What do you do at a small residential centre where students spend at least 14 hours a day together, if they don’t like each other? Obviously it doesn’t have to be mordant xenophobia across the board, but even if one person “no like” another, it foments much and pervasive discomfiture: so much so that one of my students this week, cut his course short and went home. Now there’s loathing for you.
That je ne c’est quoi we call “chemistry” that happens occasionally and provokes blush-making silliness in supposedly grown people, must happen the other way and arouse such levels of antagonism as to incite almost uncontrollable physical violence. I know it has happened to me, certainly. I employed a builder once who radiated such an aura of patheticness, it was all I could do to stop myself from bludgeoning him repeatedly with a big, wet fish every time he came within my orbit. He also insisted infuriatingly on calling himself and his company a “one-man person” which just exacerbated the whole thing and turned me into a seething froth of splenetic rage every time he said it, which was often.
And so it was this week. There were three students left over from last week, so all equally confident concerning the affaires de la maison. They had ostensibly spent last weekend together trotting around wherever they trotted around, but by Sunday had irritated each to such a pitch of irascibility that they could barely be in the same room together. The two women, who are colleagues from the same company, had ganged up so successfully on the poor chap that their dominion by Sunday evening was unquestioned. I arrived on Sunday evening to do my usual affable “Hail fellow, well met” song and dance routine for the punters and stepped unwittingly into this mini stand-off. Being a fairly sensitive soul, I immediately clocked that some roiling disaffection had been occasioned and had drifted icily into every available space.
What does one do? I couldn’t very well put my hands on my hips and bark, “Okay, let’s have it. What happened here?” or settle myself down mumsily on the sofa, pat the seat next to me and get the girls and boys to make up and be friends. Luckily, these were the only people we “entertained” this week and frankly, I didn’t much give a tinker’s that they had fallen out. But one feels one ought to “do” something, even if just to make one’s own working conditions more pleasant (I had to eat breakfast every day with this lot who made Tostig and Harold look like best buddies). I didn’t have to for long, though. The chap left on Tuesday. I KNOW it is because the women fairly hounded him out, but I couldn’t ask him that directly. When I said, diplomatically, that it was a pity he had to leave before he had finished his course, he merely said his “circumstances had changed”. But I never saw such venom in anyone’s eyes as he stonily shook the ladies’ hands to say goodbye, or such a sense of buoyant victory in the two women as they sauntered back into the school, once he had left.