Saturday, 24 December 2016

Chapter 5 Tall tales

Chapter 5

Tall tales

I have been known to tell some “tall tales” to classes in an attempt to build a rapport with my pupils. The following tale (from the early eighties) started as a result of me falling for some excuse and allowing a Higher pupil to leave class without good reason. Fortunately for me the pupil returned almost immediately, but with a smug smile of victory on her lips. She had lied and I had fallen for it, much to the delight of the entire class. Revenge would be sweet ….

I should emphasise that what happened was not planned in any way, indeed I could never have thought it up in advance!

One day, my colleague Arthur (who taught in the room next to mine) displayed staggering athletic ability by jumping from a school desk to the floor (we had been putting up posters in my room) just as my Higher class arrived. After his departure, various comments were made expressing surprise at his ability to make such a leap at his age (he had reached the prodigious age of 38 at the time!).

Incensed by this slur on the capacity of members of the teaching profession’s ability to achieve anything even remotely physically challenging, I snapped.

“But he hasn’t always been a teacher, you know.” said I, “Before joining the profession in an attempt to share his knowledge and help future generations to evolve in to well-rounded human beings, he was a stuntman.”

I received stunned looks of disbelief, yet they were tinged with a desire to believe this outlandish claim – they required more detail.

“You’ve all seen "Superman" with Christopher Reeve, well, Mr Scott (Arthur) helped to train Mr Reeve for the flying scenes – helped him to master the wires and landing techniques because he had had experience of these in pantomime.”

I think it was the detail and the sheer outlandishness that did it – it was so fantastic that it had to be true. I also knew that if I pushed it any further, they would suspect something, so I left it.

In the days that followed they vaguely broached the subject, but never really to challenge, just to check on the details. I even told them that Arthur preferred not to talk about it as he was slightly embarrassed – he didn’t want to be known as “The Flying French Teacher”.

And so it was that I forgot all about it, until about ten years later when a group of primary age pupils came to the school, accompanied by their well respected teacher of some six years, who had been one of my pupils.

During my time with these pupils I made some ridiculous claim at which point my ex pupil (and their teacher) simply shook her head and informed me that they were not gullible enough to fall for that one! It was at that point that I vaguely remembered telling a class about Arthur being a stuntman and helping to train Christopher Reeve in "Superman", and I recounted this tale to my ex pupil, who had studied French to Higher level with me. About ten years previously.

I was left totally speechless when, after I had finished my story, she gasped, “You mean he didn’t?”

A word of advice - if you are going to lie, make an effort to remember to whom you lie!

On another occasion, a group of young ladies in S4 who had just sat their Standard Grade exam in French came up the stairs rather excitedly to tell me how they felt they had done.

As they left the stairway and turned right towards my room, they were struck by the rather loud music emanating from Doctor Ferrier’s lab as the man himself sat at his desk without a class, preparing lessons. What really fascinated them was the fact he was listening to a track by the Bee Gees, hardly a style of music this group normally associated with Doctor Ferrier.

All thoughts of their exam and how they fared disappeared from their minds – Doctor Ferrier’s choice of music was a far more interesting subject, and one which enthralled them.

They entered my room babbling about the Doc’s poor choice of music – it was the Bees Gees, for goodness’ sake! How old-fashioned. What poor taste. Imagine listening to that for any length of time!

I felt this group’s mockery of Doctor Ferrier’s choice of music merited something of a retribution, especially as I knew full well that the poor man had merely been listening to the radio and had no influence whatsoever over what music came from the speaker.

“You have to understand,” said I, “that sometimes the Doc likes to think back to the good old days before he became a teacher. He was the road manager for the Bee Gees, you know. He helped organise travel arrangements, accommodation and the setting up of the stage for the group. He enjoyed it, but he got a bit fed up with the constant travelling and felt he wanted to do something he considered more worthwhile with his degree, so he decided to become a teacher.”

Again, I think it was the detail and possibly the appeal to humanity that clinched it. Of course, they had a few doubts initially, but I persuaded them of the Doc’s desire to do his bit for the education of the youth of today.

They were very impressed and their dismissal of his choice of music transformed into genuine admiration and a desire to hear more. After all, this was a man who had associated with celebrities!

Off they scuttled to seek further detail from the Doc himself about his previous existence as an assistant to the famous ….

I’m not too sure exactly how the Doc put it, but he wasted little time in disabusing the girls of their conviction he had worked with a famous pop group, and they came back to have it out with me in an absolute fury tinged, curiously, with disappointment ….

As a young man, I loved the James Bond films. To me, the early films were the epitome of sophisticated, self-mocking yet effective action/adventure films. Many years later, as a Christmas present, my wife sent away for a mock newspaper front page with the headline (and accompanying story) to the effect that I had been chosen as the next James Bond. Needless to say, I loved it and I still have the original on a wall in my home. However, I thought it too good a joke to restrict it to my house and family, so I made a photocopy, laminated it and put it on a wall in my classroom.

Most classes thoroughly enjoyed the joke, pointing it out and impertinently suggesting I’d make a very “different” James Bond.

However, one small group of pupils saw it and started whispering among themselves, seemingly discussing the potential veracity of the headline and story.

It is an interesting phenomenon that a small group of people can influence the thinking and common sense of the majority, and so this small group of pupils prevailed upon the intelligence of the majority of the class and by the end of the period I was asked by the class if the headline was true.

I’m afraid I just couldn’t resist. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

“Yes,” I said, “but it’s a long and complicated story. Daniel Craig was originally contracted to do two films, with the option of doing more. After “Quantum of Solace” it appeared he lost interest so the producers got in touch with me. Of course, Daniel Craig decided to stay on and “Skyfall” was such a big hit they thought they’d stick with him, and in any case, I’m too old now.”

Maybe I should have been an actor. To my astonishment, there was no laughter, no scoffing, no derisory remarks. Nothing. Just a sort of dubious acceptance of what I said, and this took me somewhat by surprise. I didn’t know what to say – I didn’t want to compound the lie by trying to further convince them, but equally I was going to feel awful if I announced I had duped them all. The result is that I said nothing, and as I write this I realise there may still be a few ex-pupils who actually believed I was in the running to be James Bond! My apologies!

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