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Fishy tail end to an inspection

Wendy Cope introduces a previously unpublished poem to TES readers

Wendy Cope is this term's guest poet. Best known for her witty collections, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis and Serious Concerns, she is a former primary school teacher who still takes a close interest in children's writing. Here she introduces a previously unpublished poem of her own and the first TES Young Poet of 1996.

The words of the epigraph to this poem really were spoken by an inspector to the headmistress of the South East London primary school, where I worked in the mid 1980s. I wrote the poem that evening, and discovered it in my files last year. We never found out what had caused him to offer the mysterious advice.

THE STICKLEBACK SONG

"Someone should see to the dead stickleback" - school inspector to London headteacher.

A team of inspectors came round here today; They looked at our school and pronounced it OK.

We've no need to worry, we shan't get the sack, But someone should see to the dead stickleback.

Dead stickleback, dead stickleback, But someone should see to the dead stickleback.

Well, we've got some gerbils, all thumping their tails, And we've got a tankful of live water-snails, But there's one little creature we certainly lack - We haven't a quick or a dead stickleback Dead stickleback, dead stickleback, We haven't a quick or a dead stickleback.

Oh was it a spectre the inspector saw, The ghost of some poor classroom pet who's no more?

And will it be friendly or will it attack?

We're living in fear of the dead stickleback.

Dead stickleback, dead stickleback, We're living in fear of the dead stickleback.

Or perhaps there's a moral to this little song: Inspectors work hard and their hours are too long.

When they overdo it, their minds start to crack And they begin seeing the dead stickleback.

Dead stickleback, dead stickleback, And they begin seeing the dead stickleback.

Now all you young teachers, so eager and good, You won't lose your wits for a few years, touch wood.

But take off as fast as a hare on the track The day you encounter the dead stickleback.

Dead stickleback, dead stickleback, The day you encounter the dead stickleback.

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