Our regular physics master was recovering from surgery. An elderly, frail, stooping teacher wearing a worn black suit had been brought out of retirement to replace him.
The class hushed and stood as he entered the room and in a quavering voice our temporary teacher announced: “My name’s Smethers, rhymes with leathers.
Leather’s tough and so am I.”
A few quiet titters and smirks rang out between the usual class ringleaders of disorder.
The physics lesson began with Ebenezer, as we soon nicknamed him, asking something we had been taught in primary school.
“Does anyone know why the handle of a silver teaspoon gets hot when stirring a cup of tea?”
“Is it because of the hot water, Sir?” Replied a potential ringleader, causing suppressed giggles.
“Is it because you’re holding it, Sir?” Suggested another challenger.
“Is it to do with convection, Sir?”
Although not the answer he wanted, this resulted in Ebenezer trying to give a smile of approval. It was an opportunity to talk about conduction and convection. The silver teaspoon physics were extended into a long saga as if he were talking to seven year olds.
A stink bomb was crushed, causing those within the area to complain: “Someone’s farted!”
Soon there was a chorus of: “Wasn’t me, Sir.”
In a desperate attempt to regain authority, Ebenezer moved, as fast as he was able, to the area involved and commanded: “Silence, or a class detention.”
A short stunned silence followed as Ebenezer identified the distinct smell of hydrogen sulphide.
Uproar followed Ebenezer’s question: “Who’s polluted the atmosphere?”
This question in future became something like a school motto and would be used whenever a pupil farted in class.
Suddenly there was the noise of seats being moved, and then the silence of boys standing in the presence of the Headmaster who had been informed about the noise from the class. Ebenezer explained that someone had let off a stink bomb.
“Form 1M, I am ashamed of you. You are letting me and the school down in front of this visiting master.”
The class knew this could lead to a long detention for all involved.
“I expect the person who let off the stink bomb to stand up immediately to avoid me needing to punish those who were not so disrespectful of Mr Smethers.”
The authority of the Headmaster prevailed and the perpetrator stood up.
“Thank you Smith with two Fs.”
There were two boys named Smith in the class, and the Head was just demonstrating he knew the names of us all. Smith with one F had not been involved with the horseplay.
The Headmaster continued. “Smith, you will leave this class now and wait outside my office for the severe punishment you deserve for this disgraceful behaviour.”
Turning to the class teacher, the Head added: “Mr Smethers, I would appreciate you coming with me as witness to this boy receiving six of the best. Will the blackboard monitor please clean the board?”
After the board had been cleaned, the head picked up some chalk and turned his back on a deadly quiet class. The Head wrote in his usual clear handwriting: ‘Today my class have let the school down by bad behaviour.’
Then he said to us: “Until Mr Smethers returns with Smith with a sore bottom, I expect you to take out your notebooks, write out neatly and without spelling mistakes as many times as you can the words on the blackboard. Mr Smethers, on his return, will check if you have written enough accurate and tidy lines. I want you to think quietly about the consequences to you if no one had admitted letting of the stink bomb.”
It seemed ages before Mr Smethers returned with a red faced and tearful Smith, who was told to return to his desk. The hushed class could hear a suppressed whimper and intake of breath as Smith slowly and carefully lowered himself onto his seat.