…the manner in which one conducts one’s business, whatever it might be
Chewing gum could be rolled into a ball using your tongue, cheek and teeth, and pushed against the back of your top front teeth, where it would stay for periods of time up to five or ten minutes, having only a minimal effect on your speech – an almost imperceptible slurring, only really evident when you spoke too quickly. Another alternative, and probably one better suited to longer periods of covert chewing of gum, was to roll the piece of chewing gum into a three inch long string, making it quite thin, and placing it between the gum above the front of the upper teeth and the upper lip, where there was a space of roughly five millimetres of dead space. The piece of gum would be flattened by the pressure generated by the movement of your mouth. If this position was difficult to maintain, as the piece of flattened string can slide down during particularly passionate bouts of speech, the gum can be let fall down, if a quite moment presents itself to the speaker, and moved with the tongue to the front of the lower teeth, where there is a similar gap of roughly five millimetres of dead space.
Henry was completely in control. He had perfected a complex meditation technique of his own devising which involved a strict adherence to one focus at a time and an ordered and pre-planned movement from one focus to the next. Of course, he knew that there would be situations which would demand he immediately shift focus and deal with whatever was to hand, but he would not allow such moments to distract him – he would calmly move from one focus to the next in an orderly fashion, accept the new situation and allow his mind to focus on it, on the count of three. Once the hypothetical emergency situation was dealt with, he would resume normal operating procedures, reverting back to his next pre-agreed focus and back into his schedule.
It was all a matter of strength of mind. Though you had to be systematic, you had to be realistic also, and so he did allow for unforeseen and unlikely circumstances. For example, what if he was focusing on the strategy he was employing to get the better of Rebecca Morrison in his third year class (a very complex problem which would certainly involve all of his higher faculties), and in the middle of a very complex part of the process, where he was just about to corral her into a grave error when catching her messing around with a bottle of cola on the playing field, what if, just at that point Julia Madden, the rather thick set P E teacher who seemed to harbour a crazed affection for him, came barrelling across the field towards him waving her hockey stick? What would he do? What could he do?
But this was a new Henry, a better prepared Henry, a Henry who was in control of his faculties through a strict adherence to a system, a Henry who would calmly allow his mind to shift focus, on the count of three, storing “the corralling of Rebecca Morrison into the mire of her own malicious ways” in one compartment, thus enabling another compartment to deal with the quickly approaching Julia Madden. Henry called this approach “compartmentalisation”, a term which he might have heard before, but which he credited himself with the coining of.
The compartments were pre-arranged and all written out in his black leather diary. There were five hundred and ninety-three specific compartments, ranging from the very general “embarrassing events from the past three years”, and “unresolved issues with parents” to the more specific “surreptitious chewing of gum”, and there were the everyday compartments such as “securing a biscuit in the staff room at rec.”, “ensuring his hair was flattened down on his head”, “internal body matters”, “slipping out of school early”, “savagely inhaling at the tobacco smoke coming from the bushes at lunch time”, “phrases to use when in conversation with Mrs R P Merryweather” and other such compartments, all of which were open to a continual review, making way for new compartments as conditions changed, and there were seven spare compartments, thus bringing the number to a round six-hundred, which he could allot during the day in order to ensure that anything completely unforeseen, for example a volcanic eruption at the end of the sports field, or an unplanned inspection of one of his lessons, could be dealt with there and then.
There was a complex system of brakes, levers and gears which ensured a smooth movement of his focus from one compartment to the next, one of the key stipulations being his counting to three no matter how mundane the shift, even from “appreciation of the beauty of nature” to “internal bodily functions”. How one compartment rather than another was allotted a space and priority was a very complex process which in itself filled four pages of his little black diary in very small writing – the months of August and July, being devoid of notable events, were given over to a list of the compartments, so he allotted the six pages of emergency information, useful contacts, important addresses and times across the world to the thirty six general laws, forty three exceptions and six general principles which together controlled the movement from one compartment to the next as well as setting out a schedule for the day – everything was written in pencil and so subject to constant revision.
That this system worked in practice could be seen when the system was first put under severe pressure:
Just as Henry was finished focusing on moving his chewing-gum from the gap above his upper front teeth to the open play of his whole mouth cavity, tongue and molar teeth, and having counted to three, he shifted his focus to the compartment concerning the intricate and sumptuous demise of Rebecca Morrison, he turned a corner and came face to face with what could only be described as an unforeseen and unlikely circumstance – the taut features of Mrs R P Merryweather and a curt opening of “I was looking for you”. Henry calmly counted to three and shifted his focus from the compartment dealing exclusively with the intricate and sumptuous demise of Rebecca Morrison, to the compartment dealing with the surreptitious chewing of gum, after which, upon securing his piece of gum in a readily available portion of dead space between his lower front teeth and his lip, thereby missing the phrase with which Mrs R P Merryweather curtly followed up her curt opening gambit, counting to three yet again, though this time a little more quickly, having subconsciously noted the look of impatience on the face of Mrs R P Merryweather, then shifting to the compartment holding the treasure trove of phrases to use when in conversation with Mrs R P Merryweather, and all of a sudden, after what was probably a preternaturally long pause, he was waxing lyrical about the progress his examination classes were making and the pleasure inherent in teaching such excellently behaved and well mannered girls, but most probably not answering the question she had just put to him.