The Closure of Jimmy McTavish: a silly story
An absent-minded history teacher nearing the end of his career in a boys-only secondary school is quite likely to become the target of practical jokery from some of his pupils, especially if his teaching style is not particularly inspirational. The best part of a really good practical joke is that – if managed properly and if the perpetrators maintain straight enough faces throughout – it can last for months. There is every chance that the victim will never notice that he has become the source of much after-class merriment.
Hence the experience of Mr Arthur Simpson, Senior History master at Newbold Grammar School. It began one morning when he spotted an empty desk as he was about to start teaching a fourth form class about the intricacies of the 1832 Reform Act.
“Who is missing from class today?” he asked.
The reply, coming from the boy sitting next to the empty desk, was not what anyone else was expecting.
“That would be McTavish, Sir”.
“Yes, Sir. Jimmy McTavish. He has an emergency dental appointment this morning.”
The other boys soon appreciated that this invention was much more fun than the truth, which was that Justin Reynolds was off sick, and so nobody was willing to contradict what ace class joker Simon Turner had said.
However, when class was over they gathered round Simon to ask him what he was playing at.
“We haven’t got anyone called Jimmy McTavish”, he was told.
“We have now”, he said.
And the next time Mr Simpson took Class 4B, the previously empty desk was occupied by Jimmy McTavish, a boy who looked remarkably like Simon, but sporting an unlikely crop of bright ginger hair. Simon’s place was taken by the returned Justin Reynolds, who had been briefed by Simon not to spoil the joke.
When Mr Simpson asked a question, up went Jimmy’s arm and the answer was given in what Simon imagined was an authentic Scottish accent.
As term advanced, other class members wanted to take their turn at being Jimmy McTavish, so the ginger wig was passed around the class and everyone took their turn at pretending to be Scottish.
It was soon realized that Mr Simpson would expect Jimmy McTavish to produce regular homework, so the class rallied round to take it in turns to cobble together a few pages with Jimmy’s name at the top and hand them in. They knew full well that Mr Simpson never actually read the essays that landed on his desk – he just looked at the first and last sentences and counted how many pages there were in-between. The Jimmy McTavish essays therefore consisted mainly of copies of earlier essays, often on completely different subjects, that started and ended well but were complete rubbish in the middle. It didn’t seem to matter – Jimmy had a very good term and got excellent grades.
However, the class eventually realized that trouble loomed in the shape of the end-of-term exam that was a feature of the routine at Newbold Grammar. There was no way that a class of 24 real boys could produce 25 exam scripts. They held an after-school class conference.
“Jimmy’s got to go”, said Simon. “I think we need to kill him”.
Justin was shocked to the core. “You can’t do that”, he said.
“Because that would be murder. You can go to prison for life for committing murder!”
“It wouldn’t be murder”, said Simon.
“I think you’re forgetting something”, said Simon.
“That Jimmy Tavish doesn’t actually exist.”
“Oh yes”, said Justin, “You’re right. It’s just that Jimmy has been so real all term, sitting there with that ginger wig and answering all the history questions. I’m going to miss him.”
“Which is why”, said Simon, “we need a suitably memorable way for him to depart from our class, not to mention this world.”
And so it was. When – on the last day before the history exam was to take place – there was once more an empty desk in the classroom, Simon Turner stood up to give Mr Simpson the sad news that Jimmy McTavish had departed this life, having fallen from a great height while attempting to climb Ben Nevis.
“That is very sad news”, said Mr Simpson.
“Indeed so”, said Simon. “We’re all distraught. Jimmy was very special to all of us.”
“Let me tell you something”, said Mr Simpson. “That’s not the only sad news I’ve had today. It would appear that one member of every class I’ve taken this term has come to a terrible end in the past few days.
“Let me see – there was Dai Evans-Rees, who had a truly awful Welsh accent in class 5C. He was blown up while trying to defuse a bomb. Heinrich Goebbels-Himmler, in 4A, was eaten by a great white shark, and Akio Okami, who sounded half the time as though he came from Karachi rather than Kyoto, apparently went one round too many with the all-Japan Sumo wrestling champion.
“Maybe – just maybe – I’m not quite as dippy as you all seem to take me for. To be honest, I saw through your ploy very early on and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing how far you – and all the other classes who got wind of your clever idea – would take it.
“I can take a joke just as well as the next man. But next term – try a bit harder, perhaps?”