Didactic Intentions

Every so often, I receive news from home. This week, I learn that my old headmaster has been arrested for kerb crawling. Hoo!

The story is reported here and here but word came my way via an email from my mum. She writes: “Jeff Williams has been arrested for kerb crawling. He didn’t have to do that. He was such a nice man. He could have had plenty of girlfriends”.

You know when a dog manages to get into a school playground, someone yells “Dog!” and all chaos ensues? Well that was the exact same type of excitement that fizzed up in my guts after reading the news. “Brilliant!!” I thought, my inner child demanding that I squeal girlishly and wave my arms around. I just couldn’t control myself. I almost did some wee.

But then I remembered that, not only had he been arrested and forced to leave his job, but his wife died a couple of years ago. How much bad luck can one fella have? So now his Apollonian and untarnished forty-year career has ended with an episode of lonely shame. Even I find that a bit of a kick in the balls.

My one decent memory of Jeff (or as the locals are undoubtedly calling him, ‘that old perv’) as head master involves him shouting at me from his office window during my first week of school:

I was coming out of the filthy sports hall that passed as the ‘dining room’ when I spotted a couple of boys from my form – Richard and Wesley – standing just outside the main doors. Riich and Wes would later evolve into the closest things a Midlands ex-grammar school had to Jocks and I would eventually become one of the crowd that would be the closest thing we had to nerds. They and I were destined to become natural enemies but it was early days and such roles had not yet been established.

Wanting to make new friends and perhaps curry favour with some of the harder kids, I went outside to talk to them. It was raining torrentially and they were taking shelter under the canopy outside of the main doors.

I started up conversation with them, quite unassumingly, about how the first few days had been going for them, but then they alerted my attentions to a cascade of water running from a broken drainpipe and over the top of the canopy into a rapidly expanding pool on the potholed tarmac of the playground. One of the boys asked me to hypothesise whether it would be possible to run though the weir without getting wet? Of course it wouldn’t, I said. But if you went through quick enough you could probably remain reasonably dry.

So they dared me to go through it.

I said I would if one of them went through first. While I wanted to look cool to the tough kids a la Bart Simpson in that episode where he cuts off the head of the town founder’s statue to win favour with Jimbo Jones and his pals, I didn’t want to be the butt of their joke by being the only one to get wet. I wasn’t stupid, you know.

(Though perhaps I was a little naive. While I didn’t really identify the fact that they were naughty types destined to jockdom, they clearly recognised my position as a natural born goodboy with a desire to show off. In primary school I had been friends with most everyone in the year-group and something of a class clown: high school would beat all of that out of me though and, worldly-wise, Rich and Wes had foreseen it).

Against my expectations, they agreed to run through the waterfall before I did. I’d noticed that they had been a bit wet when I had started talking to them in the first place so maybe they’d already mastered the stunt and the joke lay in the fact that they were hustling me.

So after they had run through the water, getting hardly wet at all, I did the same. But as I did so, the headmaster suddenly shouted from his office window “You stupid boy! You’ll be wet through! Get into my office right now!”

In a strange act of part-cowardice and part-bravado, I pretended not to have heard him and continued in running across the playground and out of sight.

The rest of the day was spent worrying whether or not the headmaster would catch up with me. Surely he would have asked Rich and Wes my name and come to get me during the tutor period. But nothing else came of it so either the two boys stuck up for me by saying they didn’t know who I was, or the headmaster had let it drop.

The event had scared the shit out of me though. I’d never really been shouted at by any teacher in the past and here I was being angrily ordered to the headmaster’s office on one of my very first days in this intimidating new school.

Looking back on it though, I wonder why the headmaster chose to make it any of his business at all. Surely, it was my lookout if I wanted to run through the waterfall and get wet and nothing to do with him. My actions would not affect anyone other than myself. Besides, the point of the exercise was to NOT get wet, which he could surely have worked out by the speed at which I had run through it. And moreover, the whole thing was partly his fault: had his crappy school been maintained properly there would have been no broken drainpipe to cause such silliness in the first place.

(Story recycled from an old blog experiment).

But now his wife is dead and his career lies in ruins. So at least I had the last laugh.

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