The second week of September commenced with a profound shift in the weather, at least in the central belt of Scotland. Whilst Sunday and Monday had been fine, hot even, with clear skies and a lazy sun hanging overhead with no interest in moving on to his legendary home beneath the horizon at night, Tuesday came as a bolt from the blue, as it were, with those sunny days and warmer evenings abruptly consigned to memory as temperatures dropped by several degrees Celsius. The famed and infamous Scottish winter was threatening to be a nasty one, and sending out harbingers to terrify the inhabitants, sending them into a flurry of tedious overhead gossip about how bad each and every one of them worried the coming true winter would be.
For my own part, as I waited on an overcast Tuesday afternoon for the arrival of Jemma for her second lesson, I found there to be merit in my retrieving from storage, or as I also knew it, the back of my second best wardrobe, one of my light cardigans, in this particular case one of charcoal grey and not at all tarred by the brush of ghastly golfing styling. It was, rather, a sober affair, well suited a retired gentleman of late middle age, and as such I found there to be a modicum of bolstering to my professional ego as I donned it over my almost ubiquitous white shirt and tie.
As I sat in my living room, drinking Earl Grey tea served with sacrilegious milk and sugar, and accompanied by a small side plate of custard cream biscuits, my mind, again, fell back upon my conversation with and revelations obtained via the agency of Vernon. I still had a not inconsiderable difficulty in assimilating what he had told me of his seemingly career-long dalliances with students who combined desperation, discretion, and desirability into a sufficiently enticing package as to encourage him into providing the kind of personal tuition that, had it ever been known of by those in positions of bureaucratic power and authority, would have earned him an instant dismissal if not, were the head of the school or the head of the university someone of particularly keenly felt public morals, a possible charge of an altogether more criminal stripe. His revelations had been, I found, so contrary to what I had held to be meant and encompassed by the term ‘professional’ as to challenge my very notions of what that term meant.
Indeed, just what did it mean?
As Vernon had pointed out, there was, frankly, nothing that could act in such a manner as to prevent me from delivering my teaching to the best of my capabilities whereby, on that reading, my professionalism was and would ever be unchallenged.
Likewise, now that I was free of the ever increasing obligations and stipulations of modern contracts of employment which sought to place moral codes of conduct upon lecturers and professors, contracts whose remit extended to all aspects of one’s personal life, whatever professionalism may mean in that context I was no longer held under any kind of external restraint thereby releasing me to act as I wished with no possible professional impugning of my reputation.
Which left me where, precisely?
I had always considered that, no matter how distracting a student might be, a sense of duty to education which I took to mean professionalism meant that one should not, ever, in any way, act or respond to such temptations. The foibles of being human meant that is was impossible not to notice, from time to time, the presence in one’s life of a particularly arresting student, but that noticing should and must always be the end of the matter, and certainly not the first step on the path to self-destruction.
Yet, had I not done precisely this, first with Trudi, and now, with her friend Jemma? Had I not allowed matters to progress far beyond my simply noticing them, but, in a very peculiar way, to going so far as to grant them licence to continue and even extend the lengths to which they were to go in their exhibitionistic conduct?
Moreover, Vernon had shown me that, not only was it possible to act upon one’s inclinations were capable of doing so with sufficient discretion as to be able to hoodwink, if not the world, then at least one’s academic colleagues, but that it was possible at the same time to maintain a professional attitude to teaching and to those other pastoral aspects of the pedagogic calling, notwithstanding, as he had put it, taking those opportunities one deemed safe enough to sink oneself deeply into the physical being of a willing student.
I determined that I positively refused to allow these revelations of Vernon’s to change my professional opinion of him; he had been and had always been a first rate lecturer and colleague. I may now, with retrospect, wonder as to his personal conduct, but he had never cast a shadow upon the Goddess of Professionalism and, as such, the only complaint I might have against his actions would be as to his duplicity with respect to his fellow colleagues in whom he had shard no confidences.
More importantly, however, was the question of how this might be relevant when applied to my own context?
Perhaps only this; that I should, with discretion and complicity, simply enjoy what was freely given, take nothing, not even nothing for granted, and, frankly, stop losing quite so much sleep over the actions of the Misses Maclean and Sherrod.
“Quite so!” I said, to no-one in particular, and set to the utterly pleasurable task of finishing my tea and biscuits, the clock on the wall warning that Jemma’s arrival was not too far away.
“Hallo,” said Jemma as I opened the door, and found, rather than the immaculately turned out student of the week before, but an altogether less composed and more bedraggled figure standing, dripping, on the step into my home.
It had, without my noticing it, begun to rain, and seemingly with a deal more enthusiasm than Jemma had prepared for.
“Please, do come in,” I said, stepping back as Jemma carefully stepped past me, trying not to drip too much on me or the hallway carpet.
“Sorry,” she said, looking over herself in explanation.
“If you care to wait here a moment,” I said. “I shall return with a towel so you may dry yourself.”
“Thanks!” said Jemma, her tone indicating a deeply-felt gratitude for an unanticipated act of kindness. Truly, had she expected me to leave her, sopping, to catch a chill?
Heading upstairs for a moment, I soon found a bath towel from the airing cupboard and took this back down to Jemma, delivering it to her where, seemingly, she had stood without moving.
“Oh! It’s warm!” she said.
“Airing cupboard,” I explained. “Now, tea? Coffee? Hot chocolate?”
“Wow! Er, hot chocolate?”
“Of course. If you wish to repair to the student’s room...” I said, we both knowing to which room I was referring, though I had yet to settle on a permanent and personally satisfactory term for the room.
“Cool,” said Jemma as she headed for the said room whilst I made for the kitchen, preparing her a cup of milky hot chocolate, and a small espresso for myself before I returned to the student’s room.
Thinking nothing of its being closed, I opened the door without knocking – it is, after all, my home – and was surprised to find Jemma, naked as the day she was born, standing in the middle of the room and vigorously rubbing herself, down and dry.
“Oh,” she said, looking embarrassed not, I felt, at being naked, but rather at being caught naked.
“I, ah, I had anticipated you would use the towel to dry your clothes, with you still wearing them,” I said. “Though truly, now, I think perhaps that I had not fully thought matters through,” I added, as if that were an explanation. For a moment I thought of offering to retreat from the room until Jemma was more fully attired, but then I thought, too, of Vernon’s abjurations, of how I had seen Miss Sherrod in similar manner in the past, of how she was not in the least discomforted by my discovery of her in such a state of undress, how she was equally lacking in discomfort at continuing to remain undressed, making only the most desultory and half-hearted, if that, attempts to continue to dry herself as I set our drinks down on the desks, and how, frankly, I was enjoying the sight of her dark skin, her aroused nipples, and her tightly trimmed pubic hair. Taken in combination, I did as I now promised I would continue to do, something which I had not done before and which I would not have countenanced before, namely, to allow the situation to continue. “Should I turn up the heating, or will you dress?” I quipped, taking my seat, and continuing as if it were the most normal of practices, that of offering a student the option of nudity, or not, during their lesson.
“Oh,” said Jemma who had clearly not anticipated such a turn of events nor such a response from myself. “Er, could you put the heating on a little anyway, but I’d like to get dressed, if you don’t mind,” she said, obviously a little confused that I was not behaving as, it seemed, she had expected me to. Had she planned to be caught to get some reaction from me? And, what had that anticipated reaction been, that this reaction were not, somehow, acceptable to her? Such musings were something for me to consider later, but, for the present, I pootled off in search of the thermostat – which is, of course, as it always is, in the hallway – and took sufficient time over such a trivial and insignificant task that, by the time I returned, Jemma was mostly dressed once more, though her tie was now folded away from sight, and she seated at her desk, books out ready, and sipping her hot chocolate.
.... There is more of this story ...