Friday, 13 June 2014

Procrastination? You'll go blind!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles –
As I move through middle age, I reminisce more and more about my schooldays. One salient memory involves a terrifying science teacher and a gaggle of semi-illiterate chemistry students

It was spring 1972, and examinations were looming; important ones that could determine our academic futures. Sitting in the chemistry laboratory along with my 14-year-old school mates – almost all boys (it was an age when girls rarely studied science subjects) – I awaited the arrival of Mr Webster, the head of the science department.

Mr Webster terrified any pupil who ventured within 50 yards of him. He didn’t need to shout; one look sufficed to instil bowel-blasting dread in even the bravest of teenage students. So when he entered the classroom at 9.00 am sharp on that sunny April morning, the chatter amongst us instantly ceased. He strode to his desk, turned to face us, and his laser-gaze scanned the arc of potential victims who were all head bowed, avoiding his stare. Suffocating silence lay over the room like a huge polythene blanket. It must have been 30 seconds before Mr Webster spoke; it felt much longer.


Nobody responded. All one could hear was the faint whistling of Bunsen burners from the adjacent laboratory

Mr Webster grimaced, grabbed his white chalk, turned to the blackboard and wrote:


He turned to face his perplexed class, pointed at the board and asked, “Anyone care to comment?”

I later realized that the point he was trying to make related to our lack of revision for the imminent examinations, and how we were all putting off until tomorrow the work we should have been doing today. But, at the time, none of us understood what the word meant; we were all 14-year-old scientists, not English scholars! I sneaked a peep inside my chemistry textbook to see if the definition of procrastination lay in the same chapter as the one describing distillation, evaporation and condensation, but to no avail. For one terrible moment I wondered whether he was privy to our solitary night time practices, and had concluded that our daily “cranking the shank” was impairing eye-sight to an extent that interfered with our ability to name the elements in the periodic table.

Frustrated by our lack of comprehension, Mr Webster threw the chalk onto the table, commanded us to "look the word up in a dictionary," and walked out of the classroom, leaving us  teacher-less for the remainder of the session. He was a strange, strange man.

Ah, happy days!