When 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…