If there's one thing that strikes dread into the hearts, minds and stomachs of everyone going on a class trip, it's the prospect of having to experience Martina displaying her legendary inability to travel in a bus or on a train without throwing up - not once, not twice, but continually. On the way back, too.
You can see her going pale before she's even left the classroom. When being sick is as inevitable as it appears to be for the eight-year-old whenever she travels anywhere, no matter how short the journey, it's just as inevitable that she comes to anticipate it.
Luckily, so does her mum, who makes sure her daughter is always prepared with plastic bags and a change of clothes. Poor woman, she's tried everything: getting her daughter to sit near the front, asking teachers to try to distract her, having her fast asleep before a journey. All to no avail. The only thing that keeps Martina's stomach contents where they belong are antihistamines. But they also zonk her out, making the whole outing a write-off for her.
The worst of it is that it's made Martina something of a liability in the eyes of her classmates and her teachers, too. The less sympathetic children, of which there are a significant number, have nicknamed her Yak Yak. Even those who are more friendly towards her would rather forego their pocket money for a year than sit next to her on a journey. "It's so gross," says her closest friend Zo to her teacher, who has often tried unsuccessfully to get her to sit next to the stigmatised girl. "It makes me sick, too."
Zo 's not alone. Last summer's coach trip to the seaside turned into a bilious nightmare when the sights, sounds and smells of Martina's outpourings triggered off mass emetics all over the coach, accompanied, embarrassingly, by a member of staff and a parenthelper. The experience is destined to remain number one in the annals of the school's most horrible trips until the end of time - at least.
After that debacle, the staff and headteacher talked about how to handle Martina's problem in future. It's so unpleasant for everybody, not least of all Martina, that mightn't it be better if she just didn't go on school journeys? But, they agreed, inclusion is inclusion and if her mother has never suggested keeping her behind, the school shouldn't.
The question remains, though: how do you include Martina without her suffering so much? Talking to her mother about other options might help. For instance, wristbands that rest over acupressure points are said to be helpful for travel sickness. So, too, are homeopathic remedies that don't cause drowsiness.
In the meantime, it will be small consolation for teachers, classmates, the local coach company and Martina's parents to know that travel sickness is a condition that most children grow out of as they get older.
But for Martina, that's small comfort indeed. All she wants is to be able to enjoy herself like everyone else and not have to suffer the yukkiness and social humiliation of her problem. Not in five years from now, but now. And if it doesn't happen soon, she's already decided to fake illness, so she can stay at home to avoid the whole messy business.
BYLINE:A number of staff were off for a variety of reasons. I was sitting with an RE class, who were happily engaged in the work set for them. After 10 minutes, a hand went up.
"Miss," said Sam. "Why are so many teachers away?" I thought he would appreciate the full facts. "Teachers have other things to do, you know, as well as sitting in front of a class. They go on courses, attend conferences, give talks to other teachers, find out about new ways of teaching and attend workshops. It's all part of what the job of being a teacher is about."
Sam thought for a minute. "What do they do at weekends, then?" pauline RUST We pay pound;30 for each Soundbite we publish. Send yours, of about 200 words, to Jill Craven, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY Fax: 0171 782 3200