We were drinking coffee in the staffroom amidst a cornucopia of gossip, rumour and regrets. Incessant intercom announcements rivalled the cacophony of sounds authored by a phalanx of teachers dispensing their professional duties. The ambience was one of urgency rather than a venue for calm chaos.
“So you see,” Tom was explaining, “Manny’s behaviour was a self-fulfilling prophecy. A classic study of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs.”
“Huh?” I teased. Tom teaches psychology and is the school’s Welfare Officer. The poor fellow also suffers from erudition.
“At any rate,” Tom continued, “he’s at Uni now, thanks to your efforts. I doff my cap to you for that one, Mr Chips.”
The bell sounded, reminding me of the unusual lesson I had prepared.
All eyes stared intently at me when I entered the classroom. I was dressed as a chef, complete with a chef's hat and neckerchief. A Fu Manchu moustache and long fake nails completed my persona. Without comment I unfolded a tablecloth, placed it on the floor and with an oriental accent began chanting, Ad Infinitum plus one,Ummm,.... I thrust my hands in my pockets and tossed a myriad of bamboo chopsticks high in the air. Mesmerized, all eyes followed the paths of the chopsticks as they performed aerial gymnastics.
"Me much need now two volunteers," I requested with my assumed accent, at the same time gesturing with both of my index fingers. All hands shot up. Everyone wanted a role.
"Vely vely good. Me choose Steve and Rosa. Steve, you count all chopsticks and tell me number. Rosa, please tell me chopstick numbers how much land on the tablecloth yellow stripes."
Steve opted for the brute force approach. He thrust a finger at every stick and grunted 1, 2, 3,. Rosa displayed finesse. Only the barest movement of her eyes betrayed her purpose.
"Thirty-five, honourable one," Steve said, keeping up the spirit of the occasion.
"I counted twenty-three, sir," Rosa added.
"You both top students," I praised them as I traced a tick symbol in the air with my long fingernails.
"Now I tell all you secret. Me go to Chinese restaurant. Made me think too much, eh?"
"Do you often do that?" Jimmy asked.
"Me go to restaurant many times, Jimmy," I informed him.
"No, sir, I mean do you often think?"
"It is old Chinese saying, he who mocks teacher fails subject," I said.
"How did eating in a restaurant last night get you thinking?" prompted Helda.
She was assisted in her inquisition by Teng who remarked, "And what's that got to do with maths?"
"Confucius say, he who is patient will inherit egg," I replied. "Restaurant tablecloth similar to this one. Length of chopstick same as width between stripes. Now you understand, eh? Just as Australian magpie fly free when libellated, I libellate chopsticks to use for you now."
I quelled cries of "thief" and continued my discourse.
"Nearly 300 years, maybe little more, French mathematician, very clever man, his name Comte de Buffon, found clever way to estimate pi. You know pi, the number 3.14159. Go forever, this pi number, right?" I said, teasing my moustache between my fingers. Jimmy raised his hand.
"Sir, do you mean that a buffoon became famous by playing with chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant in France 300 years ago?" And he added pityingly, "Sir, don't you know that stealing chopsticks is wrong?"
"You please, Jimminy cricket, say of clever man his name is pronounced Bew-fon," I said, ignoring his allegations of criminality, insanity and the historical anachronism.
"Now, please everyone you listen. Monsieur Buffon say that if you divide twice the total number of chopsticks by chopsticks that fall on stripe, it will give you goodly approximation to pi."
I grabbed an abacus that I also had in the bag. "Me have 35 chopsticks and 23 of them fall on stripes. So ratio is 70/23 or 3.04. This is good start. If use more sticks, must get better answer, not so?"
"It's a coincidence", Francesca decided.
" You want maybe try again?" I challenged. "Do another go?"
More trials were conducted with similar results. There were accusations of skulduggery. Helda finally conceded. "What's the trick?" she asked.
"Honourable ancestors tell me mantra you heard me say before!" I replied. "Ad Infinitum plus one, Ummm. It is much magic."
Helda placed a hand over her mouth to suppress laughter, but the action was an invitation to the rest of the class. Order was eventually restored.
"Father of Confucius say he who no eat has empty stomach. Now we order Chinese?"
I took of my chef's hat, held in upside down and walked between the tables calling out like a town crier...
"Show me money. You no pay, you no eat! Chinese yum yum, ...!"