On Mr Wearne

All teachers like to think that, as well as dispensing information and essential skills, they are moulding young minds, inspiring the next generation, and leaving wisdom in their trail. It is perhaps an optimistic view, but not a bad one nonetheless, and occasionally may even prove to be correct. For me, the teacher who achieved these heights, who left in me a clear and distinct idea that would guide my young mind, and which I still remember now, was Mr Wearne,

Mr Wearne was a big, tragic, disappointed man who taught history in my secondary school. He was one of those whose bodies are too big for their personality. He did not tower impressively, or fill a room with his presence: rather, he hunched awkwardly and apologetically, trying to hide his bulk. Unsurprisingly, therefore, his crowd control skills were desultory and, in a large school in the somewhat rough and rowdy city of Plymouth, this made him an instant target. Children can smell weakness, and they will exploit it mercilessly. I have no count of the number of times that he was driven to storming out of the room or throwing a pile of books on the floor in frustration. We were not kind to him; and I must confess that—having worked out early on in my school career that as a smart, glasses-wearing, posh-voiced boffin, I needed to obtain the respect of my classmates to remain safely unbullied, and had selected upon exploiting and exaggerating my natural disrespect for authority figures to achieve this end—I was often one of the ringleaders.

There is no doubt that Mr Wearne was a failure. He was almost certainly one of the most intelligent teachers in the school, he had—and very occasionally succeeded in demonstrating—a real passion for his subject, and I suspect that when younger he had been an idealistic and energetic educator. But he had been pounded into disappointment, misery, and almost certainly alcoholism by decades of the relentless awfulness of massed teenagedom.

Even the nugget of wisdom he left us, and which still inspires me, was a failure.

One day, when we were being unusually co-operative, Mr Wearne decided to take it upon himself to offer us his Words of Wisdom, his Design For Life for our formative minds. I forget the exact circumstances which led up to this, all I remember is the sense of profundity in his voice as he declared to us:

“The majority of your lives will be boring, and they should be. You will have moments of excitement and wonder in your lives, but for these to stand out, to really stand out, the rest of your lives should be boring and ordinary.”

That is, I think fairly verbatim, Mr Wearne’s Words of Wisdom, and they had an immediate effect on me. Even then, beneath the rabble-rousing, disobedient little oik I had made myself, I flatter myself that I was humane enough to see through my contempt for him to the tragic awfulness of his existence and I hope I felt then, as a certainly do now, a level of pity for the man who had been roundly beaten by life. But the message that I took, and hold on to, was simple: that I will have failed in life not when I am bored, not when I am poor, or miserable, or weak. I will have failed when, like Mr Wearne, my ambition for my own happiness has so desperately collapsed that not only is the very best that I can hope for boredom, but that I must rationalize that boredom into a virtue to retain what few scraps of self-respect I have left.

On rent

Lacking a sizeable inheritance—those long-lost great uncles just keep on refusing to die—I cannot afford a house in this staggeringly over-priced country and so, at the age of 39, still need to rent my accommodation. Having recently moved back to Oxford, I have been searching for a new place, and this has been something of a challenge.

It’s actually been some years since I paid any formal rent anyway. I am something of a vagrant: in York I largely stayed with a friend, who charged me a generously low rate, and was fairly relaxed about me paying as and when my patchy student finances had the resources. Subsequent to that, I stayed at my brother’s house in Bath for a year, where we made ad hoc arrangements as suited us. Intervals in Brazil have largely involved cadging rooms with friends too, and since arriving back in Oxford in February yet another friend has kindly put me up with few requirements other than a few cleaning and cooking duties. But as of early May, I shall be an official tenant again and, to use the technical expression, fuck me is it expensive.

I have viewed a large number of properties, both sole rental and sharing, in this delightful city. Lodging was one possibility, but nothing seemed suitable: Mrs Sarasvati had a room in her house in the ideal district of Jericho; when I went to visit it I found her to be a charming and intelligent Indian woman with whom I had a long conversation about Sanskrit literature, all the time trying my hardest not to notice the wallpaper peeling away from the walls and the mildew glaring out from the cracks, odourously indignant that its stale solitude was to be breached. Another house with a spare room, very close to my current temporary digs, was owned and inhabited by Piers Delafontaine—one of that class of posh, miserly skanks who are clearly far too U to lower themselves to cleaning, but too tight to pay someone else to do it for them. Neither seemed suitable.

At the other end of the scale, sole rental made my eyes water and my wallet weep quietly in my pocket. A glorified bedsit on Iffley Road—nice, but so small that if you breathed in too hard there was a risk of the walls caving in—would have cost over a grand a month, and a cheaper “flat” on Abingdon Road turned out to be three unjoined rooms opening onto a shared hallway, thus necessitating a lock on each room door. My ability to lose keys, lock myself out, or—on more than one occasion—break off the key in the lock of a door ruled out this option. Being stranded, half-naked, in a cold, shared hallway because I had managed to flush my keys down the loo during a night-time visit would almost certainly be the fate awaiting me there—probably within the first month.

I have, finally, found somewhere. It is a big shared house: expensive but not gratuitous, and I shall be sharing with a two German girls, an Irish guy, and a Frenchman. A nice mix of people, and one which comes with the added benefit that the household would give Nigel Farage an aneurysm. We can but hope, at least.

On non-narcoleptics

I have narcolepsy. I am also an identical twin. Other than having earnt me some awesome sci-fi credentials, these two facts about me are linked in another way: they both lead to the same painfully frequently asked question:

“What’s it like?”

Grimace. Bite tongue. Unbite tongue. I don’t know. What’s it like not being a dozy bugger? What’s it like not having a free kidney-donor wandering around the world? Similarly, when I started this blogging challenge and requested suggestions for themes, a distressing number of people who should have known better suggested narcolepsy. It’s not like I don’t sometimes write about it already, but is this really the most interesting thing about me?

Don’t get me wrong: I know my condition is rare, freakish, silly, often hilarious, medically fascinating, and open to spectacular, awesomely awful Freudian ⇐ If you’ve never followed one of my links, make that the one you do.interpretations. I’m happy to dispense the odd nugget about it, or to relate the more amusing incidents it has lead to (cat-fart: still gotta do the cat-fart). But you, my strangely consistently-sleeping friends, should know by now that—though I will not pretend it is not a buggeration of the first order, and that it affects almost everything I do and every decision I make—it is a triviality as far as I view myself.

So, for you weird non-narcoleptics, just to keep you happy, some questions and a few notes:

  • What do you do when you’re bored? Seriously? Why don’t you just put your head down and nap through the rest of that boring lecture or crappy film? I thoroughly recommend it.
  • When do you get your pulp reading done? Personally, I feel guilty reading enjoyable trash during daylight hours, but I’ve worked my way through most of Kurt Vonnegut’s canon during the fragmentary sleepless periods of the night.
  • Do you really have to drive everywhere? (The environmentalist in me seconds that question.)
  • When you use the expression “Only seven more sleeps till Christmas,” you do realize that that means it’s gonna start later this afternoon, don’t you?
  • If we’ve just met, and I have to tell you that I have a condition that makes me fall asleep a lot, laughing and saying “Oh, I think I must have that,” is, umm, probably best avoided unless you want to see me fall over with irritation.
  • If you’ve known me for a while and haven’t yet worked out that, though cataplexy may be triggered by laughter, the severity and length of the consequent attack is unconnected to the level of amusement, you really need to. Telling me to “Get a grip,” or chiding me that “It wasn’t even that funny,” whilst I am struggling to control my breathing and worrying about whether my head is about to bounce off the floor a few times is somewhat lacking in sensitivity, to put it mildly.
  • I wasn’t drunk when I fell over.
  • Oh, um, …
  • I wasn’t that drunk when I fell over.