Thought crime - if only...

My working life revolves around misunderstandings of various kinds. I make no complaint about that – on the contrary, as a teacher I see it as my raison d’être to embrace misunderstanding and the perpetrators of misunderstanding with the ardour of a seasoned preacher taking a miserable convict by the hand, inspiring him to join the flock and leave his life of sin behind.

I have an appointment with one of our school’s greatest sinners. He crashes through the door into my study.

‘Hello, Aaron, good of you to come. Take a seat.’

Aaron - a criminal by instinct, a thief by specialism - thinks I am trying to trick him with this sneaky ‘take a seat’ business. I can read the boy’s face – one beady eye is scanning an imaginary horizon to see if anyone is watching him. (He does this scanning thing instinctively - we are obviously alone in the office). Aaron’s other eye is on the chair, sizing up its weight (Can I run with it?) and market value (Who will buy it? How much will I get for it?)

I am not perturbed! I am not downhearted!

‘Sit down, Aaron’.

By this stage I have also started my own beady-eyed scanning of the room – what’s going to be missing if I turn my back? The stapler? A few pens? My computer?

Aaron lands his bum in the chair – he nods to himself, probably thinking something like ‘Nice chair that idiot Socks has got here. Fifty quid for it down the market, maybe?’

‘Aaron,’ – you have to keep repeating his name or his attention will be in outer-space before you’ve drawn your next breath – ‘Aaron, this is the second time you’ve been brought back to the school in handcuffs. Think about it. Do you want to end up in prison? What do you want to do with your life?’

Aaron looks back at me, his face, as always, more expressive than his words could ever be. His face says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t care! It means absolutely jack all to me! Stop wasting my time, I’ve got some stealing to do! Fool!’

‘You know…’ I try to illuminate the issue for him ‘…when you leave school. What you want to do with your life? Have you ever thought about that?’

Aaron speaks for the first time since profaning my inner sanctum with his presence.

‘What I want to do in… in… the after life?’

Let us all embrace Aaron - I think we are making progress, albeit in a direction outside my remit.

(Note to readers: I've tried to moderate the tone of the words Aaron would be thinking... this isn't intended to be an x-rated blog, and I don't want to offend readers in more sophisticated parts of the world).


You won't catch teachers with their pants down

Derek is lurking in the (staff) toilets again, studying his nose in the mirror.

‘You alright, Derek?’ I call from the urinal.

‘You’ve got to keep them under control… nostril hairs, I mean. Or they will notice, you know. They notice everything.’


They – that is, the little people in the school - are the ubiquitous inspectors and critics of every aspect of our appearance and mannerisms.

Our children - imagine the talking mirror from Snow White inflicted with tourette’s*.

‘Socks, big nose!’

‘Flab face!’

‘Fairest of them all? You must be having a laugh! Ugly old teacher!’

'Socks, smelly old Socks!'

Well, you get the idea.

In the high-octane world of teaching it is only too easy for harried professionals to turn up at work without the most carefully chosen clothing.

I step away from the urinal, double-checking my flies are firmly done up.

‘You’re absolutely right, Derek.’

As I wash my hands and make for the exit, I find myself suddenly trapped in a flashback-loop.

The words 'They notice everything' echo around my fevered mind as I recall last Monday's horror, when I went as far as lesson 2 before realising I was wearing one normal shoe, and one slipper.

'They notice everything, you know.'

I see in my mind's eye the day a colleague came to school with a hairbrush sitting in her hair. She had apparently been distracted while brushing her hair, and had left the hairbrush stuck in mid-brushing position. She then drove to school and taught three classes before it became a hot conversation piece for staffroom fashionistas.

'Everything! Notice everything!' The room spins around me, a young man appearing before my sight. Who's this? Oh, it's you, Keith. You did your teacher training here. And you didn’t need no education - you came to your induction day wearing a t-shirt of Pink Floyd: The Wall. Well done, that man.

Everything! Everything!

Then my flashback flashes into the future - a flashforward!

There's a teacher striding through the school gates in his dressing-gown, Arthur Dent-style. It's me. Have you seen what's in the carpark? Socks drove to school in his wheelbarrow today! What an old fool!

I come back to reality with Derek's hands on my shoulders, steadying me against the wall.

'Keep it under control, Socks,' he reminds me. We stride confidently out of the bogs and onto the catwalk.

*I know this isn't a strictly accurate portrayal of tourette's syndrome - maybe coprolalia. Hmm.


Doth Iceland protest too much...?

Actually, I don't think they can protest enough. Here you see hundreds of Icelanders flaunting their non-terrorist credentials - 'We are not terrorists' - yeah, we've all heard that one before.

Basically the British government used an anti-terrorist law against an Icelandic bank, and the 300,000 inhabitants of Iceland are taking it all a bit personally - as I can well appreciate.

If you believe the Icelandic claims of not being terrorists - or even if you don't, but feel like reaching out to a small, friendly nation - do go and put your name on their petition against the British government. We are such rebels, you and I.

iPen gets a pasting

The UK government is to spend £300 million (double that for a rough figure in US dollars) to give every child access to a computer at home.

Some fallacies I’ve identified in the BBC report on this computers-for-all plan are:

Fallacy #1: ‘Digital Divide’

Mr Socks (to class): Who knows what plagiarism is? Why do we have to avoid plagiarism? Yes, Bill, what do you think?

Bill: It's where the rats spread the plague and if it happens again we will all be dead.

Mr Socks:

The government keeps saying we must close the so-called 'digital divide' between those children from households with and households without computers.

It doesn’t matter how often the government repeats the words ‘digital divide’ – it still won’t exist. What they are really talking about is the ‘cut and paste divide' or the 'plagiarism deficit', or something.

The main way that children do school projects these days is by shameless cutting and pasting from websites like Wikipedia. I see them doing it when I take my classes in the computer room, and when they manufacture their essays at home I moonlight as a Google-detective finding the sites they plundered.

So the children without computers are indeed 'disadvantaged' because if they did bother to do their homework, this would actually mean have to do proper research and thinking.

There are honest pupils who take pride in their learning and the originality of their projects, but a growing number of children are rats and they are going to kill us all.

● Fallacy #2: The internet is the cure to all our ills

BBC says “the government set up a taskforce to ensure all children had access to the internet outside school.”

Great! – So can we sort out the internet access inside the schools, too?

Our school network has so many websites blocked you’d think you were in China or even North Korea (and while I’m on that point – our headmaster is becoming as reclusive as Kim Jong-il … they might even be the same person for all we know).

It’s not just the pornographic and obviously ‘inappropriate’ sites that are banned (our Year 10s are monitoring these porno sites and would put Bletchley Park to shame with their determination to crack the codes standing between them and the porn).

Also black-listed are most websites related to politics! I have yet to figure out how this tallies with government Citizenship initiatives to inspire young people’s interest in how the country is run. The young might indeed become interested in politics, but they sure won't be able to cut and paste research anything about it.

● Fallacy #3: Without computers we are nothing

Schools Minister Jim Knight is quoted "There has to be a culture where families see home access [to computers] is as important as making sure their children have pen, paper and calculator at school."

Never mind the paper and calculators – my school is rammed full with children for whom the concept of even bringing a pen to school is confusing and alienating. Strangely, these kids come from families with the latest widescreen televisions, Xbox thingies, and the rascals usually have their heads plugged directly into a little digital device called an iPod.

Digital divide!


Sew silly

16 years old? Your attempt to escape the school grounds cruelly thwarted by the barbed wire? Torn your trousers (groin area) as you wriggled on the fence, your fellow escapees laughing at you and walking off?

Don’t despair!

Just pay a visit to your school’s secret-blogging teacher and ask to borrow a pritt stick to glue something in your exercise book. They won't be at all suspicious that you are suddenly taking an interest in your studies!

Then stand in the corner of their classroom and unsubtly try to glue the shredded fabric of your trousers together. When this doesn't work, just try sticking the cloth directly onto your leg - the teacher won't mind one bit when you hand back the pritt stick with stray pubic hair embedded on the end!

The secret-blogging teacher will either be too dumb to notice what you're doing, or too dumbfounded to say anything if they do! And they certainly won't want to tell the world!

As that Gestapo agent says to the gullible British officer in The Great Escape, 'Good luck!'


Smells like teen anthropology

Deciding that BMX bikes plummeting from the sky, like lightning, probably will hit the same place twice, the Lady Socks and I postponed our sojourn to find somewhere safer.

We weren’t sure what to do with the bike stuntman who’d made an unscheduled flight over our heads. Abducting him for a quick visit to hospital would perhaps have been a venture into rather uncertain legal territory. The most we could do was persuade him to allow Lady Socks to patch up the more hideous of his wounds.

Like the hero of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’, the stuntman made the impression he was that kind of kid who ‘liked a blood smear down his leg’. He was also quite partial to the bruising on his cheek, the lacerations to his hands, and limping.

Strolling by the canal a few minutes later we saw Evel Knievel again with a mate, debating where they should go that evening.

‘Is there much birds* there?’ the stuntman was asking his friend.

The chum opened his arms expansively to indicate a large amount of something.

‘There is loads of birds there. Swear down’, confirmed the second teen.

This little exchange tells the amateur anthropologist something odd, maybe even important, about how the teenage male perceives his world.

These young chaps apparently preferred to think about their female counterparts as a kind of substance, the quantity of which can be measured in the way one measures substances like oxygen or beer. These guys would go to a bar and order 'Two pints of lager and.. erm... twenty gallons of girl, and a packet of crisps, ta'.

I am not sure why this new generation of male hunters - when they're not busy painting women on their cave walls or crashing their bikes on unsuspecting teachers - don't think of their prey as individual 'units', where one girl is a distinguishable entity from another.

Don't the lads want to be able to count exactly how many 'birds' they've 'had'?

(Please excuse my rather crude terminology - we amateur anthropologists have to 'go native' sometimes).

And do young males score more points with their pals if they boast 'I've had 450kg of girl!' rather than '8 girls' (just for example). Morrissey used to sing that 'some girls are bigger than others', so is this what he meant?

A possible reason for the fudge on numbers of girls ostensibly snogged or shagged could be to prevent fights amongst the males - it is harder for jealousy to develop if all the studs can claim to have snogged 'some girls' or 'a whole load of girls' rather than '3 girls', which would bring them dangerously close to conferring identities and personalities on the women, thus risking discovering they had 'shared' the same prey with a rival male.

As I stood there by the canal, cogitating on these weighty questions, Lady Socks grabbed my arm and told me to stop staring, and that we were going to feed the ducks and not worry about it today.

I raised my free hand in a salute from one generation to another, and the males looked back at me.

'Cheers for the plasters!' called the stuntman.

You will think I am making up the next bit. A whole load of teenage girls - 10 of them, to be precise - entered the park. They walked in a line towards the males, like suicidal wildebeest towards lions.

I felt like I was watching a real, live, nature documentary, as Lady Socks led me away.

Reaching the lions, the wildebeest sat down on the grass, and chatted with each other, with a few of them obviously taking a strong interest in the males.

Our heroes, however, glanced at each other, nodded in conspiracy, and left the scene. The nuances of the mating game have long defied understanding.

*Birds = Chicks.


Staying in the closet on speeding

Warning: This post contains sweeping generalisations and I know it.

Here’s a picture of Wile E. Coyote coming to terms with gravity. It’s an apt illustration because I’m writing about drivers who speed like the Roadrunner and perceive the real world a bit like Wile E. Coyote's cartoon world, with the sort of upside-down logic that goes with it.

When there’s a staffroom conversation about Nigel who got a speeding ticket or Nicole who pranged her car for the third time I go and hide in a cupboard because I know I will only say something like, ‘well, Nigel, you don’t like getting tickets? So don’t break the speed limit! Please?’ or ‘Nicole, have you considered switching to public transport until you learn to drive?’ and thus find myself single-handedly responsible for the revival of lynching in the 21st century.

Paraphrasing Yogi Berra - ‘you can hear a lot just by listening’ - so that’s what I do when I’m in that cupboard with my ear pressed to the door.

Here’s a snippet of Nicole recounting her walk-away crash last night.

‘…the bend just came up on me… is there someone in that cupboard?’

The bend came up on her? So is it the case that cars actually remain motionless while the ground moves beneath them, and sometimes the ground decides to makes things interesting by spinning under you, or trees just come to life and give your car a vicious thump as you pass? What is this, The Wizard of Oz meets Wacky Races?

‘… I got flashed by another speed camera… yeah, Mr Socks is hiding in there, what’s wrong with him?' says Nigel.

This 'I got flashed by a speed camera' is a phrase criminal drivers love because it subtly shifts blame from them breaking the law to the speed camera which records them doing it.

It's a short-hand way of saying:

'I was driving along then there was a bright flash which startled me, and that made me put my foot down on the gas so I went over the speed limit, and I'll be damned, the camera took a photo and then the police fitted me up and gave me a ticket for speeding!'

Nigel and those like him in school staffrooms and pubs up and down the land avoid honest statements like 'I was speeding and I got caught' because that would leave them just short of admitting that they knowingly and willfully broke the law - which is one thing these white-collar criminals will never acknowledge. Because some laws just don't apply to them.

Here's a proper writer with a sobering story about speeding.

And here's the article about road-criminals that inspired me to take some of your valuable time with my views. It uses very mild language - curiously insisting on referring to criminals as 'drivers', but obviously the BBC doesn't want to alienate half a million of its potential audience (or about 1 in 120 people in this country).


Vagina Monologues

Every rising of the sun and each new child enrolling for purgatory an education at our august institution brings with it a new linguistic challenge, each more baroque than the last.

Calling the attendance register for one of my classes I had to stop and pretend my glasses needed cleaning while I decided how I would tackle the name of a certain Vagina who had joined our happy band.

(Roll-call is usually the first time we teachers learn of new additions to our cohorts – we only receive prior information if the newbie is a known axe-murderer or someone of that ilk – also increasingly common).

In conclusion, Vagina should be pronounced something like 'Vajeenah', it has nothing to do with the meaning in English, and the young lady comes from somewhere in Africa (one of the former colonies) and is related to a tribal king.

I've now had so many people telling me they're related to tribal 'kings' I've come to understand that these monarchs hold a similar status to someone working for the local council over here... like.. well, me. I wonder if I can form an alliance with one of them?



A girl with so many extra teeth her mouth looked like an ivory chainsaw came up to me while I was innocently going about my lawful business of being a teacher and she sweetly said 'Siiiir, don't take this the wrong way, but when I first came to this school I thought you were ... don't take it the wrong way... but I thought you were... were... were...'

…impossibly tall?

…a bit of a character?

…unlikely to last the year?

'...I thought you were.. like...'

'Alright, alright! Get on with it!' was my patient encouragement.

The girl was unperturbed, like a saintly ambassador from the Children’s Democratic Republic of Utopia making diplomatic representations to the mean, snarling president of Adultistan (we shall be re-naming our country when I think of something better).

The ambassador is entitled to her view. I am sure she represents the majority of her people. Sitting far away across the big horseshoe table she speaks into her microphone, and I cannot help but feel her tone is pathetically apologetic.

Interpreters whisper to each other as they puzzle over the most succinct translation.

Eventually my headset comes to life and I hear this transmission:

'... I thought you were a bit strange.'

I catch an interpreter's eye, my eyebrows raised. Is that what she meant? says my expression. The linguist goes down to his microphone again.

'I thought you were a bit strange.'

And I thought for a moment she was going to tell me something I didn’t know. Waste of time, there inter-generational peace conferences. I've got a totalitarian state to run, thank-you very much.


Seeing red, amber, and green

I saw the most ungentlemanly behaviour on the Queen’s Highway this morning.

I couldn’t take a photo to show you otherwise I'd have fallen off my bike, but maybe I’ll catch him at it again one day.

What I saw was a car with a small trailer discreetly hitched to the back, and standing in the trailer were two traffic lights. The traffic lights must have been wired up to a generator because they were changing red, amber, green, and so on.

Now, if lugging your own traffic lights around to stop all the other cars is not cheating, then I will arrange for a few exam questions to be answered by a committee of teachers next exam season, with me as chairman.


Autumn can put a spring in your step

‘This is lovely. Mmmm’

Lady Socks says ‘Mmmm’ during moments of pleasure.

The sun, your humble correspondent, and Lady Socks met up in the park this afternoon.

‘Really lovely, you wouldn’t think it was October.’

The azure blue sky.

The migrating birds stopping in flight, checking their maps, and deciding not to bother with Africa this year and heading back to sun-kissed England.

The children running and skipping and giggling at the sheer joy of life.

The feeling of oneness with nature, as we lay on the grassy slope, a million miles and a thousand millennia from anything bad.

‘Mmmm, let’s stay here a while.’

It was all too much for my cynicism.

‘Sssh, the gods might be listening and they’ll whip up a storm. Or the God… or whatever.’

I lifted my head from the hillside, as though to seek clarification for my own words. I came face to face with a flower.

‘Hey, since when was I a theist?’ I asked the flower.

A breeze helped the flower shrug its leaves but it gave me no further response. It just kept calling out ‘Look at me, bees, come on, I’m wide open! Just think of all the yummy honey! Screw theology! Calling all bees!’

As a bee heeded the call I lay my head back on the grass and closed my eyes - I knew the world could not have been so great as we had just been deluding ourselves.

Seconds later Lady Socks and I were startled by a crashing of metal, a screaming of surprised boy hurtling through the air like a human cannon-ball, and the whirring of an upturned bicycle’s wheel, spinning as the bike imagined itself still racing downhill and ripping through the finishing line of the world’s most important bike race.

Lady Socks was quickly on the scene tending to the human cannon-ball, who was to be found in a heap some distance further down the slope.

‘Oh crikey, my trousers* are ripped!’ wailed the heap**.

I stood like the village idiot, one stubby arm pointing at the crashed BMX, the other arm waving at the area of flattened grass where Lady Socks and I had been eulogising about the beauty of creation, my head now churning out clumsy calculations about the distances and speed of the bike and the velocity of the boy’s flight.

‘Look! One second later and he’d have crashed right on us!’

‘Get the blooming first aid kit out the car, you chump!’ Lady Socks replied.

‘Yes, I’ll do that. I knew all was well with the world. Yes.’

And to the car I skipped full of the joys of life.

*All our pants are 'trousers', here in Blighty.
** No boys were seriously harmed during the making of this post.


Don't have a heart attack

Children regularly use these words to calm me. How wise the young can be.

Continuing the medical theme, the paramedic stretcher monkey over at Purple Plus has something more educational than all my silly diatribes.

The movie was so frightening I almost choked on my popcorn. Maybe I am not School Bully material after all.

Bad Blood?

A colleague handed me a report form complaining about a pupil in my tutorial group. It appeared my lad hadn’t been particularly nice to a classmate. I scanned my colleague’s write-up of the incident, nodding and furrowing my brow in the right places to indicate my understanding of the narrative.

I thought I had my facial expressions under control, but then my head froze in mid-nod and my brow furrowed into a World War 1-style trench system, totally involuntarily.

‘You alright, Socks? You look quite pale!’

I pointed at the phrase of concern on the form. ‘Are you sure about that?’

My colleague looked at the words my pointy finger was pointing at with little circular motions, which I like to think give a ‘questioning’ appearance to my pointing.

‘Well, yes, the other kid has a right to his sexuality, doesn’t he?’

‘Yes, yes you’re quite right, of course he does.’

‘You know your lad’s a right terror,’ my esteemed colleague added.

‘You’re not kidding… So it was definitely haemophobic bullying?’



‘Damn you, Socks’.

The school takes bullying very seriously. In fact one year I was offered the post of official School Bully (for those at schools without a School Bully, it’s a bit like being the ‘Poet Laureate’). At that time I felt my best bullying was done ‘free-style’, but maybe it's time for some career development.


The Spy Who Fondled Me

"They don't let people in to look at it or fondle it.”

It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

“That said, we have stroked the computer screen when we've seen the price go up."

I lurved this naughty sounding bit from this story about a fellow who sold his house for gold and is now experiencing the delight of jingly jangly coins in his pockets.

Someone in Holland took fondling a bit too far according to this Dutch website – basically, a Rotterdamer gets asked to leave a supermarket. He decides the best reaction is to jack off right there in the store. Eeek.

And now something completely different:

Teachers in the UK now have a chance to be like secret-agent spies, stopping children from turning to 'extremism'. (BBC News report - "Schools told to counter extremism")

I think the news media is trying to indoctrinate people into seeing the word 'extremism' but reading 'religious extremism' or more specifically 'Islamic extremism'. The article chats away about 'extremism' and you're about 1/4 through before they specifically mention Al-Qaeda, which is what they were referring to all along.

But aren't there lots of different types of 'extremism'? There are Christian extremists as well as Islamic extremists. And I'm a sceptic-extremist.

And how about my pupil who joined the army - the last I heard he was doing 'extreme' things to Taliban 'extremists'. Should I have reported him for wanting to enlist?

So if anyone influential in the mainstream media is reading this, hello, and please take care how you use buzzwords because not everyone has been brainwashed, yet. (At least, I don't think I have been).

And that is my brief and admittedly rather superficial round-up of things that amused me in the last 5 minutes. Now I must go and plug myself back into the BBC website to download more assumptions and world-views directly into my brain.


Stop-Press: Socks Puts Magazine In It

Back in July I wrote about a colleague who fired a tissue-bullet from his nose during a moment of high excitement.

I thought the incident would remain a mystery, my colleague preferring to remain enigmatic about the nasal-missile, and I didn’t find it becoming to ask a fellow-teacher how he’d managed to get so much tissue stuck inside his head, a part of the body which I’d previously believed to be dedicated to tasks such as storage of the eyes, airways, and such brain matter as the person may possess.

Now, through sheer serendipity, I think I have discovered how the tissue projectile came to be lodged behind my respected colleague’s face.

I gave a lesson (sort of) last month where a girl was browsing through a magazine about make-up (or some similar topic) when she was supposed to be mindlessly copying from the board.

In full accordance with my training I said ‘Put that magazine away or I’ll eat it’. (Bungling fool!)

The girl said ‘Yeah, yeah, just a moment’. (Only reasonable, yes, I know)

I could see her eyes were scanning the page at a furious pace. It was a really good effort to finish the paragraph she was on.

But then my mouth did this: Muscles twitched into action, air started blasting up through my trachea, and the tongue waved, the lips wobbled, and this sound flooded out from the big stupid orifice -

‘Right theeeeen! Luuuunch time aah yuuuum’

= ‘Right, then! Lunch time!’ (Blithering idiot!)

This was the point of no return. This was the finger pressing the big red 'launch' button, the moment a pot of paint spills from the table of fate onto the Vermeer masterpiece of destiny.

I'm a teacher of my word. No matter how stupid the word is.

I pounced on the magazine like a squirrel grabbing a nut, and scampered back to the territory of my desk. I don’t know what atavistic force it was that erased the millions of evolution-years which have given the world teachers, but I tore a strip from the magazine cover, screwed it into a convenient bite-sized morsel, and started munching.

‘Well, get on with your mindless copying from the board, then!’ I growled through the 10% of my mouth that was not stuffed with Make-Up Monthly’s editorial.

‘Have you got this all written down yet?’ Munch. ‘Could be important for the exam…’ Munch.

Munch masticate munch crunch.

‘Come on, kids, I’m alright, really, just carry on copying’.

Mild panic.

‘I don’t set mindless copying for nothing, you know’

Chomp chomp.

Gag reflex.


Splurting of shredded magazine paper.

I’m alive!

Calm down.

Back to teaching, the future is depending on you, Socks, you silly sod. Never mind the magazine, that’s all gone.

Or so I thought.

Now I think a tiny bit decided to stay behind my nose. I can feel it flip-flapping when I breath. I just have to shout loud enough and aim carefully, and it will end up splatting in some child's eye. I can do it any moment I please. Well, at least I don't eat tissue. That is just weird.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug #3

In a week that saw the USA merrily squander $700 billion, the UK was desperately selling the family jewels, satirical cartoonists were unable to keep up with the pace of developing financial woe, and students were even giving up alcohol.

This is what staff and students at my school have been doing this week to smash senseless squandering. Our motto:

● Ablution Is Not The Solution.

The British were once the masters and mistresses of the environmentally- and fiscally-friendly practice of abstinence from washing. But with the establishment of the welfare state and post-war decadence, people came to value the fashion for hygiene more than they valued that most precious of resources - the jingly-jangly coins in their pockets.

Teachers are taking a lead in this shower-strike, but pupils who don't feel ready to 'see scents' and give up washing entirely can at least stop wasting money on luxuries such as soap and shampoo.

Those able to immerse themselves in the frugal peasant lifestyle may then be able to rent themselves out - turning a small profit, just like our feudal ancestors.

Stamp Out The Squander Bug part #1 and part #2 - please recycle them.


We all live in a total fantasy, a total fantasy, a total fantasy

A favourite ‘What would you do if…?’ question from recent weeks:

‘Sir, what would you do if a nuclear submarine suddenly came up through the floor of this classroom?’

Note that the questioner specifies this is a nuclear submarine coming up through the floor, not just any old submarine. It’s not an out-dated World War 2 U-Boat, it’s not Jules Verne’s Nautilus, nor is it that cute little sub they used in Titanic to bring up the safe with the old drawings inside.

It’s a top of the range, kick-ass, nuclear submarine, and you cannot reason with it. The size of a small skyscraper, this merciless destroyer of worlds is civilisation’s nightmare manifest.

The classroom where this is supposed to take place is, according to my research, about 1/16th the size of the typical nuclear submarine. The room has a solid wooden floor, presumably sitting on concrete, submarine-resistant foundations.

But it could just happen. Otherwise why would my pupil have stopped the lesson, stopped everything else going on in the room, to bring this issue up? We teachers have what people who know these things call ‘a duty of care’ to our cohorts. It is our responsibility to fathom what to do in just such an emergency as a nuclear submarine emerging from the depths of the soil into a classroom full of innocent, peace-loving teenagers.

It’s not such an outrageous proposition. A Russian submarine planted that country's flag in the North Pole seabed last year. Who knows where else they could be going?


Hand-dryer blown away

As it puffed tepid air on my dripping hands I noticed a tiny manufacturer’s plaque mounted on the hand-dryer. It proclaimed:

“This hand-dryer is helping to save trees which would have been cut-down to produce paper towels. This hand-dryer does not harm the environment.”

The point was pressed home by a little feel-good picture of a tree.

I placed my hands on the wall either side of the pompous little machine. I was the school bully cornering the lunch-money kid behind the bike shed.

‘No, hand-dryer, no.’ I shook my head. The hand-dryer fell silent. ‘I like you and all that, but don’t you believe that little goody-two-shoes plaque. They just wrote that to make you feel good about being a hand-dryer.

‘Look, all you do is shift the environmental problem further along the industrial process. You use electricity, right? And your electricity has to be generated somehow, yes? It probably involves burning fossil fuels, if not nuclear fuel. Can your little plaque tell me how that is not harming the environment?’

I began to pace up and down the bogs*, confident in the righteousness of my words.

‘You think you’re so “Hey, just watch me save the world!” Rubbish! … You’re no better than a Humvee!

‘The only way I’d believe that you’re really more environmentally-friendly than a paper towel would be if your electricity was from a renewable source. Like a wind farm, say. And that’s all you produce yourself: wind. But hardly enough wind to actually dry my hands. I only use you out of politeness. I’d dry my hands better holding them out the window for three seconds.’

I strode up to the window, resolved to prove my point. I fumbled a moment with the window catch, realising to my despair that it, like most fixings in the school, was caked with thick layers of paint, set like concrete.

Walking back to the hand-dryer I lifted a fire-extinguisher clear of its housing and felt the weight in my palm like a baton.

‘You think you’ve won, hand-dryer, don’t you?’

If I wanted you to sleep soundly I’d tell some lie such as ‘at that moment the caretaker entered and relieved me of the heavy, baton-like fire extinguisher’, or ‘as I approached the doomed hand-dryer, I realised it was foolish and insane to destroy a machine on a point of principle,’ and so on. However, I think your right to the truth is more important than your right to a happy ending.

We now have one of those pull-down roller towels. But that, dear reader, will be another story.

*British slang for bathroom/washroom etc. This is an American-friendly website.
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