Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – The Wide Mouthed Frog by Ken Dunn

I spotted her before she saw me and I couldn’t get away fast enough. She was sitting at one of the cafés at the top of the high Street in Girne, blowing her nose loudly, legs apart and showing all. Not a pretty sight. It was Hilda, not her real name, known as ‘The Wide Mouthed Frog’, this will be explained soon, and was a ghost from the past I’d rather not have seen. I was on my way down to the electricity board but instead of walking straight down I quickly detoured to the right, scuttling off down the side street next to the Turkish Bank, hoping she hadn’t seen me.

Why was I behaving like this? Well, a number of years ago I had the ‘joy’ of teaching in a co-educational independent boarding school in the South West of the UK and ‘she’ was a member of staff there. Short, overweight and could be taken as Les Dawson in drag, she taught English, History and P.S.E or ‘Personal Social Education’. More cheerily known to the rest of us as, ‘Pretty Stupid Education.’ She was also a ‘House Mistress’ in one of the boarding houses of the school and had managed to con the Headmaster into being appointed as second deputy. Her suggestion for this was based on the need of her ‘gells’ to have a more substantial role model on the management team.

The reason she was nick-named the ‘Wide Mouthed Frog’ was due to the spectacular width of her mouth and the way her tongue flashed out and in, in and out, between the twisted ‘advisory’ sentences she insisted on delivering to all.

As a result of all of this she had a disastrous effect on the morale of the school although the management, surprise, surprise, were completely unaware of that. The kids had long before ‘sussed her out’, as kids can do, and to them she was quite clearly two faced, vindictive, ‘economic’ with the truth and sex mad, although she didn’t know what to do about that last condition – except refer to it in a kind of ‘sideways’ fashion. Most of the staff were well aware of her ‘short (fat) comings’ and made a point of staying well away from anything she was involved with.

So, you can see why I had launched myself to the nearest escape route. For the next few days I lived in dread of bumping into her but, thankfully, that didn’t happen. The only thought which haunted me then was ‘I really must be careful who I talk to about coming to the TRNC!’ My memories of her in the school are still strong and the first encounter with her occurred in the staff room during a morning break.

As I walked in, and before I saw her, I heard her. She had the most irritating habit of blowing her nose extremely loudly, a rasping trumpeting which she usually performed during morning meetings while a staff member would be informing us of some inconsequential detail for the day ahead. With a cup of coffee in hand I sat on the opposite side of the room but couldn’t help overhearing a conversation she was having with some poor soul who had made the great mistake of sitting next to her.

‘Eehh, jj’know,’ she was saying, ‘My hubby had a portrait of me painted by a friend of his who’s also a sculptor! And for my birthday he commissioned a head and shoulders of me! I was sohh thrilled! So, you must come up and see my bust!’

The expression on the face of her trapped audience of one was a sight to see!

Her verbal  ‘performances’ were many but I’ll contain myself to the most outrageous. She had a near fetish for trying to find girl smokers in the evening and would regularly beat through the bushes, torch in hand, at the back of her boarding house, usually with a sychophantic male colleague who was misguided enough to believe she was a wonderful example to us all. Many of the rest of us did wonder why they disappeared into the bushes so often!

Her standard opening line to anyone was, ‘Eehh, jjknow, I’ve been sohh busy!’ When that was heard everyone knew she’d been terrorising her charges with another lecture on how to behave, respect other staff or the general public if they wandered into town after the school day or how to dress ‘properly’. The latter was one of her favourites.

‘Eehh, jjknow, I’ve had to tell my ‘gells’ again about their blouses. One button undone is acceptable, two is messy but THREE undone, well that’s just asking for it!’

She wasn’t warning them about the reaction to cleavage from the boys in the school. No. It was the reaction from male staff! Her comments in the staff room were no better. During one lunch break I was up there and in she sailed, plonking herself down far too close to me.

I hid behind a handy newspaper as ‘protection’ and heard another female member of staff muttering something about a message on the notice board. ‘Problem?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I just can’t read this. The handwriting isn’t too clear.’

The author of the note happened to be in the staff room at the time, came over and apologised. ‘Sorry about that,’ she said. ‘One of the girls in the sixth form isn’t feeling too well. That scribble should read “exhausted”. I never can spell that word!’

Hilda, the Wide Mouthed Frog, immediately offered, ‘Eehh, jj’know, I have the same problem with “diarrhoea!”’

‘Do you?’ I asked, but I think she missed the sideways nature of my point.

Her effect on the kids, especially the younger ones, reached almost criminal levels through her delivery of ‘Personal Social Education’. A colleague witnessed this one morning. She was attempting to explain how the human reproductive system worked but her approach and ‘props’ to do this were bizarre to say the least. Large, graphic posters of male and female ‘bits’ were plastered over the wall behind her and she was in full flow, a thick book in front of her as she developed her theme. Then with a florish she said, opening the book at the same time, ‘And this is what it looks like!’ As the book opened a huge, pink, carboard penis ‘popped up’ and two of the kids fainted!

How she got away with that I’ll never know but there was one other ‘event’ in which she surpassed herself. That was the end of year Christmas show which some of the more misguided of the staff insisted on organising and performing for the kids. These events were always highly embarrassing to watch, or rather endure, as teachers who should know have known better revelled in making absolute prats of themselves. This was a production of Cinderella with Wide Mouth in the role of the Fairy God Mother!

As she thumped onto the stage uttering, ‘Oh, Cinders, you SHALL go to the ball!’, the kids, and many of the staff watching this awful event, simply erupted with laughter. With a huge fur coat on, floppy paper wings stuck on her back, a long wand with a glittery star on the end, a stuffed cat under her arm (?) and a large furry muff covering her other hand it was a nightmarish vision. She struggled with the next few lines of her speech but the uproar from the audience drowned her out completely.

Clearly rather ‘miffed’ by this she stopped, turned to the audience, stomped to the front of the stage and shouted, ‘Eehh, look here you lot! You’d better watch it! I’ve got a lot of spells up me muff!!’

Well, hysterical chaos overcame everyone! The following day I couldn’t help saying to her, ‘That was a cracker of a ‘muff’ line last night!’ Her reply was even better than the night before.

‘Eehh, jj’know, I don’t know what they were all laughing at. It’s not as if I’d said, “Up me pussy!”

But then she found herself at the sharp end of two events which she was totally unprepared for. A few of us were fed up with her interfering with anything she thought needed change, but didn’t, so we took advantage of ‘extracting the liquid’ in a very simple way.

Invigilation is a chore which all staff have to cope with during the examination period. It’s a mindless thirty or forty minutes of slowly and quietly patrolling the ranks of candidates while they work their way through the questions papers for all subjects. The examinations always took place in the school sports hall. Silence is paramount but when Wide Mouth turned up that always changed. Her nose blowing routine would completely distract the kids who were trying their best to concentrate. A few of us decided to something about that.

We managed to con the management to re-order the staff rota for invigilation when she was due to appear and three of us took up position a few yards apart at the opposite end of the hall from where she was sitting. She never patrolled around but just sat there, pudding-like, reading or marking, rarely looking up, completely against the whole idea of making sure no chicanery was going on. She was facing the kids. We were behind them. We waited patiently until she looked up and then, with jackets unbuttoned, opened and closed them slowly, a classic ‘flasher’ routine par excellence!

Her reaction was explosive, eyes bulging, a loud gurgling noise breaking the silence, then she was off like a shambling haystack, desperate to escape the sexual lunatics at the other end of the hall! The kids were nonplussed but then silence fell again as they resumed their private ordeals. She didn’t invigilate for years after that!

My final reference to her, and a ‘conversational encounter’ she couldn’t cope with, happened in the latter part of a summer term. The school had been running an exchange of staff with other countries for years. This was, usually, a small breath of fresh air for the school which had been founded in the twelfth century. Young blood from younger schools as it were. Two members of the Science department had exchanged with two Korean teachers and that brought a few problems, primarily of the language variety.

These two, male, teachers were anxious to improve their command of English and would often talk to anyone on the staff to help them understand the vagaries of the language. One of these sessions, one lunchtime, saw the Koreans talking to Wide Mouth and her sycophantic colleague. Another set of questions were being asked in their quest to come to terms with our language. The emphasis this time was their desire to be polite and to say the right things at the right time.

Wide Mouth was in her element, helping these ‘foreigners’ to communicate correctly. After all, she did teach English. ‘Iss velly difcult some time to be collect!’ one was saying. They were both very keen to be ‘collect.’

‘How tlue!’ the other said. ‘Fo inst, when should say “Goo bawning,” mmm?’

‘Ah, no, no,’ Wide Mouth replied, smarmily, that would be “good morning”, when you meet people at the beginning of the day’.

‘Ah, so. I see. Good. Good. Watt bout, “Hell how yoo.” That tlicky one.’

Wide Mouth took that and explained to them.

‘The ‘correct’ greeting’, she said, leaning forward, ‘is, “Hello, how are you?” That should give you a better reaction.’

‘Ahh, so. Good, good,’ came the reply. Then, both the Koreans chattered away to each other before another question popped out. This one, I’m quite sure, was gleaned from something the kids had given them as a particularly important means of ‘normal’ communication.

‘This vely impolt,’ one said, leaning forward. She sat back casually, waiting to deliver her wisdom.

The Korean’s forehead puckered, his lips moving slightly to make sure that his pronunciation would be as ‘collect’ as possible. Then he nodded to himself and came straight out with, ‘When should say, “Fuck Off!?”, mmm?’

My abiding memory of her, before I saw her again in Girne, was at the end of year sports day and here we come full circle. She was sitting on a deck chair, blowing her capacious nose, as usual, and legs wide apart. The sight couldn’t be missed by anyone foolish enough or unfortunate enough to look in her direction. A few more kids fainted that day and it wasn’t from too much sun!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.