Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha: To Sir, With Love

Imagine a progressive all-girls Catholic school in the 1950's. Now imagine the Romanov children, post revolution, imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. If you somehow manage to breed the two mental images, congratulations. You have conceived a suitable template for my entire secondary school experience.

The secondary school I went to was unorthodox for a lot of reasons. For one, it was (and is) the only female private school in Cork. Parents of pupils payed a pretty hefty sum for their daughters tuition, and I guess they never really questioned where any of this money was actually going. Y'see, despite our tuition fees, our school that educated roughly 600-700 girls at any one time, was mostly made up of two old houses and a prefab. We didn't have any sporting facilities, or a real auditorium, or basically anything apart from a snazzy unifiorm that we were encouraged to keep looking as attractive as possible. From an outsiders perspective, it probably looked as though we belonged to a finishing school for future airhostesses. 

While other students were doing their ECDL, we were getting classes in flower arranging.

This is actually a rather accurate representation of what we got up to.


Not that I'm seriously criticising the place. The one thing about my secondary school was that as long as you were basically polite, you could do whatever the hell you liked. The teachers were more like doting aunts then real authority figures. New teachers were pretty rare, and I always thought that whenever we did encounter a new teacher they were always at least a little weirded out by us. It wasn't that we were snobs, exactly. We were just so intensely sheltered that we found it difficult to fathom a world outside our own. The whole situation was very Never Let Me Go except with less organ harvesting and more ski holidays.

We had one male teacher at our school, and to this day some of us still even wonder aloud whether he was actually a teacher or not. Every secondary school seems to have one of these. Those faculty members that strive somewhere between caretaker and educator, always inexplicably there yet never actually imparting and wisdom or fixing any windows.  To protect his identity, I'm going to call him Mr. Tea.

Mr. Tea does not look like this.

Mr. Tea really had it rough. Nobody was 100% on how he ended up at our school; for the most part he just seemed to dodder around, accepting the general abuse bestowed on him by his students and colleagues. The more dominant rumour about him was that as a young man, he had trained to enter the priesthood, until he fell in love with a woman and was forced to leave the order. I say "rumour", when truthfully, we gleaned this information from his poetry that he would occasionally give us to review. We mocked him mercilessly, the poor sod, yet it never seemed to dissuade him. The most inspiring thing about Mr. Tea, aside from his choice in ties, was the fact that absolutely nothing seemed to dissuade him. Day after day, he'd show up, "teach" religion and substitute all the classes that our stylish, somewhat maternal teachers weren't bothered with.
I feel terrible about it now, but those substitute classes was where tormenting Mr. Tea turned into a competitive sport. In our all-girls private school, there were two ways of earning your Badass stripes. You could get an older boyfriend and suck face with him outside the school, or, if you didn't feel like doing that (I did) you could bully Mr. Tea. Both situations gave you adequate lunch-time kuddos. 

This was even less romantic in real-life

On one such of these merciless assaults on Mr. Tea, Mr. Tea decided he would fight back, with the previously unheard of tactic of moving me and my best friend Mags to the front of the class. If any other teacher had done this, i'm sure we would have taken it as a cautionary measure and behaved ourselves under the watchful gaze of one of our coffee-scented Amazonian educators. But this was Mr. Tea, and we couldn't believe the audacity of his trying to discipline us. At the same time, I think we were feeling a bit smug that our behaviour had gotten so far out of line that we were being singled out amongst our fellow abusers. 

Being at the front  of the class merely meant that we were closer to Mr. Tea to really fuck with him. The second he turned his back to write his futile lesson plan, I took off my shoe, my sensible 3-inch office heel (I still can't get over that we wore those to school) and threw it at the board, missing Mr. Tea's head by a quarter inch. Incredulous, he turned around and asked who threw their shoe. Silence.

Miraculously, he turned back around and continued writing on the board. Pissed off for the lack of reaction, I decided to throw the other shoe. The same reaction ensued, except now Mr. Tea started blithely accusing the girls in the class he randomly assumed must have thrown the shoe. For some reason, neither me nor Mags were suspected. Why it never occured to him to look for the girl who was now barefoot, I'll never quite know. Maybe he thought someone would eventually come clean, but what is far more likely is that he was just an exceptionally dim man. When he finally resumed the lesson, Mags decided she'd get in on the action and took his Irish book, lying open on the desk. When it finally came for him to read from the book, he stared blankly at the oak surface where his book once was. 

I wish, so hard, that we really had replaced his book with flowers. But we didn't.

Noticing that Mags now had a book where she once had none, he began, triumphantly accusing her of taking his book.

Tea: "You! You took my book, you faggot." (I'm fairly certain this is verbatim)
Mags: "...sir?"
Tea: (on the edge of sanity) "GIVE ME MY BOOK BACK."
Mags: "Sir.. this is my book. You didn't bring your book today."

To make a long story short, he believed her. And when class ended, and I collected my abandoned shoes, he figured out that I was the one behind the shoe scheme. He furrowed his brow, shook his head, and went to his next class.

The worst thing about this story, is that in the years following, Mr. Tea always seems pleased to run into me. 

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