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Robber Rabbit : The Scaryduck Brain Dump

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On barmy art teachers

A shameless repost

I went to one of those schools where they only ever employed the teachers that no other educational establishment would take.

Each and every department had at least one teacher who would euphemistically be called a "character". In fact, many were barking mad and invariably ended up teaching art and design.

Mr Law spent most of his lessons teaching anything but art, and would send pupils on bizarre errands, which mostly involved sending notes to the guy who owned the local bike shop, with whom he was enjoying a particularly vicious feud.

Mr Harman was the best teacher in the world, ever. He didn't so much teach, more pass on a life's worth of experience from one generation to the next. He taught woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing, but his forte was The School of Life.

He was, however, at his best away from the formal atmosphere of the classroom. For example, taking half a dozen of us up to the church to set up the lights for the Christmas Carol concert, we broke for lunch at twelve o'clock, feet up on the altar, munching sandwiches and passing round the Rothmans. What a man, and infinitely better than his metalwork colleague Mr Colbourne, who was rumoured to only have one foot and was called "The Penguin". Harman, naturally, was christened "Barmy 'Army".

He wasn't barmy, per se, but he had a habit of deliberately messing up his demonstration piece to show you what would happen if you did it wrong.

"This," he would say, pointing to a mess of molten aluminium bubbling away in the forge, "is what happens if you have the blow torch too hot."

"Don't hit the wood too hard," he warned, knocking the head off a sculpture he'd been working on for weeks, "or this will happen. And you wouldn't want that, would you?"

"Don't draw a big picture of a man's willy on your work like this, you'll lose marks in the exam."

A genius.

It was the times when you got a story out of him that were the best as he'd forget the lesson and give us all a salutary tale in the dangers of adulthood.

Before going into teaching, he worked in a factory, all lathes, drills and hairy-bottomed engineers. It appeared that absolutely no work got done there, ever - they were either working up a huge skive, or clearing up pieces of co-workers who'd left the safety cover off a large, rotating piece of machinery. We didn't need icky safety videos, we just needed Barmy's tales of workplace woe.

"You weren't even safe in the bogs," he said.

Apparently, and it still happens today, I am horrified to learn, people take a newspaper and a cigarette into the bogs, and spend thirty minutes or so having a good read and a smoke. That's tantamount to thieving.

Barmy was getting particularly hacked off with his workmate Mickey, who spent hours at a time away from his machine, feeding his nicotine habit on the toilets. So he hatched a plan.

The factory was not what you'd call the most modern of places. The toilets, for example, were just a row of seats that dropped directly into the sewage pipe below. If you were downstream, you could see everybody else's output flowing past if you looked down. Barmy knew this. Water finds its own level - it's all about gravity.

So, when Mickey went for his fourth smoke break of the morning, the rest of the shop floor waited a few minutes then sneaked in behind him. Barmy went into the cubicle that was furthest upstream and emptied a gallon of fuel oil down the bog. As you do.

It was only a matter of time. He'd have to drop his cigarette butt down the pan sooner or later.


Six foot flames roared out of every single toilet pan and scorched the paint off the ceiling. There was a cry of "YEOWWWWWWWW-KINHELL!" Mickey burst out of the cublicle, trousers round his ankles, shirt tail well alight, beating out his scorched bum-hairs with his rolled up newspaper to the cheers and applause of his workmates.

"And that," said Barmy, "Is why you shouldn't smoke."

Lesson well and truly learned, thanks.

Poor 'Army died last year. The world is a sadder, safer place as a result.

posted by Alistair Coleman at 2:47 PM

I remember Mr Harman. He taught me technical drawing in the mid seventies. He was a very patient teacher as I remember and always kept a collection of half smoked roll ups in a tobacco tin. Sad to hear he is no longer around.
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