Let's be a rebel digit in profit and loss account


LOCKERROOM:One great teacher is worth more than a boardroom of oleaginous fat cats, writes TOM HUMHRIES

I SPENT a good chunk of Christmas with my cosmetically-adjusted nose buried in Maurice McMahon’s affectionate account of his life in teaching, Mr Mac, A Blackboard Memoir. Being a MacMahon of Listowel, Maurice has writing (and teaching) in his blood but, being a pure labour of love, Mr Mac won’t be a bestseller (in fact to get your hands on it you have to beseech Maurice for a copy of it through mrmacbenildus@gmail.com).

Maurice tends to the press box in Croke Park on summer Sundays and one of the many pleasures of the championship season is being slipped a programme and a few conspiratorial words from Maurice on arriving into the great blue-ceilinged cathedral. You are just in and taking a fresh survey of the beloved place when the slender programme is slipped into your hands and an inquiry as your well-being is made. It makes a home of such a huge place.

I have often wondered how a man of such easy erudition and generous gifts as Maurice possesses could stand and watch us laptop jockeys blithely tap out our latest collection of cliches on Sunday after Sunday, shameless gasbags the lot of us turning the balletic elegance of, say, a great hurling game into 600 words of prosody without a second’s remorse! Mr Mac explained it all to me without really even mentioning it.

The book is shot through with that strange mix of humility and ego which great teachers have, that knowledge that every day in front of the blackboard is a performance but it is a performance delivered in the service of others. The best of a great teacher gets channelled into even the worst of his pupils. Those performances are a private communion between the spirit of a teacher and the possibilities of even a slightly curious mind.

Maurice spent 40 years, as he says himself, retailing a limited stock. He coached football and he taught one subject: “Just History in all its shades and forms which I twisted and turned, coloured and packaged, like candy rock until it became more appealing to the palate.” A lifetime in teaching is an act of service which we can scarcely understand as we stand amidst the debris of the post-Tiger years, still half-enthral to the beemer bandits who made rubes of us all. Were they smarter than us? We thought so through the glory, glory years as the marginal gains in our personal circumstances were made seem like alms bestowed on us by a generation of savvy movers and shakers whose every gyration was deemed worthy of awed coverage in the Sunday newspapers.

They were shaking us down, playing the long con on us all and now we stand up to our necks in it, drowning in an economy that resembles New Orleans after the hurricane. We have nothing but our confusion and our bitternesses and these flimsy rafts to cling to. How did it happen and why will nobody be punished?

Mr Macmade me think we’d best not look back in anger but should shuffle on and get old perspectives back. Every Government minister should read Mr Macbecause in a world where education, health and sport are being pillaged to pay for the sins of dopes whose suits were sharper than themselves we need a reminder that doing things for the sheer love of doing them, for the intrinsic value and fulfilment that they offer, might be a way forward.

One great teacher is worth more than a boardroom of oleaginous fat cats.

New Year’s Day is knocking on the door with its sackful of promises and its youthful demand that we make next year better than last. For some of us that won’t be hard but the seam that offers the greatest reward might be somewhat easier to access than we ever imagined.

We have been busy counting the cost of what has been taken away from us this past year or so. Maybe we can confound the gods and the pinstripes by stepping up what we give back. We are lucky that the size and location of this country offers a very limited stage for the existence of professional sports. Fine and dandy as a pro sport is, the nature of the beast demands a separation from community and congregation. The Premier League and the NFL and the NBA exist as entertainments in the form of sport.

What we have and what we can salvage is the sense of community we have through the medium of sport. Be it hurling, football, rugby, soccer, lepping and jumping, whatever sport in Ireland exists on the level that Tip O’Neill pretended politics existed on. All sport here is local.

So the World Cup, the Ryder Cup, whatever, will unfold as grand entertainments as usual in 2010 but the joy for us might be in discovering there is more satisfaction in flagging a pitch or coaching a mini-leaguer than there is in being seen rubbing shoulders with the five-star generalissimos of the prawn sandwich brigade.

As an Bord Snip and the glass-eyed men with calculators cut away at the softest targets there is a way to replenish and renew ourselves and make ourselves immune. Put in more than we take out. Defy the ruling philosophy of the noughties which strip-mined the entire community.

The business class steps forward into 2010 like Agag who, having escaped the sword of the war-like Saul, mumbled complacently that surely the “bitterness of death is past”. Agag then got “hewn to pieces” by the hitherto peaceable Samuel.

We won’t get to hew anybody to pieces so the best revenge and the best hope of survival is to find a vein of fulfilment and to be nourished by it. A New Year on the doorstep and it’s nil-all everywhere. Get out and coach, teach, nurse, sing, create. Be a rebel digit in the profit and loss account.

Maurice MacMahon says at the end of a career of gentle service that he had always thought there were more songs in him than would be sung. That benign optimism gets eroded in most of us by time and bitterness and loss but now is the time for clearing the throat.