Frankly, it creates the most hellish din, and I am convinced that the decibel output exceeds health and safety regulations in such a confined space. Still, I have to confess that it must be having the desired effect from Mr Tod's point of view: nobody's been late for a lesson since the bell arrived, because we all rush out clutching hands to ears at the first strident clanging, and arrive at our rooms at the same time as our classes. And sometimes even before them.
Tuesday: Planned Activity Time was devoted entirely to the latest in a long line of initiatives from Ruth Lees, our ambitious depute head. This time, she is launching a "Positively Disciplined" strategy. Notwithstanding Mr Pickup's prurient suggestion that Ms Lees's presentation of a strategy with a name like "Positively Disciplined" might be best given in a PVC basque, with thigh-length boots and a five-thonged whip to match, she actually had me convinced about what she's trying to do.
"What the discipline strategy requires," she exhorted us, "is a system whereby the kids aren't constantly chastised for doing wrong". Pickup raised his eyebrows, but refrained from comment. "No," Ms Lees continued, "we need to introduce a system of rewards for doing right, where good behaviour is praised and acknowledged, so that the kids come to recognise the value of proper behaviour and application."
Pickup snorted, but Ruth carried on regardless. "So what I want to introduce is a merit system, whereby we're always on the look-out for things to praise, always open to the possibilities for motivating them to even better behaviour. And I want it noted and recorded on these cards" (at which point she held up an example) "and awarded a merit point. When any one kid's achieved 10 merit points, then they're eligible for a small award. When they've got 20, it's a larger award; 30 - an even bigger award. And so on. I've secured sponsorship from a lot of local companies, and they're all willing to donate awards: we've got free filled rolls from Mr Rashwani's shop, plus some football stickers from the Rockston Newsagents, hamburgers from the local take-away, and culminating in some free cinema tickets for achieving our Gold Behaviour Award!" She stopped, aglow with enthusiasm. Trust Pickup to try to hijack matters.
"Would I be correct in thinking, Ms Lees," he enquired, "that this positive discipline strategy is intended to take the place of your review of children with Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder, when you seemed keener to eliminate misbehaviour by categorising the vast majority of the Second Year as unteachable and therefore appropriate candidates for medicinal remediation?" She had her answer ready: "No, no, David," she assured him. "The Positively Disciplined Strategy will run in tandem with the ADHD initiative, but I'm passing responsibility for the latter on to Mrs Grant." At which point Brenda sat up straight, clearly as surprised by the news as anyone else in the room.
Pickup bit his tongue, but wasn't about to let go without a struggle. "So this positive discipline strategy, this points thing, is kind of like a supermarket loyalty scheme?" "That's right!" beamed Ms Lees, blissfully unaware of Pickup's irony.
"My God," he shook his head sadly. "You'll be issuing them with swipe cards next, so that every time they actually get round to doing their homework we can pat them on the back and give them 50 points."
Ruth's eyes opened wide with delight. "Gosh, yes, David! What a super idea!" Pickup shuddered, and put his head quietly in his hands.
Wednesday: I think I'm sickening for something. My head was thumping all morning, and I began to experience severe spells of dizziness in the afternoon. Not that I got any sympathy. Most of the staff were too concerned about the cacophonous din which continues to shatter the staffroom peace every time a change of period is signalled.
Mr Pickup was in particularly vituperative mood this afternoon. Having just settled down for a post-prandial snooze during his double free period, he found himself rudely awakened by the strident summons of the bell to mark the end of Period 5.
"Bloody hell!" he jumped from his chair like the proverbial scalded cat. "What the buggeration. Ah, that ruddy bell!" he glowered above the door lintel. "I've a good mind toI " he tailed off. And then, he clearly decided to do it. Securing a chair from the marking table, plus a large slice of cardboard from an empty milk carton, Pickup clambered aloft the doorway and thrust a wedge betwixt wall and dome. "There!" he muttered with satisfaction. "That's shut it up."
Sure enough, the conclusion of Period 6 was audible, but severely muted. For which relief, much thanks.
Thursday: My dizzy spells increased last night, and I had to take the day off. I'm a bit worried about missing my Higher class, obviously, but Gail insisted that I miss work. As she so correctly pointed out, four days' absence for illness in 12 years of teaching could hardly be considered as malingering - plus, it would give me the chance to spend some quality time with Margaret - as well as change a few nappies.
Unfortunately, her view of the situation did not coincide with Mr Tod's, as Mrs David from the school office informed me at 2.30 this afternoon. "I'm sorry to bother you, Mr Simpson," she enquired hesitantly, "but Mr Tod was just wanting to make sure you'd be back in school tomorrow?" "Well, I don't know, Mrs David," I shook my head in bewilderment. "I'm certainly feeling a little better at present, but I'm still in bed, and what with theI " "It's just that he hasn't got any more absence-cover money," Mrs David interrupted. "He's vired most of it to pay for painting the science labs, and the last of it was used up with re-positioning that bell into the staffroom, so if anyone else goes off sick - anyone important, like - before the end of March, Mr Tod says we're in real trouble, so would you be able to consider making every effort to get in tomorrow if at all possible? And if you can't, he wants a doctor's certificate on his desk first thing in the morning."
I promised to do my best.
Friday: I struggled in, but - to be honest - I don't know why I bothered. Most of my Higher class were away on a science society excursion and, of the four who were actually present, only two remained awake throughout my carefully prepared lesson on reflective essay techniques. And then Mr Pickup spent the entire lunch hour berating Ms Lees's new discipline strategy: the bulk of his complaints comprised his - no doubt honestly felt - conviction that he has so far been completely unable to perceive any behaviour of the slightest merit which would permit him to award any "Greenfield Good Attitude" points (as Ms Lees has quaintly entitled them).
"It's true, Morris," he elaborated, just as we were about to enter the afternoon's fray. "That's two-and-a-half days now, and I've yet to find anything worthy of praise in the 126 children who've passed through my hands since Tuesday. Who does that woman think she's kidding with a discipline strategy based on rewarding good behaviour? What we need here is a code of conduct which makes it clear that any little bI who steps out of line is going to be well and truly hammered by every single - oh bloody hell!" he declaimed in exasperation as the staffroom bell shattered the peace with another call to arms. Pickup covered his ears. "I thought I'd shut that ruddy thing up! Do me a favour, Morris," he pleaded, in genuine discomfort. "Stick a sock in it, will you?" At which point he did indeed hand me a sock - from the PE "Lost and Found" box.
I shrugged. Five minutes later, I wished I hadn't acceded to my friend's request, for it was just after I had clambered aloft a chair, sock in hand, that Mr Tod chose to enter the staffroom on one of his increasingly frequent tours of duty to ensure staff were appropriately in place - behind a desk and in front of a class.
"Ah, Mr Simpson," he looked up at me. "Your dizzy spells are obviously a thing of the past?" "Uh - well - more or less, Mr Tod," I stuttered a response to a question which he had clearly intended to be rhetorical, "though I'm still feeling ever so slightlyI " "Good," he interrupted. "Because it would appear that 2N are still awaiting the benefits of your educational ministrations - such as they are," he tailed off with threatening malevolence.
"Uh - right, Mr Tod. Fine, Mr Tod," I wobbled uneasily on the chair.
"Fine, Mr Simpson," Tod mimicked me cruelly. "And don't let me catch you trying to stifle that bell again," he cut in sharply.
"I wondered who'd stuck the cardboard in last Wednesday, and if I catch you at it again, then it could be a matter for disciplinary proceedings."
My jaw dropped, and I looked over to Mr Pickup in the hope that he would acquaint Tod with a more accurate version of events. To my astonishment, my despair and my eternal disappointment, he simply arched his eyebrows, then commenced an innocent and tuneless whistling before asking Tod to excuse him as he sidled out to take his fifth year class on ethics and morals.
Talk about walking by on the other side.