Last Wednesday, I began the story of the two most inept teachers it was ever my sorry misfortune to encounter, and I told you about Mme Davey. Today, we turn to her husband.
The Daveys always put me in mind of my favourite quote from Oscar Wilde: “How nice of them to marry one another and thereby make two people miserable instead of four”*
Unfortunately, they instead made a generation of schoolchildren unhappy. I first encountered Mr Davey as a science teacher and about the only thing I can remember from his lessons is that potassium burns in air. Everything else he taught us that year I have either forgotten or already knew.
He then, fortunately, vanished from my radar until sixth form, where he was inexplicably in charge of the General Studies programme. General Studies was a catch-all A level which everyone had to take. It was designed to test you across a range of subject areas, from politics to music to social issues to art, via science, maths and all points inbetween.
As person in charge of this, Mr Davey merely had to allocate us all to a subject each term and ensure that we hadn’t already studied it somewhere along the line. Which is why I ended up spending a term doing English literature when I already had an O level in it, at least one person a term found themselves allocated to a subject they were already taking for A level, and Dominic Holleran never got his name spelled correctly.
The thing about Mr Davey was that, despite being utterly incapable of doing anything useful whatsoever, he had no sense of humour at all. For my last term of General Studies classes I was allocated to him and his attempts to teach some form of science. This involved us writing him an essay which was something to do with sustainable development, or conservation, or some other concept that probably didn’t even have a name back then. Unusually, I tried to postpone this for as long as possible. There were two reasons for this. First of all, no-one else in the other five General Studies had tried to include a homework element to the course and I was damned if I was wasting time on it. And second, there was always a chance that he’d forget I hadn’t handed it in.
Unfortunately, the second part of the theory didn’t hold true. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone in the first part and so we fortunate dozen or so were dispatched to the library to write the essay in lesson time. Yes, that is right, he had such an inflated idea of his own importance that his punishment for not doing your homework was to avoid being stuck in a lesson with him!
Even then, I didn’t treat the essay terribly seriously. My solution to whatever problem it was was to bulldoze all of the zoos and replace them with condom factories. I actually didn’t think that this was such a daft idea. Zoos in those days were not so much places of conservation as concrete gulags for animals, and I hated them for it. At the same time, the AIDS ‘epidemic’ had just become a major issue and everyone was being exhorted to use a condom – even if, like me, their sex life didn’t really involve anyone else.
There was, therefore, a certain internal logic to what I had written. Unfortunately, Mr Davey – who, let us remember, had somehow managed to be dimmer than his wife – didn’t see it and complained to my form tutor, Mrs Wilkinson. Who spoke to me about it with an air of ‘I’ve got to do this, but I’m actually on your side’, thereby revealing just how much respect he had from his peers.
A couple of years later the Thatcher government, in a rare sensible move, introduced an assessment criteria for teachers. At which point the Daveys took early retirement. I wonder why…