Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mrs. Rust

Whoever said that education is wasted on youth had clearly never met Mrs. Rust.

‘Literature is not a examinable subject,’ was the first thing she said when she strode into the classroom. ‘It’s a calling, a passion, a reason for opening your eyes in the morning and wishing to appraise the world afresh. It is, in short my people, a religion, and when you come into this classroom, I expect you to act as though you’re in church. I want you to bow your heads and put your faith in the beauty of words.’

Perhaps it was the way she descended on the room more than the words themselves, but my eyes began to well, even as I felt myself bow my head.

She had made what is known as an impression on all of us but on me in particular. There was something about this little woman that spoke to the ambitious student in me. She was probably the first woman in a long time I wanted to impress with something other than a thrust of my hips.

I know it’s an odd thing to confess. This was, after all, only my first taste of adult education, which immediately makes it sound more pornographic than it was. Mrs. Rust is short, greying, not particularly tolerant of other people and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of how to put a man in his place. She hadn’t been in the room for ten minutes before she told me off for fidgeting. I hadn’t the nerve to explain that I was trying to readjust my thong.

She then told us that she wanted us all to introduce ourselves, but before we began, she stood up herself and held up our set texts. She then proceeded to introduce each author as though they were in the room. She described their lives, their character, and their artistic struggles. It was all fascinating and made me feel not a little humble, especially as I was sat in the seat nearest her desk and it was me she asked in to continue the introductions.

How could I follow potted biographies of Auden, Dickens, Joyce, and Hemmingway and say ‘Hello, my name’s Chip and I shake my genitals for money’? It wouldn’t exactly inspire a teacher’s confidence and I’m not so sure my fellow students would want to sit next to me.

I had to say something and I seemed to take an eternity to slowly push myself to my feet. I could feel Mrs. Rust’s eyes boring into me. I felt my face flush under the scrutiny of the other students. Me, a man who has stood naked before thousands, feeling embarrassed standing fully clothed before a class of twenty.

Eventually, my knees locked and I was standing upright. I could delay my introduction no longer.

‘Hello,’ I said. ‘My name is Chip Dale and I’m… I’m… I’m…’

I hesitate now to say what I hesitated to say then. But eventually words came and the terrible confession was made.

I said: ‘Hello, my name is Chip Dale and I’m a chartered manicurist’.

I know, I know… It made about as much sense when I said it. But my mind was racing, looking for something to say instead of the truth. After that, the rest of the lesson was easy.

We spent the first hour reading poetry and the second hour discussing just one of Auden’s sonnets. The last ten minutes were taken up by Mrs. Rust instructing us on how to complete our first homework project.

My task is to write an appreciation of any poem of my choosing. I can’t say it will be fun. My temptation is to dust off my copy of the Benny Hill Big Book of Dirty Verse but Mrs. Rust doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman to appreciate Mr. Hill’s wit. I'd even go as far as to say I bet she wouldn't see the beauty of even the funniest poem, no matter how many crackers the boy on the burning deck had in his pockets.

1 comment:

Jan Tregeagle said...

"chartered manicurist"- oh that made me laugh...