The pupils in Class 1W are putting an immense strain on the disciplinary tolerance of our guidance staff. Especially mine.
This morning, for example, Mr Pickup caught Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell ensconced in a first-year boys' toilet cubicle with Kylie Paterson. While there might have been a time when he'd have dealt with the issue himself, his pre-retirement demeanour has led to a frequent pre-disposition for following school disciplinary procedures to the letter. Thus it was that he marched all thee miscreants into my office this morning.
"Here you are, Mr Simpson," he smiled. "Perhaps you'd like to enquire why these two gentlemen had squeezed into Cubicle 4 with this young lady. I think they're Mr Gordon's guidance group, but as he's away on a timetabling course, I reckoned you'd be keen to deal with the problem straight away." And he smiled again, then left the room.
"Three of you?" I commenced enquiries. "In a toilet cubicle?" They looked sheepish, but I was determined to elicit an answer.
"Well? I'm waiting." My silent routine usually scares them into response, and this was no exception. O'Farrell eventually stuttered an explanation.
"We wur givin Kylie an aspirin," he looked me defiantly in the eye.
"Tha's right, sur," Kylie insisted. "An aspirin."
"In the toilet?" "Mmm," O'Farrell mumbled.
I told them I'd never heard anything more ridiculous, issued a punishment exercise to each of them and warned there'd better be no repetition. Pickup seemed to think it hilarious when I passed on news of their excuse to him at lunchtime.
"They were giving her something all right, but it certainly didn't sound like aspirin from the noises I could hear behind the cubicle door."
"You what? But you didn't say that when you brought them round! D'you mean they were actually...? At that age?" "No, no, no, Morris," Pickup raised a hand in protestation. "Not 'actually', as you so quaintly put it. But there were certainly some exploratory fumblings going on."
I was shocked. To think what their parents would say.
I've discovered what Peter O'Farrell's parents would say about their son's behaviour. Precisely nothing. Indeed, they would seem to positively encourage it, if their sub-literate letter to me this morning is any indication of the parental support they intend to offer the school throughout the years of Peter's secondary schooling.
In short, they have refused to allow Peter to undertake the punishment exercise I allocated yesterday morning. To quote from Mr O'Farrell's letter, they see "nothing rong with Peter being in a toylet cubeical at playtime if he has to do something natchural."
My first instinct was to telephone the wretched man immediately and clear up the misunderstanding about exactly which natural function his son had been trying to embark upon, but Pickup advised me against telling him that his son had been lying to him.
"These kinds of parents will believe their son before anybody else, Morris. Before a judge, a lawyer, a policeman, and a teacher. Especially a teacher. Forget it. Just make the boy's life misery from now on. It's the only way you can get your own back."
I sighed. Sometimes I don't think I'm fit for the struggle any more.
Pickup seems intent on rubbing the salt of his retirement plans for next June into the wound of my current dissatisfaction with the job. Not content with crossing off every half-day on his enormous staff room "Countdown Calendar", he announced this morning that he's planning to take up the council's offer of Retirement Classes from next month onwards.
"Well, it'll be quite difficult," he smirked, when I asked what on earth you needed to have classes in when you're planning to retire. "It really will, Morris. Trying to decide whether to go to the pictures. Or read a book. Or whether to just stay in bed and think of you poor saps working your guts out here at school."
I frowned in envy, but was unable to carry on the discussion because a first-year pupil arrived at the staffroom door and announced that Peter O'Farrell and Michael Willis were having a fight in the first-year cloakroom over ownership of one of the latest Pro-yos. It had all calmed down by the time I got there, but O'Farrell had a pretty nasty rip in the seat of his pants, after Willis had apparently tried to clench him angrily in the genital area. That, at least, was the general gist of O'Farrell's accusations towards his classmate - even if he was unable to frame them in quite such euphemistic tones.
What a day! First of all,Peter O'Farrell's father has written to the school demanding reimbursement of repair costs to his son's trousers, or a completely new pair if they prove beyond redemption - "or I will ask my solisitur to right to the cownsil". I passed the letter on to Jim Henderson.
Then Marlene Beveridge arrived back at school. Having left at the end of fifth year in June, she has discovered the world of potential employment offers less opportunity than she had anticipated for a 16-year-old with three Standard grade passes at Foundation level. I greeted her with mixed emotions in the corridor - I haven't forgotten the inappropriately affectionate tenor of her feelings towards me over the years - and tried to keep the conversation fairly mundane.
"A good summer, Marlene?" "Ooh, yes, sir," her eyes lit up with excitement. "But it's next year I'm really looking forward to. I'm going on an 18-30 holiday to Ibiza. Amanda and I just booked it up last week."
"But you're not 18, Marlene," I pointed out. "And you still won't be, by then. Surely you can't?" "Oh, it's OK, sir," she explained joyously. "If your mum signs a waiver to say you can go, then they let you."
"Do they indeed?" I shook my head in bewilderment. I've seen these holidays on quite a few television programmes, and I thought it best to advise Marlene of the sexual licentiousness that sometimes goes on. "Mmm," she smiled broadly. "That's right. Mum says I should enjoy myself while I'm young, and that it's just a bit of fun, and anyway, she says if Amanda's with me as well, then there's less chance of anything serious happening."
As a template for parental guidance to teenage daughters, it seemed to lack something. And - as somebody once said - how very unlike the home life of our own dear queen...
Finally, I was dismayed to have my last lesson of the afternoon disrupted by the seemingly uncontrollable behaviour of 1W. They really are the most difficult class of my entire teaching career: if one of them's not demanding attention for something spurious, another will be hurling insults or projectile missiles across the room. I've had classes with disruptive elements before - but it's been a long time since I've had 29 of them, all in the same class. I wonder if they're putting anything in the water?
Jack Boyd has come up with the dippiest theory I've ever heard. Or, rather, he's passed it on to me from some of the meetings he's been having with his fellow educational psychologists.
I'd brought up the matter of 1W with him when he was in the school this morning for his weekly assessment meetings. He heard me out thoughtfully as I narrated the catalogue of indiscipline and hyperactive behaviour I've witnessed from 1W since they arrived in August.
"Hmm," he stroked his chin and looked over his glasses. "It sounds as if it's another case of Chernobyl Factor."
"Chernobyl Factor?" "Yes. These kids were all either born, or in gestation, during the year of the Chernobyl disaster. And we're noticing an increasing quantity of attention deficit and hyperactive kids from that year. We reckon the radioactive cloud affected more than just sheep, Mr Simpson, and any mother who was exposed to..."
"You've got to be joking!" I interrupted him in amazement. "It's nothing to do with Chernobyl, Mr Boyd. It's to do with parents, that's what it's to do with! Parents who haven't got a bloody clue what discipline is. Or what morality or respect is, and how they should teach them to their children before they set eyes on the school door, instead of complaining to us when their kids turn out as useless dossers after 11 years of compulsory education and ruddy chaos in the classroom!" I was shouting by now, and suddenly realised it. Turning away from Jack Boyd in embarrassed silence, I began to chide myself for giving vent to my frustrations in this uncharacteristic manner. If I don't watch out, I'll be ending up like Pickup.
Unfortunately he clearly agreed with this assessment, for he'd been standing nearby and had drunk in every word.
"That's my boy, Morris," he clapped me on the shoulder as I went on my way. "That's my boy." He was evidently proud of his protege. Even if it's taken him 14 years to get through to me.