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A grey sea worth seeing

"Is that the brass band playing tiddly om pom pom?" asks Donavan. He is looking out across the bay. It is impossible to tell where grey sea ends and grey sky begins.

"No, Donavan, it's a foghorn," I tell him. "I think you'll have to wait until we walk along the prom, prom, prom, to hear the brass band."

We have been singing I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside to keep our spirits up. Well, at least the adults have. Amazingly the children are not at all downhearted by the fact that the most miserable British summer in the history of miserable British summers has chosen our trip to Scarborough to make its soggy farewell appearance.

Because Sheffield sits slap bang in the middle of the country and doesn't have much in the way of a seafaring tradition, a day out at Scarborough seemed like a good idea. We thought it would allow us to meet national curriculum requirements - children should have knowledge and understanding of places by comparing two different ones - and give them a lovely day out.

A long coach journey in heavy rain with 56 children and several well-used sick buckets does not make for a lovely day out. It does make for an educational one, though. Turns out this is Donavan's first visit to the seaside; the first time he's ever seen a harbour, fishing boats or a beach. And even though his first sight of it is restricted by poor visibility, what he cannot get over is just how big the sea is.

In truth I don't think he's been out of Sheffield much. Our journey through the Yorkshire countryside was a learning experience for us both. "Why are all the cows, except the fluffy white ones, lying down?" he asks.

"The fluffy white ones aren't cows, Donavan. Can you remember what they are? We get wool from them?" I consider adding that we eat them with mint sauce, but then it clicks.

"I know," says Donavan.


"Guinea pigs."

It is the end of the summer season and on a day like this most of Scarborough is shut. But because you can stay only so long in the comparative warmth of the lifeboat station, and because the rain has finally given way to a damp sea fret, we eventually accede to the clamour for the beach.

"OK, children, the bad news is this, while we did include paddling under supervision on the risk assessment, we forgot to take into account the possibility of someone dying of hypothermia or Mrs Jackson losing her false teeth through over-exuberant shivering. Consequently there will be no going into the sea.

"However," I add, "we can still bury each other in the sand, collect dubious things the tide has left behind and feed our lunch to the seagulls."

While the children poison the local bird population I escort groups of 10 to the Alliance Fish shop on the West Pier. Just when the live crabs and lobsters thought things couldn't get any worse, the kind lady allows the children to examine them. Now the questions come thick and fast: "Why are their claws tied up?", "Are you going to boil them alive?", "Where are their sex organs?"

"Did you like being beside the seaside?" I ask Donavan as we board the coach to go back to school.

He takes a last confused look through a rain-smeared window. "Yeah, but I always thought the sea was supposed to be blue?"

I hand him a sick bucket. "Sometimes it is, Donavan, but mostly it's like that."

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.

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