The Never-ending Tide of Relief: unrealities in school life

"You should have gone earlier. And being 41 is no excuse."
“You should have gone earlier. And being 41 is no excuse.”

“Can I go to the toilet?”

What a peculiar question?! Context, precedent, power: all rolled up into a six-word question ending in ‘toilet’.

“Why do you ask?” I say.

It’s not as if I need to ask Mrs Whatonomy for permission to go to the toilet, is it? Well, at least not since The Incident.

“Well, sir. Because I’m bursting for the toilet.”

I’ve never put my hand up in a meeting and asked the Chairman if I can duck out for a pee. Generally, I don’t remember negotiating with a client on the basis of product quality or price, before sealing the deal by putting my hand up and asking to go to the toilet.

I’m not a child any more (in body at least) and have many ingenious ways of distracting my mind from matters of the bladder (not quite in Walt Disney’s league, mind). But still, I don’t need to ask. If I want to, I can just go. (Not in my pants, obviously. That remains a no-no.)

“Is it an underpants explosion emergency?” I ask.

I don’t really need to ask for permission to go to the toilet anywhere in my adult life. So why do school kids have to?

I’m not stupid. I know why they have to. If they didn’t have to ask – if they could just tootle off to the bog – well, much of our lessons would be conducted amidst a kind of revolving door of to-ing and fro-ing, with students wiping the still-drying hand-wash on their grey trousers as they retake their seats: “Right, where were we, sir?”

There would be a one-in, one-out line of aching anticipation coupled with blissful relief; a sea of changing faces – anguished one moment, peaceful the next. Serene even.

The student shakes his legs, does a little running-on-the-spot manoeuvre: “Yeah, it’s an emergency, sir.”

It actually sounds brilliant. Would probably lift my lessons no end: the never-ending tide of relief.

“Off you go then. But hurry back.”


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