Booked out for the entire six-week run

Colin Padgett

Like many teachers, my main holiday project is to do some reading. My target is at least one book a week, and some I've set aside seem strangely appropriate. Here's my plan: Week One: I intend reading something by Terry Pratchett, partly out of a sense of guilt. I have read so much literature coursework on this enviably popular author, that I thought I ought to see what all the fuss is about. The opening paragraph of one volume shows why I should read it: "This is Discworld, which travels through Space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A'Tuin, the sky turtle".

I am told this is comic fantasy, but to me it sounds rather more believable than the educational world as I know it. So, it will be a step towards restoring my sanity after another surreal year in teaching.

Week Two: I shall get sentimental this week. I'll be in the right context because I'm taking the family up to Geordieland, where my teaching career began. I hope to see at least one past-pupil from 1976 and no doubt the reminiscences will be pink-tinged.

So, who better to read than Gerald Durrell. His death left me sadder than I have been for some time. I treasure a reply he sent me when, as a child, I wrote to say I loved his books. Later, I was delighted to share that sensation with a class when they received a similar letter from him after they wrote comparing the book and TV version of My Family and Other Animals.

I tend to avoid sequels to best-sellers, but was too overwhelmed by sentimentality to resist Birds, Beasts and Relatives in the local secondhand bookshop.

Week Three: Fact instead of fiction is my next priority. An excellent local historian has just written a second book about north-west Essex and Suffolk. Not only shall I relish finding out more about the region, but Ashley Cooper's Heart of our History contains a photograph of me in the village cricket team 10 years ago - the only full season I played.

More illustrious club members grumble that they weren't there when the local paper took this particular snap, which gets used everywhere. But I shall turn to it self-indulgently every so often and relish the fact that I'm in a book, even if I have not yet had one published myself.

Week Four: Although The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin is my "fourth" choice, I shall, in fact, be reading it piecemeal throughout the holiday. I've already got through about one-third and I find that leaving gaps helps re-create the feeling of actually corresponding with people. To grind through it unremittingly, as with a novel, makes reading it a chore, and Larkin, aggressive old curmudgeon though he seems, doesn't deserve that.

Week Five: Now I shall read Educating Rita, which is a GCSE text for next term. Having seen it several times on stage and screen, including the magical original production in Liverpool, I had better look closely at the text.

I'd also better enjoy it now, because Willy Russell's rather optimistic view of self-improvement through education tends to pall somewhat when studied by 16-year-olds, doggedly determined to get out and get a job, no matter how slim their prospects.

Week Six: Finally, I shall need to prepare myself properly for re-entry into the realities of the educational world. So, I shall take another look at 1984.

Now that unemployment and its opposite have been abolished and Gillian Shephard presides over a nation in a perpetual state of "training and re-training", I begin to see some truth in Orwell's predictions. His new Ministries that conceal rather than reveal their activities through their names have a worrying ring.

Now what will the new one be called? Minitrain? Minichoice? No, we will need something that encompasses the trimming down, the re-defining of an issue out of existence. Ah, yes, I've got it! How about "Miniploy"?

Colin Padgett is head of English at the Ramsey School, Halsted, Essex.

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