Long, long ago when I was at boarding school, we had a chemistry teacher who had been a major during WW2 and been decorated with the Military Cross for his bravery.  Apart from his moustache, he seemed an unlikely hero.  He was unusually short in statue and totally unassuming.  A confirmed bachelor, he was a keen gardener and grew sweet peas on trellises, using a step ladder to reach the top blooms.  A black Rover saloon was his pride and joy with a pile of cushions on the driving seat so that he could see over the bonnet.

In chemistry lessons he’d often carry out a demonstration, using Bunsen Burners, test tubes and other paraphernalia, before allowing us to replicate the experiment.  At the end of each demonstration he’d solemnly announce by how many years conducting it had shortened his life.  These predictions were alarmingly precise; 37.5 days – not something vague like ‘a month or two’.

He didn’t so much walk as waddle and rumour had it that he’d been wounded in the war, had his buttocks shot off and wore an artificial bum made of cork.  As you can imagine, this was highly intriguing to a population of teenage boys, some of whom would go to great lengths to check the truth of the rumour.  This included climbing a drain pipe and peering into the chemistry teacher’s bathroom.  The theory was that he’d have to remove his cork bum when bathing otherwise he’d surely capsize.  However, disappointingly, and despite gallant attempts, no one ever managed to catch sight of him having a bath.

This was a shame because his bum always passed the most obvious test; a drawing pin left on the chair in his classroom.  When he sat there was no sign of discomfort and when he rose, there was the pin firmly embedded in the seat of his trousers as if it was a notice board.  We took this as Irrefutable evidence that his bum was indeed artificial and, in all probability, made of cork.

The chemistry teacher retired when I was in the sixth form and we never knew the truth.


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