Yesterday’s blog about single-sex boys’ schools brought back a memory of an deeply embarrassing moment. Mid ‘70s, the South Auckland inspectorial team were at such a school. That morning there was a snippet in the local paper about a prominent English public school installing a condom dispensing machine in its senior common lounge.
When the all-male group got to the school comment was made about this item. One inspector suggested to the principal –always a publicity seeker - that he could win brownie points by announcing such a development for his patch. Male crude ‘shyacking’ – my spell-check doesn’t help here – ensured between the more earthy types in the room egged on by the man in residence. I don’t want to sound prudish but I felt uneasy, indeed unclean. Certain sandpits maybe, but the headmaster’s office? Chivalry comes in many guises.
As I left for my first visit the principal asked where I was heading. Remedial Reading! ‘Watch yourself Harvey, she’s the most beautiful teacher I’ve ever employed'. She was striking. A good teacher, her self-confidence and presentation had the five Maori boys eating out of her hand. They worked eagerly and keenly. As was customary she taught for a while and then set them some work and turned to me to talk.
I praised her work and asked if she had any questions or problems. ‘Resources. There is a shortage of material.’ I found myself replying, ‘have you got one of those Durex machines here.” Even as I spoke I realised the word I'd meant was Xerox. A Freudian slip, probably arising from a subconscious recollection of the earlier conversation.
To her credit she didn’t blink, while the pupils sat there poker-faced. Confused and trying to retrieve the situation I muttered, ‘you know, one of those reproductive devices’. One of the boys snorted. With what dignity I could muster I departed saying ‘Good work.’ Shame-faced I made my way back to the principal’s office. I told him of my folly. He roared with laughter and slapping me on the back said ‘not to worry.’
I did. I’d let my side down. I’d let my self down. Embarrassment ruled. I still cringe when I recollect that incident.