Thursday, 14 October 2010

Book tour extra: Sticks and Stones

 The Trunchbull from Matilda 
(Roald Dahl knew how to send up teachers)

Kids can be evil beasts. Especially schoolkids.

Quite soon after the launch of Friends Reunited in the united Kingdom, some forums were the subject of a legal investigation, after subscribers defamed and slandered teachers they had once had in an effort to rekindle and relive the old days. The same kind of stuff is probably going on in the land of Facebook right now.

Kids seem to be able to find a person's weak point and home in on it, making it the be-all and end-all of a teacher’s reputation. Kids can be vicious little feral monsters. William Golding knew this; he wrote a book about conches and flies and pigs heads and stuff that kids are now forced to read in the very schools they mockingly run amok in.

Given that a teacher will, in the course of their career, teach generations of kids, it still surprised me to find out that down the years, and even across different schools, different kids have had the SAME nicknames for certain teachers that I once had.

A couple of times since my husband Meeester M started teaching we have come across teachers that he has been in contact with or even colleagues with, that I had at school. In some cases, those teachers had (usually offensive) nicknames. Turns out that two generations later these teachers have THE SAME nicknames they had when I was a  schoolkid.

A biology teacher who had a perennial, vile blob of spittle in the corners of his mouth was simply called “Foamy”. Often in Bunsen burner type experiments where liquid was to heated up, we would exclaim excitedly on boiling point, “Sir it’s foaming, it’s foaming!” to much sniggering. Surely, the man knew that we were mocking him, yet he would calmly respond, "Well, yes, it will do that..."

Another teacher who would get quite exuberant and energetic about his subject, but who decided never to wear any deodorant, was given a can of SURE for Men on his desk every Christmas, as all his students could concentrate on were dark patches of sweat under the arms as he waved them about. We never paid much attention to the actual content of his sweat inducing rants.

Given that a teacher can have a career of forty years, and that every class would do this to him every year, we’re probably talking over 1200 cans. He could have set up shop.

Then there was Funky Fred, the most inept and least funky of all teachers, nay people, I have ever come across. I don’t even know if his real name was Fred. It just fitted with “Funky”. “Funky Brendan” or “Funky Arthur” wouldn’t have had the same pzazz.

Wearing dirty, coke-bottle-lensed square glasses, he certainly could never have been empirically defined as “funky”, yet generations of kids knew him thus. He may be dead now; I'd like to think his obituary in the local paper mentioned his workplace moniker. It's what he would have wanted.

One teacher whose name was Bashford, was simply called Mr Bastard. Simple, yet effective. I quite liked old Mr Bastard, he seemed OK. Yet you don't get away with a name that can be easily turned into a sweary in a secondary school. Mr Bastard he stayed. Nice guy, or no. All over this country, there are teachers called Mr Buck and Mrs Hunt having a really shitty time of it.

However, it doesn’t stop at school. Later on in life we get bosses, managers and supervisors. In an effort to bond with our peers, give a little light relief and generally kick against the pricks, we give our boss a nickname. It helps to pass the day/week/career.

Nicknames of bosses I have had include :

"The Bald Eagle" (he was bald; gosh we were inventive)

"Barry Gibb" (he had thick mulleted hair and a beard- of course he’s Barry Gibb)

"The Prince of Darkness" (second only to “Hitler”, officially the most common nickname for a male boss. Source: me . It makes me wonder, did Adolf Hitler's underlings have a nickname for him. Where did they go for inspiration given that Hitler was his actual name?)

“The Human Hormone” was a female boss, whose mood would swing like a bored Seventies suburban married couple with a special bowl for car-keys , and whose crimes against her staff we passed off (by her) as being the result of erratic menstruation patterns. Way to go sista! Thanks for setting women’s rights back a few hundred years. Someone actually got her a badge that said “Watch out; I’m premenstrual”. From where, I don’t know. Maybe she sat up all night making it. Certainly, I know for sure, it would not have been presented to her in the week before ovulation. Talk about having a death wish...

This makes me think, do we do this our whole lives? Right now, in Old Folks' homes are certain carers, matrons or whatever, in charge of making our final years as comfortable as possible, providing sniggers, as one of the elderly residents comes up with a suitable yet vicious nickname? A nickname that makes all their elderly resident mates guffaw everytime it is mentioned or exclaimed under the guise of a cough or whisper as they go past with the meds trolley.

You know something, I kind of hope so.


  1. Our chemistry teacher at school was a real hot thirty something. Unfortunately she one day, whilst looking for something in her handbag, dislodged a vibrator in front of a class of final year students thus earning herself the nickname Buzz...

  2. We had nicknames galore for my last place of work (aka the Paranoid Former Employer).

    The company was known as B'Stard Company. Head office was Cult HQ. The chief executive was known as The Great Leader, his head of technology Chihuahua on Steroids, and the peer who took over my 'redundant' position was henceforth called Personality Transplant.
    Oh, and the legal counsel was Smurf Witch.

    I could go on, but they might threaten to sue me again.

    LCM x

  3. Aww now I've gone all nostalgic. I wonder if there is some equal opportunities thing going on here.

    B.O. Sufferer - check
    Dyke Lesbian (preferably cigar smoker) - check
    Perverted Old Git with penchant of dropping pencils - check

  4. I'm with VB, i've gone all moony eyed remembering the vile names we gave our teachers. Now the only people I get to give vile names to are my children. Doesn't stop me, mind.

  5. Well, I AM a teacher... and among the most imaginative names I ever got to hear was 'Wacko Acko' in the glory days before the cane ban. Ah, those were the day...

  6. This reminds me of a teacher we had for Physics in high school who was actually a really nice guy. What was funny was that his name was horrible. Mr. Livshits. But though we sniggered at him for having such a ridiculous name, we also enjoyed the fact that he let us call him by his first name "Igor" because of it. I think because of his being so cool and being so up front about his goofy name, he never earned a worse nickname than he already had.

  7. I love this post!! So funny and yes, it's true. In fact I have nicknames for loads of people. I think the most notable was a French guy that we just called 'Le Con', which we thought was really funny and naughty because what with him being French, he would understand what it meant. Thanks for bringing back tonnes of memories.