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Floored by a five-goal lead

MONDAY: My theatre trip with the top fifth year section remains scheduled for Thursday. Having studied Hamlet for the last three months, one might have expected their knowledge of the play to be fairly detailed, but I was sadly dismayed by their ignorance.

Other than a glimmering awareness that Hamlet's father was "a stiff who wanted a contract taken out on his brother" (Michael O'Dowd's contribution) and that the lead character "really fancied Ophelia" (Graham French), their only collective anticipation for a seminal moment in the play remains a desire to witness "Polonius gettin' stabbed in the arras", a sadly-remembered reference to a witty aside which I had thought to cast into our classroom reading some weeks ago, and which I now fiercely regret: I have visions of it being placed in 28 examination essays if they don't heed my warnings to the contrary.

Meanwhile, domestic circumstances are somewhat frayed, owing to Gail's impending return to work at Parkland primary school after maternity leave. I am extremely unhappy about the assignation of our daughter's upbringing to a childminder: apart from the inherent bonding problems which this might cause for little Margaret, there is a serious financial consequence to be borne in mind.

"There certainly is, bonehead," Gail hissed fiercely at me after tea when I brought the matter up, "but for the umpteenth time, it's a damned sight cheaper than my giving up work altogether. And until such time as you get a properly promoted post, it's the only option available to us."

Notwithstanding the implied slur on my position as assistant principal teacher of guidance, I demurred. Why fight city hall?

TUESDAY: The Parent Teacher Association is holding a fund-raising event on Friday, and has posted a staffroom notice encouraging attendance. Sadly, few of my colleagues have so far volunteered, an absence pounced upon by Ruth Lees at break.

"I'd just like to draw everyone's attention," our depute head interrupted the tea-urn rush in stentorian fashion, "to the PTA's bash. I don't think I need to remind you of the fund-raising efforts they're making, so I'd like to see a good turn-out from everyone who's got the school's -" and here she narrowed her eyes, "not to mention their own - interests at heart."

I caught her drift pretty quickly, and - mindful of Gail's cherished hopes for my advancement up the career ladder - was first to put my name on the list. I have to admit that I haven't the faintest idea what a line-dancing evening will be all about, but if it'll help my job prospects then I'm all for it. Mr Pickup said he thought it would be "something like a progressive Canadian barn dance, plus a cheque presented at the end of the evening to the member of staff who's displayed most enthusiasm for dancing with the chairman's wife. Just sorry I can't make it myself, old son. Previous engagement, I'm afraid."

And then he smirked.

WEDNESDAY: The monthly five-a-side staff football session took place today, with the unplanned - and unwanted, to my mind - addition of Morris Simpson as last-minute substitute. Unfortunately, George Crumley had pulled a muscle, and it was thus that I found myself pulled into service as unwilling deputy. I continued my protestations in the changing room.

"But I haven't got a pair of shorts! How d'you expect . . . ?" "Oh, shut up, Morris!" berated Pickup. "Have my spare pair and stop bleating."

They were far too big, but I submitted to peer pressure and took my place on the gymnasium floor - watched, I might add, over the glass partition at the top of our hall, by a bunch of grinning fifth-year pupils who seemed to take great delight in my unseemly appearance.

I have little intention of detailing the match. Suffice to say that my position was swiftly demoted to goalkeeper, in which role I still seemed unable to satisfy the athletic demands of my team-mates.

"For God's sake, Morris!" bellowed George Crumley from his spectating position at the wall bars as we went five goals down. "We've an unbeaten record to maintain, and all you can do is stand around like a big girl's blouse while they hammer in goals from all directions!" Pickup chose to soften the criticism. "Don't worry, Morris," he gasped for breath as he placed an affectionate arm around my shoulder. "You're doing your best." It helped to comfort me, though I suspect his position as opposition captain - and scorer of the goal which I had just allowed to drift through my legs - might have had something to do with his viewpoint.

In my opinion, the entire lunch-break was a gross waste of professional time, and my temper wasn't softened by the theft of my trousers from our changing room, an event which precipitated the necessity for me to remain in shorts and seated throughout the afternoon classes: I don't think the first-years noticed anything amiss as I announced a period of silent reading while I got on with some marking; however, I did wonder whether the members of 5(i) were suspicious of something awry - witness their suppressed giggles throughout my reprise of Hamlet's plot in a last-minute attempt to ensure they derived some educational benefit from tomorrow night's theatre trip.

Strangely enough, my trousers turned up during the selfsame lesson: it was Bryce Wallace - the most insufferably egotistical member of the class - who expressed dramatic surprise when I asked them to jot down a quick character summary of the dramatis personae. "Gosh, sir!" he exclaimed upon opening his desk-lid. "There's a pair of trousers in my desk."

"Is there now, Bryce?" I attempted to disguise my immediate interest in the matter. "Yes, sir. Size 36," he peered at the label. "I wonder who -?" "Yes indeed, Bryce," I agreed. "Probably a prank from 1S who were in here just before you. Just bring them to me, please, and I'll see that . . ."

"Wouldn't you rather come and get them?" he interrupted.

"No, thank you," I interrupted in turn. "Just leave them on my desk please, " I concluded icily.

Equally coolly, he walked to the front of the room, trousers pinched disdainfully betwixt thumb and forefinger, before depositing them on my desk.

"Thank you, Bryce," I remained calm. "I'll see that they're returned to Lost Property" Luckily, I don't think anyone realised they were mine.

THURSDAY: Our trip to the Denizens Theatre was a bit of a disaster. What I had expected to be a straightforward presentation of the Bard's text turned out to be a revamped, revised, reappraisal of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in which the protagonist was presented as a Nazi Storm-trooper, and Ophelia portrayed as his illicit lover with a penchant for stern discipline, fearsome whips, and leather thigh-boots.

Poor Polonius was demoted to the role of cuckolded lover, while Hamlet's father spent most of the play suspended above the front stalls on a television screen, equipped with every form of surround sound which the theatre's engineers were capable of providing. And as for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - well, they simply didn't figure.

In short, it was a travesty, and I am thinking of demanding a refund. Not so Bryce Wallace who spent the entire trip back to school serenading the inventiveness of the Denizens' artistic director and looking forward to regaling the Higher examiners with an account of this mould-shattering interpretation of a previously inaccessible play.

I told him he should try catching the Laurence Olivier version and then see what he thought, but he was too busy rushing off to his father's BMW to pay any attention.

I parked the minibus in the school garage and went off to catch the last bus home.

FRIDAY: Two days after her return to school, Gail wasn't terribly appreciative of my announced departure for the PTA Line-Dancing Evening just after tea.

"But I thought you were going to bath Margaret?" she held our plaintive child up for my inspection. "I'm absolutely exhausted, Morris, what with . . ."

"I'm sorry, Gail," I quelled her revolt with a masterful stroke, "but my attendance at tonight's PTA Social could have a serious bearing on my future career prospects."

"Oh well, in that case," Gail softened visibly, as I knew she would. "I'll deal with Margaret, then. You go out and - uh - have a good time."

As things turned out, I reckoned my sacrifice was greater than hers. An evening of line-dancing - in case you didn't know it - requires all participants to be dressed in the most ridiculous western gear, all of it more appropriate to a John Wayne movie than an evening of social moment in the 1990s. Costumes, alas, were provided by the PTA for those attendees unfortunate enough not to be in possession of a full set of flared and braided trousers, plus denim shirt, waistcoat and tasselled cowboy headgear. I put them all on, of course, and hoped that Ruth Lees - the only other member of staff to attend - was taking note.

Thus it was that I found myself in the midst of a spirited karaoke rendition of "Stand by Your Man" from Mrs Whiteside (mother of Doreen, class 2S), which merely acted as a prelude to a composite kick-dance (a kind of Slosh for those lacking sufficient energy or manoeuvrability to contemplate such physical excess) which seemed to go on. And on. And on.

It was a very long night, and even the midnight honour of being chosen as recipient of the PTA donation to the school (Ms Lees had left just after 10pm) couldn't fully make up for the appalling tedium which I had been forced to endure for the previous four hours. It was with decidedly mixed emotions that I accepted a cheque for Pounds 182 (enough to keep the English department in photocopying for one-and-a-half days, I reflected inwardly), plus 391 Tesco Computers for Schools vouchers.

I mumbled some appropriate words of thanks, of course, but decried privately that education should come to this. In all honesty, I'd rather have been at home and in the bosom of my family.

John Mitchell

Next month: the temporary staff become even more temporary and a former pupil prepares to sue the school

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