Friday 6 December 2019

Staff only: Heard the one about the tall, blond Austrian PE teacher?

E Grade

Here's a variation on an old joke. "Question: what do you call a person who hangs around with educators? Answer: A PE teacher." This never seemed to ring with so much truth as when our new PE guy, Nickie Herzog, arrived a while back.

A self-proclaimed Austrian who explained his "Italian" accent with a reference to having grown up in Italian South Tyrol where both Italian and German are spoken, I expected the female staff to swoon over his blond Germanic features, his self-proclaimed height of 1 metre 85 and that toned athletic body clad in an unfeasibly stylish tracksuit.

I was wrong, as it turned out -- it was my soccer-crazy colleague Finn Finnegan who proclaimed Nick Herzog as the new messiah for the outnumbered male staff members. Strangely, the women regarded Herzog with suspicious glances and both he and they kept their distance -- a sort of discreet mutual acknowledgement of his consummate shadiness seemed to be at work.

All of which made the man even more fascinating to the likes of Finnegan and myself (and other staff blokes), especially when Herzog let slip to Finnegan that he had not only played professional football but had played for English League 2 side Twyford Civic (not real name) in an early round of the Worthington Cup against Manchester United some time in the '90s. With a roguish grin hinting at suppressed modesty, Herzog admitted that his team had been thrashed in both legs.

After this ripping yarn, there was no stopping the Nickie Herzog fanclub and we sat to attention every time he started an anecdote: "You know, I played for the Austrian under-18s against France in Paris. This is a funny story . . ." and off he'd go (whispering, so as not to offend the ladies) telling how he'd once seen a future French World Cup medallist pass out on the bosom of a lap dancer in Pigalle.

All of which was fine except that the principal, in his wisdom, had timetabled Herzog for CSPE. Now CSPE, in my opinion, is so specifically Irish that it cannot effectively be taught by anyone but an Irish person. All the ins and outs of Bunreacht na hEireann, the difference between Trocaire and Concern, between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, is too much for Johnny foreigner. And then there were the "walks" Herzog took his classes on around town if they were lucky enough to have PE in the afternoon.

He'd just lead them to the nearest bus stop and set the delighted pupils free so that he could go home early. It wasn't until May that an angry parent rang the school and by then it was too late.

It later turned out that Herzog was no more Austrian (or Italian) than I am. He was actually Ukrainian and when Finnegan and I Googled him, he only turned up on as "a real chancer".

Irish Independent

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