The Amazon thing was hard work. This was partly because I am feeling more and more like my weight than my age, and even more because I hate having to fathom out what the jargon in the instructions means before I can follow the bloody instructions. I sometimes think that web 'Help' pages were written by Geeks for a lower stratum of Geek with some kind of common language, not for ordinary Geekism-free humans. I'm happy, nevertheless, to report that I was eventually able to access my author page, and after throwing several small appliances and the dog at the computer, also to actually add something to it.
The relief of this success has put me in an uncommonly generous frame of mind, and I find myself - against my normal curmudgeonly nature - about to share a piece of 'work in progress' with you. I was going to add it to the 'snippets' page, but my computing skills have been utterly exhausted, and all I am capable of right now is a good old copy and paste...I hope you enjoy the brief piece:
Def: the introduction to adolescent males of the most strange, eccentric and downright weird bunch of teachers in the educational system. Some teaching about religion may have accidentally taken place in between the telling of life stories and inappropriate details of teachers’ home lives.
In the third year, the time occupied by Religious Education was mysteriously and rather incongruously replaced with a startling, and contrasting timetable item: Sex Education. There had, in true authoritarian, 1970s we-know-best-what’s-good-for-you-style, been no warning, no indication that this major source of toe-curling embarrassment was about to be foist upon us. Worse; we had been ‘streamed’ at the beginning of the third school year; sorted out into two main groups from which three classes each were to be formed. Although nobody ever said it overtly, the two ‘streams’ were basically classified by the school administrators as ‘success’ and ‘abject failure’ – a classification which, by the way, would be shown to be hopelessly inaccurate in many cases by the end of the fifth year, when by virtue of their ‘O’ level results, a great many of the boys proactively written off by the powers that be would prove their judges to be wrong – in some cases, wildly so.
So there we were then, a new group of boys containing many old friends and some new ones, branded under the label ‘3X’. At the front of the room stood Mr. Murphy, a wizened little Irishman with a profoundly bald and spectacularly freckled head, around which he grew a slightly unruly frill of wiry, salt-and-pepper hair. Mr. Murphy was a legend at Ridgeway, mostly by virtue of his reliably eccentric behaviour. He cut a restless figure, always bustling somewhere if not teaching a class, and always – always – carrying on a quiet but intense conversation with an imaginary friend. He was never alone. At lunch times, when masters occupied the chair at the head of each long dining table, Mr. Murphy unfailingly followed the same routine. After depositing his plate of food and bowl of pudding upon the table, he would go through an exhausting routine of greeting each and every boy at the eighteen-pupil table. “Hello Grimsdyke!” “Hello sir.” “Hello dere Spotworthy!” “Hello sir.” Hello Slowbottom!” “My name is Jones, sir.” “Of course it is, of course it is! Ahoy dere, Mr. Sandwich!” “Er - Samolis, sir - ahoy.”…and so on.
Having spent enough time greeting everyone for his dinner to have cooled almost to room temperature, he would pull out the chair, flap his handkerchief at it (to absolutely no effect), carefully tuck the hanky into his collar, and sit down, in much the same manner as a concert pianist seats himself before a Steinway. Then – and this was the part where we all stopped eating our various forms of gruel in order to watch in horrified fascination – he would produce from the pocket of his sports jacket, a little margarine tub. With some ceremony he would carefully open the tub and with a slight flourish - and in apparent ignorance of eighteen wrinkled noses - tip out several ounces of ground bran onto his lunch.
He did this regardless of the food which lay on the plate before him; salad, roast beef and potatoes, salad, soup, chips and beans, salad…and all this to the accompaniment of a quiet, twittering and indistinguishable conversation with himself which none of us could quite hear. Only those of us within two seats of him could pick this up, but we all knew that it was happening. Most troublesome of all, once he’d starting eating, he would punctuate his absorbed mastication with sudden, startling questions to the boys seated nearest to him. Questions in his rich Irish brogue would impale us thus: “So did ye have a bath last night at all, then?” or “Have ye kissed a gurl yet, or what?”, or even “Tell me now, what was the most interesting part of our lesson on masturbation yesterday, Mr. Samolis?” There wasn’t an ounce of malice in the man, and he was genuinely interested in our thoughts and our lives, although his bluntness was to say the least, disarming, but I believe that he may have been the most genuinely engaged teacher that I ever met – if more than a little bonkers.
His blunt approach extended, needless to say, to the sex education lessons – much to our squirming discomfort. There was no detail into which he was not willing to plunge deeper, whether it be – and I’m sorry about this, but I had to endure it so why shouldn’t you – the production of smegma under a man’s foreskin (this was thankfully an age when circumcision - the ridiculous mutilation of a baby boy - was a rare phenomenon) and the importance of cleaning it out (excuse me while I pause to retch quietly – feel free to join in), or the potential effect of masturbating too vigorously, and the alleged damage that excessive pummelling could wreak upon an erect member. The impression we gathered was that Mr. Murphy, despite having the outward appearance of an ageing professor having had a life devoted to insular study, was something of a sexual authority, and – to put it mildly - had been around a bit - nudge, wink. On that subject alone he would not be drawn, but the twinkle in his eye betrayed him.
When he wasn’t asking us excruciatingly awkward questions or broaching subjects that we had not even discussed in huddled groups at the farthest corner of the playing fields around a tattered copy of ‘Razzle’ or ‘Mayfair’, he was coming out with some really quite strange pronouncements. Such things which brooked no argument. “Sure...” he would say, apropos of nothing at all, “…now listen to me, boys…it’s true dat de human face is dee only part of a human bean dat ages. Everyting else doesn’t change wun little bit! Not a bit!” While we frowned at one another and silently tried to work out just how he had come to that faintly ludicrous conclusion (most of us had already by accident seen our parents in startling levels of undress, after all), he’d gleefully fire another one at us: “And anudder ting dat not many people realoyz is dat dee aynuss is a hoily erogenous area!”
A silence didn’t so much as descend or gently fall. Instead, it slammed into the floor like a plummeting asteroid, scattering wits, classroom furniture and conversation to the four winds. There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that – not at the age of thirteen anyway, and certainly not in the presence of an adult...