My first-year class continues to provide an intractable disciplinary enigma. Fights about yo-yos, indeed fights with yo-yos, are the norm rather than the exception, while arguments about dinner queues, textbook thefts and personal hygiene (theirs, not mine) form the staple diet of their daily conversation. All this plus the regular daily chaos from a class that is never more than 75 per cent inattendance!
Some of their absences can be attributed to the appalling health record of our locality, of course, and even more to organised truancy. But the most distressing aspect of their attendance record is the number of authorised absences (in the guise of family holidays) that the school and council are prepared to condone.
This week saw Michael Willis return from an extended October break in Ibiza, while Kylie Paterson arrived with a note announcing proudly that she would be absent for the next two weeks because "the holidays in Florida are cheaper just now than in summer". Indeed, since the beginning of this session I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of days when one or other member of the class hasn't been absent on the grounds of family holidays.
"What are their parents thinking about?" I questioned Mr Pickup. What kind of value do they put on their children's education that they're willing to sacrifice a -?"
"Zero value, Simpson. Zilch. Precisely nothing," he shrugged his shoulders aimlessly. "But I'm retiring soon, so why should I worry?" "Honestly, it makes my blood boil," I continued apace. "What would they think if I announced that I wouldn't be here during the first two weeks of November because I'd got the chance of a cheap fortnight in Lanzarote? And 'would they mind getting their kids to give me their homework a week in advance' so I could mark it while I was on holiday?" "I've heard dafter ideas from you in my time," Pickup assured me solicitously.
Ms Lees has come up with a revolutionary plan for supported study. It involves making additional salary payments to anyone willing to aid her after-hours homework club, and she's even secured financial support from the council for a pilot scheme involving selected members of staff.
To nobody's great surprise, especially my own, Mr Pickup has put his name forward, declaring a new-found love for extra-curricular duties. His Damascus-like conversion, of course, owes everything to avarice and nothing to educationalaltruism.
"It'll be a skoosh, Morris," he assured me this morning. "I just sit there with my newspaper while the kiddies get on with their homework - plus I get complete carte blanche to chuck out any little bugger who's not behaving. It'll be like an extended series of please-takes, only better - 'cos I'll be getting paid extra for it!"
"Yes, really. Evening class rates, y'know, and the lecturer at my planning-for-retirement course was stressing how important your final year's salary can be when it comes to sorting out the old pension entitlement. What with the additional voluntary contributions I took out last month, I should . . ."
"You only took out AVCs last month?" I queried, incredulous. "Isn't 10 months before retirement a little late for that?" He shrugged once more. "Never got round to it, to be honest. But now that the finishing line's in sight I'm trying to bury more nest-eggs than Squirrel Nutkin!"
His phraseology lacked something - he's a geography-turned-RE teacher, after all - but I think I know what he meant.
The rest of the staff are up in arms about Mr Pickup's extra emoluments. Mr Mill points out that he has been running the chess club after hours for the past eight years without extra payment; and Ms Honeypot feels equally strongly that her weekly hockey training at 4pm, plus a Saturday morning appointment with a referee's whistle and a tray of half-time oranges, is being overlooked in favour of a short-term experiment aimed at raising Ruth Lees' educational profile with the council. Plus, of course, neither of them has been selected for the task, whereas Pickup has.
They're probably right to be annoyed, but Mr Pickup didn't see it quite like that. While acknowledging Mr Mill's charitable contribution to the wider field of extra-curricular education, he argued strongly this afternoon with Ms Honeypot that she was "only doing her job," as he so quaintly put it.
"It's always been understood that Saturday games and that kind of thing are part of the remit for you beanbaggers," he propounded with supreme condescension.
"I mean, I don't want to pull rank, Joyce, but let's face facts, shall we? The reason PE teachers need to do all that extra time is because they're not so well qualified academically. They didn't need to study so hard when they were at college, so it's only fair they make up for lost time with a bit of after-school training and Saturday morning matches ..."
He tailed off as Joyce Honeypot stared with vitriolic hatred across the coffee table. "Of all the fatuous and offensive remarks you've made since I've known you, David Pickup, that one takes the biscuit," she hissed between clenched teeth. "And if you think I'll be contributing to your retirement gift, you've got another think coming!"
Pickup just shrugged his shoulders. "Forget it, dearie," he aimed another piercing dart. "I'll have my AVCs to keep me warm."
To my mind, it's rather early for him to be getting de-mob happy. But happy he certainly is.
The behaviour of 1W continues to astonish me. This morning saw another pitched battle between Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell. Ridiculous as it might seem, the latter was accusing the former of having contracted Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome as a result of prolific homosexual activity during his recent holiday to Ibiza. Willis was angry. With a stirring battle-cry - "Well if ah've goat AIDS, yoo can get yur effin' share an all, pal!" - he launched a Tyson-like attack on O'Farrell's ear.
"Ya bastard!" shrieked O'Farrell, as Willis's teeth pierced his shell-like, and he raised his fists in fury. "You'll pay fur that, ya wee shite!" And all of this during my English lesson on the possessive pronoun...
I was sharing my 1W woes with Gail over our late-night hot chocolate after we'd finally got Margaret to sleep. Sadly, she was lacking in sympathy.
"Hang on, Morris?" she questioned me sharply. "Did you say you've got Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell in the same class?" I nodded dumbly.
"But that's exactly the combination we warned against when we passed on their primary reports last year!" she exclaimed angrily. "Sandra Shanks and I spent four days doing progress reports, guidance reports, maths reports, English reports, social reports, even reports reports!" she continued with feeling. "And in every single one of them we insisted - absolutely insisted - that Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell be separated from each other. Now you're telling me that they're in the same class!?"
I protested my justifiable innocence. "I don't make up the class lists, Gail."
"Maybe not, but don't they ever look at the primary liaison material, Morris? Are you really telling me that your secondary colleagues haven't got the wit to understand a plain and simple recommendation that's passed on to make their lives easier with pupils that we've known for seven years, and that they've never even met in their sweet and isolated existence?" I pursed my lips at this barb. Although not aimed at me personally, I had to defend the professionalism of my colleagues, and did so with feeling. "Gail," I insisted forcefully, "I'll check with Jim Henderson tomorrow, but I can assure you that the reports from Rockston Primary will have been given every consideration when it came to making up class lists. And if any of your recommendations have been overturned, you can be absolutely certain - absolutely certain," I emphasised firmly, "that there are very good reasons behind that decision."
She looked sceptical, but I suggested another cup of Cadbury's, and that seemed to do the trick. We went to bed instead.
My confidence in Jim Henderson was sadly misplaced. It took me quite a long time to find our assistant head (not for nothing has he become known as Caspar, the Friendly Ghost ...); however, my eventual enquiries this morning revealed that class lists for first year had been made up on his time-honoured principle of an alphabetical ranking, with every fifth child in the listings thrown in as a wild-card to confuse the issue.
"Convinces the parents it's completely random, and makes my life easier, " he said of the genetic selection procedure for first year.
"But what about the primary reports?" I questioned tentatively. "What about them?" he scoffed. "Don't pay much attention, to be honest. I reckon we should give them a fresh start when they get here, and a lot of the stuff that comes from the primaries is a load of tosh if you ask me. 'Very good at expressive arts', for instance. What's that supposed to mean when it's at home?" He did not wait for an answer, but left me pondering how to explain matters to Gail. Not to mention how to separate Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell...