My Favourite Pedagogue

Key's CupboardWhen I was young, and they packed me off to school, and they taught me how to begin prose pieces with quotations from Jethro Tull songs, I came under the spell of a remarkable pedagogue. He was a shrivelled, partly collapsed person with hair the colour of a gorgeous sunset over the Serengeti – I think he used dye – and his bloodless lips were always puckered. He wore ill-fitting suits woven from the wool of rare goats, eschewed spectacles in favour of some floor-mounted light-reflecting contraption of many mirrors and lenses, and never varied in his lunchtime preferences, which were pie-related and frankly unspeakable. Sometimes he sported a moustache. Sometimes, when his duty was to clang bells, he clanged bells with a vigour which belied his frail health. For this pedagogue was in fact clinging to life by a straw, had we but known it.

He was the finest teacher I ever had, and yet I never understood a word he said, for he had a jarring speech impediment. A fuse in his head had snapped, I think, so that somewhere between his brain and his mouth perfectly sensible words were turned into gibberish.

“Gnaar snad poot”, he might say, or “Nuuurg… gaa! … pipitpip”, for example. Sometimes it was as if he was reciting a list of monstrous beings from the works of H P Lovecraft. “Glub glub glub,” he would mutter, “Azathoth! Nyarlothep! Shoggoth! Asenath Waite!”. If he entered the classroom with a sickly pallor, you could almost guarantee that the only sound to issue forth would be a low, growled, monotonous “goonhoooooon… goonhoooooon…. goonhoooooon”.

It was never entirely clear to me whether the pedagogue realised that when he thought he was saying, “Let us now examine in formidable detail the film career of Hedy Lamarr”, what his listeners heard was “Durgon. Podcast. Gummo. Perk.”

In a sense, it doesn’t matter. What made him such a superb educator were the diagrams he would chalk on the blackboard as he gibbered, majestic, sweeping concatenations of lines and arcs and shapes and colours and arrows and letters and numbers and boxes and circles and triangles and cross-hatching and dots and dashes and angles and planes and squiggles and tonybuzanities, fearsomely complicated yet at the same time explaining every last spark of human thought to a room full of tinies like myself. What a wonder he was.

He only taught at the school for a week, and then he was gone. It was said by some that he was poached by the Hungarian football club Honved, where he wielded the magic sponge and taught legendary striker Ferenc Puskas everything he knew. Others claimed that the pedagogue, like Sherlock Holmes, devoted his final years to beekeeping. As for me, whenever I look at the Zapruder Footage, there seems to be something eerily familiar about Umbrella Man…

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

6 thoughts on “My Favourite Pedagogue

    March 25, 2011 at 09:40

    Pedagogue, such a waste of u and e, I used to think that they lived in the Atlas mountains, wearing berbour jackets.
    Speech impediment, so topical at the moment, there’s that king bloke, and Geordies of course, Huw Edwards, the list is endless.

  2. Brit
    March 25, 2011 at 11:26

    We never forget the wonderful teachers, do we?

    And Malty – yes ‘Pedagog’ would be a much better word. ‘Demagog’ too, it would bring a note of humility to demagoggery.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:05

    Surprised he hasn’t been snapped up by Jamie oliver’s dream school yet

    john halliwell
    March 25, 2011 at 12:46

    I once made the mistake of giving a hurriedly prepared presentation using Buzan techniques, so beautifully captured by Frank as ‘tonybuzzanites’. I got so confused by my drawings of wonky arrows, triangles, smiley faces, and donkey droppings, the audience concluded that my talk had been on The Role of the Red Indian in the Demise of the Buffalo, and not as it was billed: ‘Inter-Personal Relations In An Age Of Anxiety’.

    • Brit
      March 25, 2011 at 14:03

      Buzan could use that as a testimonial… “One set of tonybuzannites works for any lecture, from ‘The Role of the Red Indian in the Demise of the Buffalo’ to ‘Inter-Personal Relations In An Age Of Anxiety’.

    March 25, 2011 at 14:53

    It’s inter-personal relations that got the Buffalo into such deep water in the first place, fraternising with heap fruity Sioux.

    Is there an age of anxiety I wonder, excuse me for a moment, I must away and worry about that.

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