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Holland Park Press

Very Modern

9 August 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

I was born in 1962 and in secondary school some of our teachers were ‘anti-money’. This was then very modern. They often had beards and reeked of unwashed socks. Luckily they smoked during class, so we couldn’t smell the teacher.

The teachers were the only ones allowed to smoke, except the chemistry teacher; that was too dangerous.

In the school’s cellar, pupils smoked enormous amounts of pot, so it is a small miracle that anyone managed to graduate.

From time to time a teacher took class while drunk. I remember S., our French teacher, who was spotted in a pub during the lunch break. A pile of coins lay in front of him and he apparently uttered the immortal words: ‘I won’t leave until the money is gone.’ A few hours later we concluded that he had managed to do this pretty well.

There were regular rumours about a ‘liaison’ between a teacher and a pupil. Nowadays they would spray his home with ‘PAEDOPHILE’, in huge letters, yet back then it was part of being modern.

There were monks, young and old, teaching at the school. The older ones were all right, but the younger ones were so modern that a police investigation is currently under way into the extent of their modernity back then.

Once, I won a crate of beer in a bet with Mr M., my English teacher. I said that I could sprint faster than him. This was reason enough to interrupt the lesson and I won the beer, at just fifteen.

It was also very modern to give pupils ‘a say’. I remember one cold day in January when the pupils decided, against the head’s wishes, to take a ‘freezing weather’ day off. Of course, having a say meant that people had to agree with you.

The short, elderly deputy head, who was also a PE teacher, stood in the middle of the corridor with his arms spread wide. I can still see him being knocked down. This wasn’t followed by disciplinary action; it was part of the ‘give and take’.

However, people were against the consumer society. Teachers pronounced the words ‘consumer society’ as if they were tasting sour milk. Making money was suspect anyway. The odd thing is that, back then, teachers were much better paid than at present.

It wasn’t at all advisable to ‘go into business’. If you went into business after graduating you were considered a failure.

One of my history teachers was a Marxist. That was also very modern then; being a Maoist or Trotskyite was good too. There was, of course, some rivalry about who was ‘most left-wing’, but my teacher was a Marxist. One day, in the middle of class, he said to me, ‘If the Russians come, you’ll get the prime position in the salt mines.’ We both agreed it was an excellent joke.

It was because of my political opinions, and actually they haven’t changed. I belong to the centre. Back then, the centre was fairly right-wing and qualified for a ‘position in the salt mines’, whereas nowadays the centre has moved quite a bit to the left.

Every time the word ‘America’ was mentioned, this history teacher muttered ‘imperialists’. I looked on them more as liberators. As a reaction, I went to the Royal Military Academy in Breda. My mentor told me, ‘I don’t like it, but I think it will suit you.’

To cut a long story short: I spent thirteen years in the army, only to turn out to be quite intellectual after all, and I became a writer.

I still have nothing ‘against money’, but it is not of overriding importance. I am a poet and teach creative writing; I know everything about credit limits.

I suspect that those former left-wing teachers are now getting worried about their mortgage and pension. Suddenly I am looking forward to a reunion.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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