Who didn’t lock their teacher in his office?

Revisiting your school days as an adult can be a fraught business.

Share

There’s an episode of Friends in which Monica is delighted to be asked out by her former high school crush.

Over dinner, things soon start to unravel as she discovers that Chip Matthews, most popular boy in the class of ’87, has never quite managed to leave the happiest days of his life behind. He still hangs out with the same jocks, still works at the local multiplex and, the clincher, still lives with his parents. “But I can stay out as long as I want.” No need, Monica is already on her way home.

The point is, revisiting your school days as an adult can be a fraught business. Anyone who has ever been to a reunion and awkwardly attempted small talk with the person they once sat behind in third-year ceramics knows as much. Nevertheless, the impulse to do so remains strong for many.

Look at Michael Gove. This week, in a teacher-baiting exercise on a par with wandering around the playground with a “Kick Me” sign on his back, he wrote a sucky letter to his former French master, Mr Montgomery. “You were trying, patiently, doggedly, good-humouredly, to broaden our horizons … And all we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense,” he grovelled.

Fiona Phillips, on the other hand, took an invitation to speak at her alma mater as an opportunity to settle some old scores. The former GMTV presenter said that the school had been “rampant with hormones and no discipline, no aspiration and no encouragement”, blamed it for turning her into a “vile teenager” and claimed she managed to leave with only one O-level – and then only because she read a lot at home.

Who hasn’t dreamed of doing what Gove and Phillips have done? Reassessing and explaining one’s childhood self, and telling former teachers exactly what one thinks of them to boot – all from the older, wiser and more successful platform of adulthood? It might be therapeutic but, as exercises go, it’s as pointless as those sixth-form career-aptitude tests that analyse your handwriting and conclude that you’re going to be an archivist, or maybe a nail technician. Worse than that, it’s a vanity project, like combing old school reports and picking out early signs of brilliance/non-conformity.

Of course we were all more ignorant, immature and annoying to adults when we were at school. We were children. Fortunately, at school, learning lessons is the name of the game. There are plenty of things I wouldn’t do now that I did then. I’d never lock my boss in his office, for example, but we regularly did it to our English teacher in second year. Sorry, Mr Edwards. There, I feel much better but saying sorry doesn’t rewrite history.

Our schooldays shape us, shape our lives. There are teachers whom we never forget – those who inspire and set us on the path, those too, perhaps, who scar and discourage. Growing up is about learning lessons and moving on. Clinging to the highs and lows of a single early decade, however formative, many years later, is a little sad. Just think of Chip Matthews.

As for the Education Secretary’s sign off – “So Danny, it may be too late to say I’m sorry. But, as my mum told me, it’s never too late to set the record straight” – it’s a C- at best. In fact, it’s never too late to say sorry, if you really mean it, but doing so to “set the record straight”, that’s just cheating the past.

The fine art of making a joke

Politicians are kryptonite to comedy. As soon as someone, anyone, on the green benches adopts a popular joke, it dies. See “Calm down, dear”, the -shambles suffix, Nick Clegg’s “I’m sorry” song, etc.

But what about artists? What happens when they get in on the joke? The question was raised in exuberant, unexpected style this week by Ai Weiwei when he joined the Gangnam gang. “Gangnam Style”, in case you’ve been living under a wireless-free rock for the past month, is the Korean pop sensation which has become the most “liked” and third most watched clip in YouTube history, with 530 million hits so far. Like all net-quakes, the music video and its silly dance routine have spawned a landslide of imitations with everyone from Eton schoolboys to Ban Ki-moon spoofing its moves. It can only be a matter of time before Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and Team GB’s diving squad share their versions, too.

In the meantime, Ai has made his own parody, flailing around his Beijing studio compound in neon pink shirt and signature grey beard and doing the giddy-up hands while wearing handcuffs.

It’s gloriously silly but it has a serious side, too. Ai has called his version “Caonima Style”, a reference to a Chinese censorship. “Our happiness is constantly being taken away from us, our homes demolished. We are always controlled, passports can be taken away from us…” he said. “However, every morning we have the opportunity to give others something to laugh about.” The Chinese authorities, naturally, didn’t see the funny side and wiped it from the web instantly.

Unlike MPs who like to crush a meme under the weight of their own manifestos, Ai appears to have done the impossible – filmed a YouTube parody that might just be funnier than the original and scored a political point in the process. That really is a fine art.

Twitter: @alicevjones

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Year 5/6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

KS1 & KS2 Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

Year 2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: Waking up to my 4am witching hour of worry

Rebecca Armstrong
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past