With the release of the coming year’s teaching allotments, we find ourselves in the midst of The Revenger’s Tragedy. In corridors serpentine and crepuscular, you just about need a rapier to cut through the sibilance of whispering. Reputations are carved up as bloodily. X couldn’t organize blowflies for a picnic while we all know Y’s little failing. Surely, Z must be sleeping with A, B, C to be so favoured. Where the incompetent fall down in their area of expertise (sic), they positively excel in vituperation. A teacher is best to watch his back lest he finish up looking like a porcupine.

While the spirit of Lord Burghley walks abroad, the old noggin is filled with another sort of whispering. These are the phantom voices of one’s charges tested to the limits of articulation by the annual exam. Like the weird sisters on the heath, they compete for attention.

“I agree that Macbeth is responsible for his own fate he was so whipped by Mrs Macbeth. He should of been a man.”

“Hamlet was really mean to Ophelia. No, we do not feel sympathy for him he was such a dog and talked alot.”

How many different ways can you spell “soliloquy”? You would be surprised. And somehow the studes cannot see past the emotional subtext. They think all Hamlet’s problems could have been solved by Facebook.

“Hitler was one of the Big Three. The Kaiser and Lord George were the other two. They wanted to carve up Europe like a pizza. They signed the Treaty of Westphalia.”

“McCarthy organized witch hunts and went on to found The Beatles.”

In the hands of some, the past becomes very like an Arcimboldo portrait, a collage comprised of nothing but fruit and veg. The big picture, in other words, constructed of some surprising elements. Not for the first time, you wonder at the mental landscape through which the kids and their psychic selves peregrinate.

You tried so hard to paint the picture for them. But like the main street art connoisseur they know what they like. It was summed up one day when, in relation to the Renaissance, you asked the question, Why do people make art?

“Because they’re gay?” came the reply.

“Are you serious?” The kids like to challenge at every turn.

In this case, sad to report, this little historian was.

Peter Fray

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