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Woodwork class

By: Brinks on the 10th February 2009 at 10:01pm

Biographical

"Now, look ‘ere you kids. Wot I sez is this ‘ere, there are two sides to a piece of sandpaper, the rough and the smooth, and so far it’s been my misfortune to experience rather more of the rough than the smooth, I can tell yer!”

In these words, bellowed at a volume worthy of the noble Stentor of old, our woodwork teacher, James A Pym, known immemorially as Jim Pym, welcomed us for the first time to his carpentry room (one could scarcely call such a dirty, barely functional room a “studio” or even a “workshop”!). We were just eleven or twelve years old and were all immediately terrified of this alarming master, clad in a brown overall coat with wood shavings caught in his hair who displayed none of the composure so apparent in most of the other members of the staffroom. Mr Pym was clearly a man apart.

Looking back now, from a perspective clarified by the passage of more than thirty years, I am intrigued to know what could have made him decide to become a teacher in the first place, and plain bemused to understand how he ended up at such a haven of the hidebound and snobbish as Loughborough Grammar School. Even at the age of eleven we sensed immediately that Jim Pym had no patience with, or tolerance of, children, and as the weeks passed we searched in vain for any indication that this aversion might be compensated for by a devotion to the carpenter’s art. Jim Pym was definitely one of a kind, and that was probably no bad thing. 

As it happened, my father was particularly accomplished at carpentry. He built a lot of the furniture we used at home, applying to the process the obsessive attention to detail that was his trademark in so many different ways. First he would design the piece in question, taking careful measurements of the available space and then producing accurate scale drawings, before planning the precise order in which each stage of the construction would be completed. He had briefly worked in a timber year during which time he developed a love of the feel of wood, and he always demonstrated a deep sympathy for the grain of a piece. Jim Pym showed no such empathy for the tools or the substance of his trade. The only occasional acknowledgement of the existence of wood was the occasional snarl of, “Oi! You! Careful what you’re doing. Don’t waste the bloody wood like that. It don’t grow on trees, yer know! Heh, heh, d’ya hear that, boy, I said it don’t grow on trees. I’m wasted on the likes of you. Wasted I tell yer. Wasted, like that bloody wood he’s shaving.”  

I think it would be true to say that Jim Pym lived in an entirely different world from that inhabited by most of his pupils (and, indeed, by most of his colleagues). I used to worry that in thinking this I was being rather snobbish, though, God knows, my own grounds for such a stance would be limited in the extreme. Now I just acknowledge that he was different. He was a loner, and he would have looked and felt out of place in any company. 

It would be fair to say that Woodwork was a subject that received only passing recognition at LGS. During our first three years at the school it was compulsory to study Woodwork, Metalwork and Art, but they were compressed into one double-period slot. The year group was split into three and would study each subject for one term in rotation. This means that I must have studied Art and Metalwork for three terms each, but I have absolutely no recollections of a single lesson from either, and only the haziest memories of the two Masters who taught them (Len Major and Ken Ward DSO respectively). 

However, I do retain pellucid memories of Jim Pym, not least because, contrary to every parental expectation of what LGS might have to offer, he was the first adult whom I ever heard using the “F” word. It was in the middle of the autumn term of my first year at the school, and I remember that the weather was appalling. We had already had a bit of a giggle earlier in the lesson because Jim Pym had staggered in rather late, muttering, “Rainin’ its bloody arse off out there” not quite under his breath. 

He had restored order to the class, basically by dint of repeatedly whacking a mallet on one of the benches, rather like a rabid auctioneer overworking his gavel, and was proceeding to instruct us, with surprising lucidity, on the proper formation of a dovetail joint. Suddenly, in the middle of his explanation the fire alarm went off with a deafening blast, before, just as unexpectedly, dying out again. Jim Pym raised his eyes to the ceiling, nodded slightly in disbelief, and uttered the three words that would forever seal him in our memories, “Cor! Blimey! Fuck!” Our delighted uproar was cut off by the resurgence of the alarm, and we all made our way out to the rear car park as directed by the dictates of the fire drill, where we waited for twenty minutes while it continued to rain its bloody arse off, but we couldn’t have been happier.  

Towards the end of my woodwork term in the second year Jim Pym made a further bid for glory, though not perhaps in a way that my current employers, the Department for Children Schools and Families might heartily endorse. One of my fellow pupils, by the name of Andrew Pinder, was an exceptionally intelligent boy, though the term dyspraxic might have been coined with him in mind. During the course of some sort of horseplay at the back of the room Andrew was hit on the head with a mallet   (All right, I concede that “horseplay” is perhaps too light a term). He greeted this assault with banshee-like shrieks which drew the attention even of Jim Pym. Jim rushed to the back of the room where Pinder lay contorted and rubbing his head, continuing his distressing shrieking noises. Jim Pym clearly had no idea as to how he ought to deal with this situation and decided to trust to instinct. Drawing out a hip flask he approached the boy, asking “D’ya want a peg of brandy, son?” and, when Pinder declined, continuing to rub his battered cranium, Jim Pym added, “Well I do, heh, heh, heh!” and swigged long and deep from the precious container.  

They don’t make teachers like that any more.

 


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