Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dave McGeever - A retrospective

Finding myself (at least until the end of March) in a fusty, dour high school setting with for the most part equally fusty and dour teachers, I often cast my mind back to my own high school days and think about some of the true characters that were there. There was the crazy geography teacher that really was a few sandwiches short of a picnic (famous moment: jumping off a table and cracking her head on a giant overhead globe), there was the batty CDT teacher that left at the end of my first year (famous moment: cracking a Hitler joke in his final assembly that horrified and delighted in equal measure), there was the games mistress that was incapable of looking at you, speaking without shouting and keeping her saliva to herself (famous moment: when she appeared to give the chair next to me and chum Helm a dressing down after we pinned the classroom clock to the ceiling above the teacher's desk) and the art teacher that only wore shades of brown, grey and green and had the bushiest beard you have ever seen (famous moment: when a girl was caught talking and made to stand up when he was giving an assembly on Surrealism, and it was suggested that he could give her a book on Dali to read as way of penitence, he leaned over and very smugly announced that he had "many, many volumes" on Salvador Dali).

Interesting as these teachers were, though, none were quite a patch on Dave McGeever. He was a shade over six feet but his curly black mane and beard made him seem even taller. He was a maths teacher, but his real position at the school was the head of lower school - that is, he would sort out all the little shits aged 14 and under when they stepped out of line.

The big guy in action was something to see, and it was common to hear kids being pushed against lockers as you sat through morning French. Bear in mind that this was in the early to mid 90s, when schools were starting to crack down hard on teachers being physical or overly zealous with students. Kids at our school knew that if you messed around, "Geever" would be after you, and if you were a repeat offender you'd get the locker.

Having spoken to a few high school teachers in recent years, I've found out that most believe that it's important to assert your authority early to keep things in line. McGeever did this in spades during my first week at the school. On the playground, one of the more mischievous kids in my class picked on another guy, and knocked him to the ground, his loose change spillilng everywhere. Unbeknownst to everyone, McGeever had seen it all, and with a roar of "DEAN!!" he charged forward and grabbed the startled first year by the ear. Still holding the ear, he uttered the unforgettable words "YOU HEARD OF DISS HIGH SCHOOL? WELL, YOU'RE GOING THERE!" and fast-marched him to the headmaster (Diss high school was the other high school in the area).

After that, the standard was set. You mess around, you get hassle from a giant (at least then) with red boots and a beard. Kids may have pushed the envelope occasionally but it was his envelope and no one elses.

But anyway, I digress... the real reason I brought up the subject of the big guy was that I was browsing the internet and came upon my highschool. Lo and behold they have past group photos, and a quick glance through was enough to spur me into action, and examine the changing face (and clothes) of Dave McGeever. For aside from his disciplinary tendancies, he was equally revered for his (often questionable) sense of fashion, so below is a composite of the various photos that he was in, and some comments about each... ahh the memories...

1983 - This was well before my time at the school, and this seems to be well before Dave asserted his authority on things. In this photo he is stood at the back to the right, is wearing a fairly sedate tan suit and isn't looking at the camera. It looks like he has a horrendous mullet, but it's actually the shadow from the light.

1987 - A bit more confidence now, as the jacket has gone and he's found the camera lens. The thin tie is the first showing of his sense of contempory fashion, and his slightly downwards stance suggests discipline.

1988 - This is a treat. Big hair, huge beard, a pirate's grin and the biggest red shoes in the world. One of the Three Faces of Geever, this makes me think of him chatting away in maths, feet on the table, coffee in hand, knowing that his reputation as a hard man permits a bit of flamboyant fashion.

1989 - Essentially the same as the previous year but with a few important differences. The hair is shorter, the beard trimmed, the more scholarly stance and restrained grain all suggest another side to the big man, one not of exhuberance and kook but authority and hierarchy.

1990 - The second of the Three Faces of Geever, the swagger of 1988 is back but this time with more bite. The shirt and tie have been replaced by a greenpeace sweatshirt and the business trousers by skin tight white leggings. The previous badger stripe in the hair has gone, and this is Dave at his most unconformist. When I started high school, he would often flit between this, 1988-style and the upcoming third of the Three Faces of Geever, with frequent contemporary items like Global Hypercolor tshirts thrown in.

1991 - The third of the Three Faces of Geever. Dead centre at the chief position at the back of the group, Dave can afford to lean back and cast his shadow. Having already displayed a variety of alternative looks, he's safe in the knowledge that he can go back to his business suit and let his ties work their psychedelic magic.

1992 - As well as being a maths teacher and scourge of the ill-behaved, the big man's other responsibility was taking the occasional games lesson. Rather sedate when compared to other years, but there you go.

1993 - Memory seems to serve that Geever went through a crazy shirt period in 1993, when the most incredible and unlikely shirt and tie combinations combined in a daily bounty of indulgence. In the same year he led myself and a host others on a school trip to Germany, wearing painfully bright t-shirts and a pair of zebra striped skin-tight shell suit trousers. Unfortunately though, this proved to be the last hurrah for the big man, as in subsequent years the hair got shorter, the smile smaller and the shirts more sedate.

1995 - No photo for the previous year, so the nosedive to 1995 seems ever steeper. The big guy seems much thinner, has lost his penchant for hair dye and seems a bit distant somehow. The slightly blase stance suggests a revival of zing could be coming, but unfortunately it's a false dawn.

1996 to 2003 - I left highschool in 96, and though the big guy was still a presence he wasn't anywhere near he was at the start of the decade. These 4 photos all show a depressingly conformist side to Dave - he wore a suit before but there was always a kicker - red boots, crazy tie, wild hair, etc. A yellow shirt in 2003 would have been a bit quirky back in the day, but nowadays the Science teachers wear them.

I'm not sure whether he's still at the school, but if he is I have a suspicion that he may be a member of the establishment and lacking all the things that made him the most memorable teacher of my schooldays. As I look around me at the teachers here in Japan, I see uniform jackets and ties, boring hair and sandals. Oh for the big man and his red boots, feet on the desk, the nicknames he gave students and the unpredictable fashion...


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