Whatever happened to…

…Steve. My colleague Steve. I only spent 2 years teaching with Steve in London, but the memory of him is so vivid it’s almost as though someone has etched it onto the back of my eyeballs. In an era where it’s virtually impossible to lose contact with anyone, I have managed to lose contact with Steve. It’s been seven years, and most days I never think of him. One those rare occasions that he pops into my head, I can’t help but smile, because he really was the most extraordinary fellow; Steve out-Spencered Frank Spencer, not just in general, but on an almost daily basis. He was remakably amusing, but one ever laughed with him. He had no idea quite how funny he was, which made him all the more funny. I’m certainly not sure that I can do him justice, but I hope if you can be bothered to read to the bottom, you’ll wonder how I could ever have lost touch with such a comedy genius. He rarely failed to surprise, and during my dealings with Steve, we were treated to Steve in many guises:

Steve the awkward:

Never one to put people at their ease, the parents at the School where we taught were rather unnerved by him. We shared a Sixth Form set one year, and I can’t say I was looking forward to performing a double act for the parents. Steve’s opening gambit was to describe the two of us as ‘bloody good teachers’ to a pair of surprised Indian parents, who clearly felt that this was a parents evening, and not a second-and car dealership. This was nothing, because his next move (having noted their shock) was to reassure them that ‘don’t worry, we’re not gay’. I’m not sure why he felt this was necessary, but the knowing smile he gave me afterwards as if to say ‘that’s how to do it’ might have had them thinking that he was protesting a little too much. At the end of the evening, and very David Brent-esque, he got up and asked ‘so where are we going now? The pub?’. My silence said it all, and we slunk off into the night, towards the same part of London, but very much in opposite directions.

Steve the navigator:

Steve decided that moving from his home in Cambridgeshire was not really necessary when he got the job in London. The communte by car was only 90 minutes. Sadly this was only the case if you left home at 5am and stayed in work until gone 8pm. Steve managed to spend 14 hours a day in the department, either in his classroom or our shared office. No-one was quite sure what he got up to during this time, though at one point he decided to bring his washing from home, in a desperate attempt to find something to do. There was a set of washing machines in the pokey staff accommodation on the other side of the School site, and Steve would wait until the end of the School day, get his washing done, and then lay his clothes out over the department radiators and furniture until they were dry on his return to School at 6.30am the next morning. For about six months our office looked like a Chinese laundry, and Steve clearly would have done this for longer, but for the fact that he decided to rent a place in London during the week…

Steve the social pariah:

Steve rented out a room in a flat in a gritty part of North London, and he clearly decided that this would solve his two problems: the three hour commute every day, and the lack of an exciting night life. Steve’s landlady lived alone with the exception of her 14 year-old daughter. Within a week, the woman had added a padlock to her daughter’s room. Steve was hardly a danger, but she clearly thought his manner was a trifle odd, and it was hard to argue with her. The incident with the back-door catflap can’t have helped, when in true Benny Hill style, Steve was apparently fixing the screws on the catflap when the daughter opened the door from the other side quickly, knocking Steve over, who somehow ended up on the floor looking up between her legs. The mother was into the house a millisecond behind, and presumably demanded some explanation as to why he was looking ‘up-skirt’, with a screwdriver in his hand. These were just the sort of things that happened to Steve.

Steve the lover:

Ok, so the London flat wasn’t going too well, but at least it gave him the opportunity to try out a bit of nightlife. Deciding that the best place for nightlife in London was St Albans, Steve headed out on the train, wearing a chunky jumper and stonewashed jeans. You can probably guess the rest. He claimed to have had some success with one member of a hen-party, though she was whisked away just at the wrong moment by her ladette chums. Steve’s shouted question as they departed of ‘does anyone know anywhere where I can get a good bop round here’ must have fallen on deaf ears. I asked him if he’d then spent most of the night drinking in the corner. He answered: ‘not in the corner, no…’ before pausing, and continuing ‘…but I was pretty close to the corner’.

Steve the disabled:

Talking of deaf ears, Steve came into School one day with a new hearing aid. Nothing odd in this you might say, but he’d never had an old hearing aid. There was nothing wrong with his hearing. His dandruff was another thing, as we noted from his shoulders, and also from the pouf that was regularly left out to dry in the Chinese laundry of an office, but his hearing was fine. In the same way that some vain men wear clear glass spectacles to look intelligent, Steve seemed to be wearing a fake hearing aid to make him look….well, deaf? Did he read somewhere that women go for deaf men?

Steve the unlucky:

I guess that this one doesn’t need too much justification, especially if you’ve read the above, but unfortunate things happened to him on a daily basis in a way that wouldn’t happen to other people in a year. I remember arriving at work one morning about half past 7, to see Steve walking from the department back to his car, carrying a large bucket of hot soapy water. He had trodden in a dog turd upon leaving the house, hadn’t noticed, and had spent the remainder of the 90 minute journey smearing dog poo all over his car carpets, accelerator and brake. Steve was unlucky to the last. I went for a job interview far over to the West of the country, and found myself in the same carriage as Steve, off to the same interview. 4 hours there. 4 hours back. I got the job, and when our then Head of department came in the next morning, he looked at the pair of us, and smirked ‘50% success rate then?’. Steve gave a good comeback, though all at his own expense: ‘33% actually. I didn’t get the job the day before’. He then gave me a bottle of champagne.

Where is he now?

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Day to day irritation

Here’s a stream of consciousness diatribe about things that irrirate me. It’s first come, first served and I’ll give myself 3 minutes. Here goes…

Watching football in the pub at saturday lunchtime, ‘comment’ in newspapers rather than actual ‘news’, gastropubs, the person who’s ‘always late’, fat men who claim to be into rugby, 3D spex, The Daily Mail, 10 o clock live, screaming children in pizza express, gourmet burgers, X Factor, menus that mention ‘hen’s eggs’, the importance attached to individuals such as Ian Tomlinson and Princess Diana, travel agents (in 2011!), Jeremy Kyle, interests determined by social class, the misguided concept of ‘London prices’, too much choice of chocolate bars, too much choice of breakfast cereal, people who say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, stag dos that last too long, hen dos, smoking, meat in vacuum pack, bottled water in restaurants, buying toilet roll, boring teachers, men in shirts from Next, prices at league 2 clubs, cruises, baby photos as profile photos, those ‘invisible’ socks that go inside pumps, people that block my sunshine, late night curry, dry cleaning, someone called ‘Dave Dice’ who is a ‘person I might know’, budget airlines, semi-skimmed from corner shops, no ‘dead pool’ winners so far this year, people who kiss their pets on the lips, people who use Latinised plurals whether they are needed or not, people who think they can do accents, hole in the wall, people who don’t find Harry Hill funny, Hello!, Ok!, pointless exclamation marks, Ross Kemp, phones with a cord, untucked shirts, weddings on the beach, going to UWE and saying you went to Bristol, too many utterances of ‘thank you’ during newsagent transactions, cookery programmes about baking. Done.

And here’s the SOC for things I love (I’ll give myself 3 minutes for this too):

The IPL (starts today), semi-colons. That is all.

Downtime

If you ever ask a teacher what they love about their job, and the first answer they give is ‘long holidays’, I’d argue that they’re not really cut out for the profession. Taking those parts of the year that do not involve teaching and holding them up as the absolute highlight does not say much for one’s enjoyement of, and commitment to the important role they have.

In fact, long holidays can become something of a chore, and this is something that I have often tried (and always failed) to explain to friends who are not teachers. I realise it’s a tricky sell, and that trying to convince people that a 2 month summer holiday, or a month off at Easter and Christmas can be a hardship is not the easiest thing to do. But it’s true. People think back to their School holidays, and recall them as a fantastically happy time, involving famous five-style activities such as long bike rides, nature rambles, cricket matches, ginger beer in the sunshine, apple-scrumping and other such pass-the-time fun that would not feel out of place on the pages of ‘swallows and amazons’ or ‘the wind in the willows’.

Now think again, because you know that all of this is total bollocks. Most of my School summer holidays were spent watching TV and reading books (the latter is not a negative thing at all, but it was unlikely to turn me into the final member of the famous six). At a young age, my capacity for doing nothing was far higher than it is now, and by the time I’d reached university, I was an absolute master of my art. I had more time off then ever before, and considered it something of a triumph if I had managed to get anything at all done prior to watching ‘Lovejoy’, which was on BBC1 at 3pm. Have a shower, eat some pizza and potato waffles and stagger out for the Hogshead pub quiz was as near as I got to activity.

But that’s all changed now. I find it very difficult to do nothing. In fact, I find it very difficult to do just one thing. I can’t watch TV these days without spilling my thoughts on the programme on to twitter. For this reason, the School holidays represent quite a tricky time to fill, especially during the day, when Victoria is out at work. I’ll finish off this entry, and then I’m off to climb the Monument (because it’s there), to peruse some Victorian photos in the Museum of London and to have dinner and drinks with a Kiwi friend. All good fun, but it’s actually pretty exhausting trying to fill the time. This is a real problem with teaching; it’s the ultimate ‘all or nothing’ profession, especially at a Boarding School. During termtime it’s a 7-day deal, and your time is all pretty much mapped out for you. Suddenly these great long holidays hove into view, and you whose time has been structured for you throughout term suddenly have a great swathe of time to fill.

One final point: why do you think so many teachers marry other teachers? There’s only two obvious reasons. Firstly, you get to share the same time off. Secondly, another teacher is the only person that’ll have you. The second reason is clearly the more likely, but I wouldn’t rule out the first.