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So long, it's been colourful

Monday Marking English scripts for the Scottish Qualifications Authority has proved more time-consuming - and less financially rewarding - than I could ever have imagined to be the case. In short, I seem to be working all night and every night in a frantic effort to keep up with the voluminous sack-loads of Standard grade offerings that have been assigned to my care.

I wouldn't mind if I thought the pay cheque that will arrive later this summer would reflect my professional status as a national assessor. But when I count up the time taken to mark each blessed script and divide it by the remuneration on offer, I think I could have a case against the SQA for contravention of the minimum wage agreement.

This evening I had to call an early halt so that Gail could tidy up the house in preparation for our umpteenth set of house viewers. Alas, our estate agent's promises of a quick sale seem to have drifted into the summer skies as potential buyer after potential buyer has failed to register a sniff of interest, let alone engage a surveyor.

Tonight turned out to be a fairly typical evening: of the three viewers who had arranged to come round, two couples failed to turn up and the third (a lady on her own) was someone whom Gail described as "a professional viewer - and a right bloody nosy parker" who spent all of her time sniffing disdainfully, especially when she examined the bedroom furnishings that we have generously decided to throw in with the asking price.

"Are these traditional construction wardrobes that are included with the price?" she enquired pointedly, "or are they self-assembly wardrobes?" and she sniffed imperiously once more. "They look like self-assembly to me."

Maybe it was her dismissive tone that annoyed me, but I saw red for a moment as this obnoxious woman chose to deride our family love nest.

"Actually, they're the latter, Mrs Williams," I informed her politely. "Or, as we prefer to call them, suppository furniture."

She looked puzzled. "Suppository furniture? How d'you mean?" "You put it up yourself, Mrs Williams.

"Now, if you'd like to make your way downstairs," I ushered her quickly out without showing her the rest of the bedrooms, "then you can see the garden before you go."

It was an old joke, I know, and worthy of David McManus, Greenfield Academy's principal teacher of biology, at his worst, but she was halfway across the geraniums before she got it. And it was with a look of pained revulsion that she gruffly thanked me for showing her around our "lovely little house" and informed us that she'd be letting the estate agent know if she wanted to take it any further.

"Not if I've got anything to do with it, you won't," I muttered between clenched teeth as she got into her car and drove away. "I wouldn't sell it to you if you were the last person on Earth."

Gail thought I'd been wonderful, which made a nice change.

Tuesday It's the school leavers' dinner and dance this evening. And a fond farewell to some of our more colourful charges who have chosen not to return for the benefits of a sixth year. It seems like only yesterday that we were welcoming - if that is the word - the likes of Damien Steele, Graham Farr, Lisa Charles and Kylie Donahue into the first year. Yet it's been five full years. Five very full years.

Looking back, the electronic classroom disruptions caused by the girls' "Tamagotchi cyber-pets" in those early years seem small beer compared to the later problems caused by their near-universal ownership of mobile telephones and all of the attendant disciplinary problems occasioned by these annoying devices.

And how could I forget my horror when Damien and Graham discovered the joys of freely available pornography on the school's Internet-connected computer facilities? Yet even that pales into insignificance when I recall the coitus interruptus between Damien and Kylie that I, er, interrupted outside the school gymnasium at last December's senior Christmas ball.

It's been quite a colourful year-group, I have to admit.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the scenes of devastation that met my eyes when I "popped in" to the Greenfield Bridge Hotel at the evening's end tonight to wish everyone well. Sadly, there were few pupils in sufficiently cognisant state to receive my blessing.

Four of them appeared to have passed out on a leatherette settee, and Graham welcomed my arrival through the automatic doors by rushing past me in a frantic attempt to vomit outside the hotel reception area rather than in it. Steven Austin was propositioning the duty manageress. And Damien and Kylie were to be discovered in a taxi telephone booth in what appeared to be an even more advanced state of sexual congress than at the Christmas dance.

Meanwhile, George Crumley was in the final stages of a torrid discussion with the hotel management. In brief, a large contribution from Greenfield Academy's Special Events Fund was being promised in order to make good the damage occasioned in the hotel's main function suite, as well as the unfortunate accident involving a bass guitar and the head waiter.

"Never again, Morris," Crumley exhaled deeply as I drew close.

"What? You're not going to supervise the leavers' dinner again?" "Probably not," he shrugged. "But certainly not at the Greenfield Bridge. They've said they'll never accept a booking from us again. Which makes three hotels in the past four years who've said the same thing. What d'you say we have it at your house next year?" Somehow, I said, I didn't see Gail acquiescing.

"No," George acknowledged sadly as he surveyed the detritus of party poppers, streamers plus food and drinks spilled on the carpet. "Can't say I'd blame her, really."

Wednesday More house viewers, but this time I think we've struck it lucky.

Mr and Mrs French seemed quite infatuated with our house. We took them from room to room and listened with growing incredulity to their affectionate remarks.

"Oh, but this is just divine," emphasised Mrs French as she checked out the dining room. "I can just see us having a Christmas dinner here. Can't you, Harry?" she demanded of her somewhat intractable spouse.

"Aye. Sure thing," he nodded.

And so it went on. Mrs French saw a room and exploded with orgasmic pleasure. And Mr French nodded quiet assent at every turn.

By the end of the tour, I felt sure of the eventual sale and offered them free access for a second, private tour. They assented immediately and I could virtually smell the offer in my hands. They set off half an hour later with an assurance that they'd be making an offer as soon as possible, because they "didn't want to miss out on a place like this".

If only I'd known that people never mean what they say.

Thursday The estate agent telephoned this morning with an update: 21 sets of viewers, no expressions of interest and no surveys instructed.

"But what about Mr and Mrs French? They said they'd be contacting their building society!" "Um, sorry," apologised Leanne. "We checked them out this morning and they're not really interested. Said the garden was too small."

"But they don't like gardening!" I couldn't believe my ears.

"They said they wanted a low-maintenance house!" "Maybe they did, Mr Simpson," Leanne replied solicitously, "but people often say strange things when they're viewing houses. The bottom line is they're not in the slightest bit interested."

I sighed with despair. The only consolation is that we don't need to move in July, as originally anticipated. The builders of our new house have had to move our entrance date back. So at least we've got a few extra weeks to sell our place.

Friday Today's school awards ceremony was injudiciously marked by a severe lack of senior pupils. For many, Tuesday's debacle at the Greenfield Bridge Hotel clearly signalled the end of academic endeavour and recognition.

This was a pity, because Councillor Malcolm's wife had made an enormous effort to be attractively bedecked with gladioli and carnations in order to present a selection of awards to Greenfield's finest.

Anyway, it was good to see a fine turn-out from the first years and even better to see the results of our transition to work award scheme, which witnessed Steven Austin receiving a prize in recognition of his perfect attendance record at the local bakery and Charmaine Fraser attaining an army placement as a result of her spell with the Parkland Territorials.

And so, as with many such events over the past 17 years, our term came to a somewhat desultory end. But I look forward to a brighter tomorrow, I must say, what with a healthier pay cheque every month, plus I now have the chance to contribute my thoughts to the General Teaching Council on how we can best advance our professional status in the public eye by embracing a system of continuing professional development.

"You what?!" scoffed Crumley as I shared such thoughts over our lunchtime cheese and wine. "You're not honestly going in for that continuing professional development crap, are you? Now we've got the money we've deserved for the past 15 years, there's no way they're getting any extra pounds of flesh out of me! I've been a professional all my teaching life and I don't need any schemes to make me more professional."

I don't think this is the kind of give and take that the Education Minister had in mind when he secured such a generous pay award earlier in the year. I found Crumley's attitude unprofessional in the extreme and I told him so.

And as soon as I've finished my SQA marking, I look forward to submitting my views on CPD to the GTC.

Trouble is, I'm not too sure when that will be. The pile of scripts on the kitchen table seems to get larger every time I look at it. And there was a message from the SQA when I got home: would I mind taking another 60 papers to "clear a bit of a logjam"? They sounded pretty desperate. I just hope there won't be the same trouble as last year.

John Mitchell

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