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Jakob and his argot of nowt

Jakob is the teenage son of my special educational needs co-ordinator. Occasionally, when I haven't caught up with her during the day, I phone her in the evening. If she's out, the phone is usually answered by Jakob, and since I spend most of my life talking to primary-aged children, I enjoy the opportunity for a little banter with somebody who's older. The conversation begins predictably ...

Ring, Ring. "Ullo?"

This, I've noticed, is the preferred teenage method of answering the telephone. So I say "Ullo" back.

And Jakob says, "Ullo, who's that?"

"Not telling you. Have a guess."

"It's Mike, innit. D'you want Mum?"

"No thanks, I've been trying to get rid of her for years."

Jakob laughs. "You're a joker, Mike. I mean, do you want to talk to me Mum?"

"Yes, please."

"She's out," Jakob says. "She's walking the whippet."

"Now, Jakob," I say, "you shouldn't talk about your Dad like that."

Jakob laughs that deep, growly laugh that teenage boys have - the one that makes you suspect they've been out all night on the tiles. "Sorry, Mike," he says. "She'll be back in half an hour."

"That's not good enough," I say. "When the boss rings, she should be available to take the call."

"Yeah, right, Mike. I'll tell her."

"You realise what this means, Jakob? It means I'll have to talk to you instead."

Jakob gulps at the other end of the phone. He considers the situation: I haven't really got time to talk to a boring old geezer, he thinks. I'm a teenager. I've got things to do, man. I've got stuff to protest about. I've got a room to leave in a mess. I've got music to play that's even worse than me Dad's Clash records. I need to get him off the phone pronto, so I'll keep to words of one syllable.

"So how are you these days, Jake?" I ask.

"Yeah, I'm good."

Teenagers never say, "I'm well, thanks." They always say, "I'm good." Presumably this means that late nights and filling their bodies with junk food and other substances hasn't caused them to "go bad" just yet. I change tack.

"How's school?" I ask.

"Yeah, it's all right."

"And how's the work you're doing at school? Interesting?"

"Yeah, it's all right."

"And how's life in general?"

"Yeah, it's all right."

"So, all in all, everything's all right?"

"Yeah, it's all right."

He thinks for a moment. "How are you?" he asks politely.

"Well, I'm good," I say. "Apart from the irritable bowel syndrome, and the creaking knee, and the difficulty in bending to get my socks on."

I can almost hear Jakob looking at his watch. Dear God, he's thinking, how long can this go on?

"So, what music are you into these days?" I ask.

"Oh, well, you know, garage-techno, that kind of thing."

"I like a bit of skiffle, myself," I say.

"Sorry, I don't know what that is."

"It's played with washboards and a bass you make out of an old tea chest and a broom handle. I could teach you how to make one."

"I'm a bit busy at the moment," he says, sadly.

"I could lend you some skiffle records if you want. Have you got equipment that plays 78s?"

"No," he says. "I ... er ..."

There is a sudden, carefully controlled whoop of joy.

"Mike, me Mum's home," he says happily. "You can talk to her now."

My wife has come in and caught the tail end of the conversation.

"You're a wicked bugger", she says.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, South London. E-mail:

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