Mrs Fallon was my first inspirational teacher. She was, as far as I could tell, completely nuts. She was my science teacher and she had bags of presence. She had, remember it was the nineties, a two foot beehive hairdo which was greying but was no less impressive. Her twin sons were the music producers behind the success of David Hasselhoff. In the small storeroom behind the science room she had a skeleton.
Usually you waited for the teacher in the classroom but not in the science lab. She was always in the same room, class after class. But she made us stand outside because she wanted to enjoy a cigar between classes. She would normally still be smoking it while we filed in. As the last child sat down she would flick it from the front of the class into the bin at the back. How high we were at the end of the class was a factor of how much paper and how many chemicals there were in the bin when the cigar arrived.
She used this flicking skill to great effect in classes. I anyone spoke out of turn she would throw the board duster at the back of the classroom. It caused an enormous noise. If you disobeyed her while she was writing at the board she would turn, let go of the piece of chalk and it would go whistling past your ear. It was so swift you never even had time to move out of the way. I remember a boy called David getting hit right on the top corner of his right ear. It was an exquisite punishment. It showed she was in charge and he was powerless to respond.
I was reminded of her at the weekend when I was out to dinner with some friends. One of them was talking about a friend of theirs who had transported a tarantula on a transatlantic flight in their beehive – something that Mrs Fallon could quite easily have done. She didn’t get caught despite her husband being caught wearing a reticulated python around his belly. The customs officials clearly thought, “what’s the likelihood that both of them are transporting dangerous animals?”. A real life snakes on a plane moment.
Mrs Fallon must be retired by now, a terrible shame. She was one of the first people to make me understand that being normal wasn’t the optimum. In fact most normal people envied those who could successfully go and do something else. Being unusual for those who do it keeps them sane. It’s not really a choice. You are already different. But sometimes you need somebody to show you that unusual is a genuine option. Mrs Fallon was certainly one of the people who showed me that.