my daughter and my wife.

Suddenly, I want to get back to school, where the problems seem somehow simpler.

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