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Soggy pizza? Pure poetry, dahling

The school dinner, drab buildings and hysterical girls - a famous poet positively gushes . Gill Pyatt is amazed

My school recently played host to a famous poet - let's call him Fampo - who was visiting our local education authority. Here's how it went.

My secretary does all the administration for the day's visit, and at one point tells me he sounds like a recently departed member of staff who was the bane of the staffroom, a non-attender of cover lessons and loser of school reports.

At the appointed time, she phones through to me. "Your visitor is coming down the drive. No, wait a minute, there are four of them." I rush out and adopt a nonchalant pose. The first two men flash identity cards and say they are DC Bloggs and colleague, and have come about the recent problem at the shopping precinct.

I hiss for the receptionist to find one of the assistant heads as Fampo enters, looking like a latter-day Oscar Wilde, with chauffeur in tow. After coffee in my office, we tour the school, talk about the buildings and the cost of heating the place.

Throughout, his responses are a mixture of, "fabulous, wonderful, dahling, enchanting" - strange comments to make about local authority procedures.

Then it's break in the staffroom to meet "everybody". The staff have been instructed to leave one clean mug for Fampo's coffee. This generates a challenging "Why? He said he wanted to see the school just as it is, we can't find clean mugs, so why the fuss for him?" An assistant head welcomes him with a clean mug of coffee which he describes as "absolutely fabulous" before flitting off to talk to the regularly seated groups in the staffroom.

The bell rings for the end of break, I look at my watch, cough and do the usual panoramic view round the room. The staff smile back and, not wishing to appear rude to Fampo, continue talking to him or anticipating his next flit to their huddle. Another louder cough and the groups begin to break up as I catch Fampo, to take him speedily on to the library, where the librarian and head of English wait with a Year 7 class.

I leave him and return to my office. When I go back to get him, I'm met by Year 7s, who say they are thrilled to have the autograph of J K Rowling. "No, it was Jackie Wilson," says another. "No girlsI he isn't either of those people, they are women, aren't they?" "Oh yeah," says a friend, "he's not Harry Potter."

I search for him. The head of English is flustered as Fampo has disappeared. A hand waves in panic from the door of the Spanish room. I investigate. He's followed the signs to modern languages and has seen an "absolutely fabulous French lesson". But it's Spanish. He sits at the back of the classroom nodding and looking bemused, giving me a short wave to show he's happy. I leave him there.

At lunch, he's offered priority choice from the dinner menu. He considers the range "absolutely divine" and just cannot decide. The secretary grins and questions if he'll say the same after he's eaten a plate of pizza, chips and beans. He tells me that he wants to have his pizza in the refectory and experience the full working ambience. I tell him it's a dining room that doubles up as a wet weather space, an overspill classroom and a waiting area on parents' evening, but he's not deterred.

Fighting to the front of the queue and trying to stop cream buns sticking to his mauve velvet jacket, I introduce him to the head cook. He looks at a tray of buns and describes them as "absolutely wonderful", asking her, rhetorically, how she manages to produce such splendid food.

The pupils are stunned by his description of their repetitive menu, while head cook begins with: "Well, I takes lots of bags of flour and mixes in lots of boxes of fat and thenI " In spite of her potential revelation that real ingredients do go into school food, I realise Fampo is making himself dizzy with his exaggerated nods to her every phrase, so I take him back to my office.

His presence has generated real interest among some Year 9 pupils, who bring their work to show him while he consumes a soggy pizza. He's sincerely encouraging in his comments to the small poetry circle and gives them inspiration. Then some Year 11s join us. Towards the end of the conversation he turns to Kayleigh and says: "And what about you, my dear, what about your work?" With usual indifference, she replies: "I work up the Moat". There's a long, perplexed silence before I explain. "What Kayleigh means is that she works at a nearby hotel at weekends."

"And on Wednesdays as well," Kayleigh adds.

As the girls leave my office, Fampo asks how much the fees are for this school. I tell him it's an LEA school. He blinks and asks if that means public or private; a rapid scamper through the concept of a local authority follows.

After lunch, he's taken to meet more pupils while I teach my classes. En route he pops into a tiny office, converted from an old medical room that now houses one of the assistant heads. He looks around and declares it an absolutely charming little room, not a description used by its occupant, who suffers the regular flushing of the plumbing system on the floor above.

In the familiar surroundings of my classroom, I temporarily forget Fampo and plunge into Year 11 higher maths. The chauffeur returns earlier than anticipated. An assistant head finds Fampo and brings him to my classroom to bid farewell. She stands nearer to him than me and is clutched and kissed and thanked while Year 11 watch in silent fascination. One catches my eye as I grin at the embarrassment of my assistant head. That momentary slip of attention is all it takes before Fampo flings his arms around me and kisses me a fond farewell.

Waving and blowing even more kisses, he backs out of my classroom. As the door shuts, the girls fall off their chairs in hysteria. "Bet we don't see you two like that again," they say. I bet it will be all round the shopping precinct tonight. And then I remember, I never did find out what the police wanted.

Gill Pyatt is head of Barnwood Park school, Gloucester

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