Thursday, 26 March 2009

Bloody hell

This was going to be something a little different. Something ....ooh, even a little poetic. Warm round the edges (or am I just mixing that up with incontinence pants - it's so hard to be sure these days) and a little soft and cuddly inside (not incontinence pants, then).

I was going to write about the end of term, today. About how the school felt after the pupils had left for the hols and all the other teachers - except me - had set off to get drunk. How odd it feels to be inside a place designed exclusively for mass use, defined by noise and activity - at least some of it purposeful - when it's empty.

That was before I got home, though, and had all poetic thoughts driven out of me within a very few minutes.

I'm going to add a warning now. The following scene involves bodily emissions, a dog with degraded tastes and my darling eldest daughter's disposal of items signalled in ladies' loos with those paper bags tastefully adorned with a woman in a crinoline.

So....I arrive home. In one of my token nods in the direction of housekeeping routine, I have remembered not only to put on a wash this morning but, even more surprisingly, to take it out again on the same day. Marvel if you will.

When Beth first started her periods, you could always tell because for several days each month, the house looked as if we'd hosted a series of 'come as you are,' parties for slaughterhouse workers, or staged a no-expense spared on the effects production of Macbeth, with particular emphasis on the murders.

She's got better, no question, but only because we told her that if we had to replace the bathroom carpet again, she was paying.

But there are still gaps in her understanding. Like her inability to believe that, amazingly, there is no sanitary towel fairy who will come round each night and remove all offending items, sweep them into some fragrantly scented bag and leave some money for them.

There is, however, a dog with a cracking sense of smell and no discretion.

A dog, moreover, which, encouraged by Beth, likes lying on beds. Ideally, the biggest bed in the house...

When we leave this morning, I ask Beth, then Deborah, to make sure our bedroom door is shut. They both assure me it is. Fool that I am for failing to read the secret message concealed in their smiling, positive assurances which is undoubtedly on the lines of, 'Oh, for God's sake, who knows? Who cares? Check the door yourself if you're really that desperate. And why do you worry about everything?'

I almost feel that I don't have to supply the denouement. But here goes. Don't feel you have to read it.

So I go upstairs with the washing and hear the guilty rattle of the dog's collar from our bedroom. (The cat, naturally, is lying all over my printer downstairs looking smugger than you would have thought possible, and sporting a virtual speech bubble that says, 'I told her not to do it but she would, anyway. Disgusting, isn't it?')

On the bed is the dog. On the bed round the dog are what look like pinky-orangy shreds of material. There are 10 or 15 of them. I shout at the dog, who disappears downstairs and then wonder whose scarf she has been chewing.

Then I look a little closer at the shreds and see, in the centre of one of them, a small bit of turqoise string. It's then that the realisation dawns, especially when I notice that not all the pinky orangey markings are confined to the shreds of material. They've magically inserted themselves into what was, when I left the house that morning, a nice, white counterpane.

If I need to be more explicit, forgive me. This is as good as it gets. But I tell you now, it's all true what they say in the ads. By gum, Smith & Nephew take pride in their workmanship. And talk about value for money when it comes to the sheer volume of material they cram into those tiny little tubes.....We should all be proud of them. And as for the absorbency. Crumbs!!!!

I don't always use my blog as therapy but I am now. Because writing it down is stopping me doing what I so dearly want to do now......find the dog and beat it to a pulp, drive to Beth's school, drag her out of her classroom and beat her to a pulp, then hole up in the house and wait for the NSPCC and RSPCA to sort out which one gets the pleasure of arresting me first.

But I won't, you know....

I've done the liberal education thing. We didn't have a party to celebrate the onset of periods. And, in retrospect, that's just as well. But I'd thought that my 'this what it is, this is where it goes, and that's what you do with it afterwards,' talk was, if not definitive, one of the best of its kind.

Perhaps not. Or was I just too liberal, to the point where periods and their associated accessories are so much in the open that, what the hell, you let it all hang out? And I do mean that quite literally.

If you haven't thrown up yet, thanks for reading. And let's hope the ST fairy is up and flying tonight. And that she's balancing a large bottle of vodka on those blood-stained, fragile little wings.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Putting the sick in music(k)

It's whole school singing time, the not-to-be-missed weekly singalong special that all the children love. Or so we tell them, anyway.

We start off with the rainbow song.

'Take a little bit of red.......and a little bit of orange. Add a bit of yellow...and a bit of green,' I sing, feeling grateful for the growing short-term memory problems that should ensure I remember none of this within an hour or so.

As we romp in a wholesome fashion through the colour palette, I notice that the reception child nearest the piano is obeying the song instructions all too literally. She turns first scarlet in the face and then, seconds later, sickly green.

As we enter the blue, violet and indigo phase I shout, 'Really big voices, children,' and she rises magnificently to the occasion. Waves of vomit cascade out of her mouth, drenching her and her companions, and start lapping over the lino and towards my feet.

In less time than it takes to say, 'Cripes, have you got the pot of gold down there, too?' I've leapt up from my seat and am carrying on with the song from the safety of the corridor outside while other teachers who, unlike me, seem to have suppressed their gag reflect (you probably get it surgically removed as part of today's training course) are assisting her with kind, compassionate looks and a yard-high pile of paper towels.

The rest of the children, like me, shrink away from what's fast becoming a small lake and finish the song huddled together at the furthest side of the hall.

'What about early playtime?' suggests Mary.

'Only if you're sure,' I say. 'Alternatively, I'm sure there are a couple of songs I could theme to the occasion. What about 'Way, hay and up she rises?' or 'Miss Molly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.'

While the hall is swabbed with sawdust, disinfectant and, for all I know, lashings of green jelly for the purposes of coordination, I escape to the staffroom.

There, Mary is eyeing a stack of milk cartons. There are eight. All are unopened and all have an expiry date of several days ago.

'Should I risk it?' she asks, possibly rhetorically.

'Why not?' I say. 'Give me a few minutes while I run off a copy of 'The Rainbow song' for you and fill a bucket with sawdust and we all could keep ourselves happily occupied for hours.'

Friday, 13 March 2009

An education in mortification

As the old saying goes, 'When humiliation flies in at the window, self-esteem makes a quick, abashed departure down the fire exit.' Something like that, anyway.

And this week, it's as if some minor god, holding a giant rota - a bit like the one we have for break duty - has decided that it's my turn to experience a little soul-detoxifying mortification.

We're in the staffroom, mulling over break time topics like who ate the last chocolate biscuit or whether the child who unexpectedly pushed the door open to show us all her fabulously suppurating finger heard me shout a word unbecoming to the teaching profession as I accidentally photocopied 200 instead of 20 copies of my song sheet, when Mary suddenly quizzes me on my life.

'What do want to do when you grow up?' she asks me, quite seriously.

It's hard to know quite how to react. Should I obey my primal instincts and hit her very hard on the head with one of my ukuleles until she aplogises, or accept her question as a tribute to my inner youthfulness and answer it?

'I think I'd probably be doing the same thing, only better,' I say, equally seriously.

'Here,' she says, 'I hope I didn't offend you. I didn't really mean it the way it sounded.'

Next, towards the end of that same breaktime, I text Francis, starting with a casual endearment. Nothing too saucy, yet definitely tending towards the intimate.

Mary interrupts me to ask something about yesterday's lesson with her class and, as I press 'send', I realise that I wasn't paying attention - and that the dynamic new head of music shares Francis's initials and is next to him in my contacts list........

The phone has helpfully programmed itself to delete all sent messages after 0.0000000001 of a nanosecond, so there's no record. When I ring Francis to check, I get a recorded message.

'Help,' I say to the deputy head, explaining the situation. She laughs heartily. 'I know what to do,' she says and, without further ado, rings the dynamic head of music to tell him that if he's had a vaguely suggestive text from his older, dowdier, less dynamic colleague, he should immediately delete it.

'He thought it was hilarious,' she reports back, guffawing. 'And so did everyone else who was listening.'

'And had he got the text?' I ask.

'Do you know,' she says, laughing even louder.'After all that, I forgot to ask.'

But there's more to come. With a few minutes spare at the end of the lesson, I am overcome with the spirit of Joyce Grenfell and, playing some different styles of music to Reception, exhort them to be, successively, corn in a field, cantering horses and scarecrows.

At the end they line up and one of them puts up a hand. 'Mrs Philistine,' he says,'I know why you got us to be scarecrows.'

'Why?' I say, for once moderately interested and hoping for some penetrating insight that might enrich all our lives.

'Because you're wearing your scarecrow trousers!' he says, triumphantly.

'I'll have you know,' I feel like saying, 'That these came from Whistles.'

Instead, I smile weakly, send the giggling youngsters back to their teacher and head, once more, for the staffroom, arming myself with a ukulele on the way. The children do not know what they do, but Mary is a different story. One more crack about my Peter Pan approach to my career and she may need a bit of life coaching herself - in A&E.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Journey into fear........

'So,' I say to the deputy head, 'Here's my risk assessment form for the music festival. Where do I begin?'

'It's not very complicated,' she says. 'Just time-consuming. You just have to think through all the stages of the journey, work out what might happen and what steps you'd take to prevent it.'

'And you reckon that's not complicated?' I asked.

'Oh, yes - I'd forgotten,' she says, ignoring this. 'Then you have to assign a number to indicate just how risky you think each hazard might be.'

I take the form away and study it. Ten of our six and seven year olds are performing in a concert. Their challenge, if they choose to accept it, is to leave the school, get on a coach parked right outside the school, get off again immediately opposite the doors to the theatre, go in, sing and then repeat the same journey in reverse order.

I take the form to the staff room. 'Help me,' I say. 'I can't think of enough hazards.'

'No problem,' say my lovely colleagues. 'What about tripping?'

'Surely they won't be on Class A drugs that early in the morning? They add such a nasty aftertaste to the Cocopops,'

'No - trip hazards. Consider the risks inherent in just leaving the school. You may see just an ordinary path from the front door to the coach. To a health and safety assessor, it's almost literally a minefield. Blackbirds, pebbles, slow-moving squirrels, unexpected fly any moment a surprise object might appear and cause a child to fall over, resulting in minor injuries, possible concussion, definitely shock.'

'I had no idea it was so dangerous,' I say. 'What preventative action am I allowed to suggest? How about posting an armed guard by the front door several hours before we leave, enabling them to blast all surprise objects out of the way with machine guns and flamethrowers. Or perhaps we could just get Sasha to fix them with a level one laser glare. That'd vapourise the lot.'

'It's good,' says someone, 'but it may be too long to fit on the form. And expensive. I'd go for the budget option.'

'Which is?'

'Ensuring that one of the teachers walks ahead of the children and checks for hazards as you go.'

This agreed, I move on to the next phase of our journey into fear....the coach journey itself.

'You could accidentally leave a child behind. And there's always vomiting or accidents to fall back on,'

'So .....let me guess. I'm the children within a portable, neutron-generated forcefield with a breathable goretex lining that is permeable to sick, pee and poo?'

'Again, nice - but costly - and hell if you forget to dissipate the forcefield before you attempt the swing doors at the theatre.'

The solution turns out to be a small cardboard object, shaped like an inverted cowboy hat and apparently designed to slop only dribs and drabs of sick into a helping teacher's hands.

Technique number two is a bag of spare pants and trousers.

Then there's our top secret weapon. Many, many headcounts.

'Headcount, headcount and then headcount again. And don't forget to headcount the teachers, too, in case any of them try to run away.'

What nobody actually says is what happens if your headcount doesn't add up. Or if you end up with more children than you left with - something that, I'm assured, has happened several times.

Assuming we make it on to the coach - something that I'm beginning to realise may well be an impossible dream - we have to contend with the actual journey.

What if the driver collapses with a heart attack, we're attacked by aliens, the Satnav fails and we end up on a sardine trawler off the Outer Hebrides. What then.....? What then......?

'Put a paper bag over her head, someone,' says the deputy head. 'Hyperventilating again. Honestly, these music teachers. They just can't cope with the pressure.'

'You'll thank me,' I say, though now in somewhat muffled tones. 'When one of us is forced to kick the driver's body out of the way and steer the bus off the pavement and away from the crowds of nuns, toddlers and fluffy kittens that will no doubt be out for a quiet walk at that very moment, or we resist the first onslaught of the giant slugs from Planet Zog using only emergency reserves of council grit and some of the higher recorder notes we've learned, you'll realise I was right.'

'Get the second bag,' says the deputy head. 'And this time, tape it up until it's time for assembly.'

Monday, 2 March 2009

No great shakes

Teaching music offers many things, but nothing in greater profusion than opportunities to wonder when it was exactly that you accidentally swapped your life with some sad, middle-aged git with an infinite capacity for self-abasement.

And, look, here's one of those opportunities right now.

I am sitting on newspaper in the school hall. In my hand is a packet of dried mung beans. By my feet are several tupperware containers and a smallish child.

We're on what these days is called a learning journey. Normally my learning journeys begin or end in a pub. Preferably both. Not today, though. Today, I am encouraging child A to meander through a landscape dominated by the creative and exciting sounds made using said beans and tupperware containers.

The idea is that I do this without in any way attempting to influence the process This is so I can observe Child A's creative play, record it and tick off another box on the form.

Ten minutes later, we're still sitting there. Child A is now holding the packet of beans in one hand, the tupperware in another and looking at them with the air of someone who would rather be somewhere else, which makes two of us.

I point to the tupperware, then the beans and, through the medium of mime, suggest that Child A attempts to unite both.

Child A eventually takes the hint. A few minutes later, beans are cascading into the tupperware and being swilled about.

"What are you doing?" I ask, brightly.

"I'm shaking. I shake it," says Child A. For truthful responses, it couldn't be bettered. With that level of accuracy, it's a witness protection programme in the future, for sure.

"And what sort of sound are you making?"

"A shaking sound."

"Does it remind you of anything?" I ask. Child A pauses. Outside, rain drums down making, to my mind, a sound remarkably similar to that of dried beans falling rapidly on to plastic.

Child A looks blank. I walk to the window and look out as the rain, heavier now, droplets strikingly mung-bean sized, cascades down the windows. I lean suggestively towards the playground.

Child A looks, if anything, blanker, but with a possible undercurrent of terror.

"OK......What about popcorn. Do you like popcorn?" I ask, desperately, abandoning all attempts to avoid leading questions. "Popcorn makes a sound when it pops, doesn't it? And I like clapping, Don't you. All those loud claps....lots of clapping."

We both lapse into silence. I sense that one of us is about to call for help. I am worried that it might be me.

"So does that sound remind you of anything?" I ask, as beans and plastic reunite in a flourish of rain, popcorn and applause-like sounds.

"Shaking," says Child A.

"That's great," I say. "Probably time to go back to the classroom, now."

Repressing a sobbing sigh, I draw a line through my notes and wonder if the next class will care, or even notice, if I'm curled up under the piano, clinging to the sustain pedal and sobbing my heart out over a spilled packet of mung beans