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The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]



Hate, said Charles, can be one of the most debilitating experiences in the universe. I used to think that emotional immaturity could be overcome by a tremendous upsurge of feeling, whether it was motivated by love or hate or fear or anything else. But hate doesn't assist maturity. It can't help a personality to develop, but only to deteriorate.

I'm thinking, of course, of Elsie. Elsie was the female gorgon they sent to replace Bryant in the second term. Elsie! Judas priest, she had a soul to match her name. It's a horrible name. It's always conjured up a vision to me of spurious gentility—the English housemaid who's too refined for anything on her afternoons off, a weak-tea-and-toast creature dressed in the wrong pastel shades, with a disapproving sniff. And Elsie's soul had affinities to match the overtones of her name.

Mind you, I don't want you to think I'm prejudiced against Elsie. But my dear fellow, you've simply no idea of what it can mean to any reasonably sensitive man to be delivered into the hands of a creature with a soul like a dried-up pea.

And when I say delivered, I mean it almost literally. At these places which rate just the one assistant you're pretty well dependent for any intellectual stimulus on the type they happen to send; and if the assistant isn't capable of providing it—well my dear fellow, one is forced to reconcile oneself to a mental desert.

I wish you could see the creature. She's the essence of the commonplace. Her hair is mousy, her eyes are the same shade of indiscriminate brown, and she has no more clothes sense than Timmy Fellows, who had the lowest I.Q. in primer two.

She has no opinions. She's too busy to keep up with the international situation, she doesn't greatly care for chamber music, and says so, and she regards the Literary Supplement of the Times as highbrow—her own horrible term. page 60 She knits, she likes Gilbert and Sullivan and Strauss waltzes, and she thought the Saturday hops of the local Young Farmers' Club rather fun—her own term again.

And to cap it all she has no more idea of teaching than you have of ice hockey, my dear fellow. She has no philosophy of education beyond that refuge of weak minds, trying to get the best out of the individual, and absolutely no idea of psychology. She'd taken it for her degree, too, which really is a proof that her philistinism was cultivated.

It was directed partly, I'm convinced, against myself. I'm the mildest of creatures, and as you know I abhor anything which sounds like an aspersion, so I really hate saying that her dislike of me reached such proportions it grew practically into a campaign.

Of course, she was smart—sly would be a better word—and for a long time she didn't attempt anything blatant enough to be turned against herself. She merely tried to undermine all my work at Grey's Bush in a subtle and entirely feminine way. I tried to get an Early Music group going, but she thought no, a school band would be the thing, and she insisted on trying both—and Judas priest is there any farm kid who'd recognise the delicacy of the harpsicord when he could be banging away at something brassy? Practically every kid in the school joined the band, and the noise could be heard at Riverton; but when my landlady complained about the din the local cop came along and merely ended up by getting them to play at some ghastly bazaar or other.

That was typical of her underhand depression of my attempt at Enlightenment with a View to Culture. I won't bore you by quoting other examples, but there were plenty, like the time she said the mothers were right in objecting to the free-expression art because the kids ended up so dirty. And she was just mentally incapable of understanding that a little intellectual stimulus might, possibly, be more valuable than some temporary grubbiness. Anyway, the kids never looked really clean.

I used to ponder on the question, because it worried me considerably. After all, as her immediate superior, I was responsible for the creature; and it's a terrible thing to see a human being deteriorate before one's very eyes. Even physically she was going to the pack—she was putting on weight, and her face was getting round and red just like a mediaeval milkmaid, while mentally, of course, she was growing more inadequate than ever. There were one or two unpleasant little scenes when. I tried to intimate gently that she wanted to watch herself, that she and I had tremendous responsibilities in a community where we personified whatever intellectual life there was going to be, and that unless we were prepared to shoulder our burdens any attempt to raise the cultural level was absolutely doomed.

But it was only too obvious that her hatred of me and the type of pedagogic responsibility I represent was stronger than any sound instinct she may have had; and her only response was a more blatant flaunting of reaction against my work. She was as completely and utterly conventional and retrograde to the end, but it was now a bucolic rather than a suburban conventionality.

It reached such proportions that, to use a rounded Biblical phrase, the wretched girl wrought her own destruction, and I was left with no alternative than to point out her inadequacy in the end-of-term report.

The whole incident, as you can imagine, was extremely painful to me. It's not very often that one can watch the damage caused by the corrosion of hate, especially on an immature personality. I can only hope that I'll never have to suffer that horror again.

Pat Burns