Autopilot

It was one of those pep talks that Mr Cole would arrange in his office with a few wayward students. Being one of them, I stood with a few others in total silence as Mr Cole deliberated. Occasionally we would nod our heads, but never would we interrupt him even if circumstances going on around us tempted us to do so.

Always in these talks he would repeatedly attempt to light his meerschaum pipe. He never succeeded. Holding the pipe and waving it about, it never even got anywhere near his mouth. At the same time, countless numbers of Swan Vestas were struck but never quite ignited the tobacco. We would watch each flame creeping dangerously near his fingers only to see it being extinguished just at the last moment. It seemed that his hands were on autopilot for he never stopped talking to assess the situation.

Mr Cole would then flick the spent matches across the table where they all landed in a brass bowl making a ping sound. This was done again without ever looking at the target. He never missed!

A few minutes into this meeting, a sudden thunderous roar struck up outside Mr Cole’s office. Looking through the curtain, I saw Mike Hobson astride a huge motorbike and revving it up to his heart delight. He seemed oblivious of where he was and perhaps even the volume of sound that the engine was making.

Meanwhile back in Mr Cole’s office, we could not hear a word being said. Mr Cole did not raise his voice above the din nor as much as look out of the window and gesture to Mike to bugger off. It was all quite surreal.

More alarming, was that placed on top of a cabinet by the window was a domed shaped glass case containing a beautiful piece of coral. Soon with each rev of the engine, the case started to shudder and then to our utmost horror it slowly began to shift to the edge of the cabinet. With one eye on the case on its seemingly destined journey to destruction and one eye on Mr Cole hoping that he had noticed this, we were in a state of much anxiety. Mike was still blissfully revving up his bike as the case got ever closer to the edge of the cabinet. Should we stop Mr Cole and inform him? No, that was unthinkable.

With the case now only an inch or two from the edge of the cabinet Mr Cole’s autopilot came into action again. Without hesitation, and even without looking in that direction, he took a nonchalant step to the side and slid the case back to its starting place. We all breathed a sigh of relief and Mike roared off somewhere not knowing in the least what a quandary he had put his fellow students in. Not surprisingly, when sometime later we approached him and described our traumatic experience, he did not believe us as the ever-tolerant Mr Cole was never the sort to make an issue of it. Doubt that could happen nowadays.

Mac


Mike Hobson on that bike.