All's fair in love, war and work;The adventures of Morris Simpson;School diary

3rd December 1999 at 00:00

Interview preparations have really begun in earnest, in advance of Thursday's grilling for the principal teacher of guidance post. Gail borrowed the Rockston primary video camera at the weekend and spent much time filming my answers to a range of spurious questions, after which she insisted on playing the ruddy thing back to me and analysing every nuance of expression and body language that she feels might influence the panel.

Although initially tiresome, it has been a useful experience: I had never fully realised how my left profile seems more imposing than my right, and it really does seem to lend an air of authority and credibility if I take my glasses off and give pause for thought before producing an answer. But if Gail asks me one more time to rehearse my response to "What qualities do you think you would bring to this post?", then I think I shall scream. I must be word perfect by now.


For the fourth week running, I nearly broke my neck as I entered the guidance base this morning: the cause - as before - was the flat-packed computer trolley which has remained resolutely flat, and resolutely packed, since its delivery four weeks ago. In spite of several requests to the janitorial staff, we still await its erection for our new guidance-team computer.

This morning, I took matters into my own hands. Armed with only a Phillips screwdriver, plus a considerable quantity of lateral thinking in trying to understand the instruction leaflet's injunctions to "connect panel 2 to panel 3 by using screw 8, ensuring that dowel holes face outward", I eventually succeeded in getting the damned thing serviceable. That'll show the janitors!


My newly discovered skills as a hewer of wood have not been appreciated by the chief janitor. Mr Dallas arrived in the guidance base this morning - clearly the result of a tip-off - with a large tool-box and a job-sheet.

"Right then, Mr Simpson," he enquired cheerfully. "Where's this computer troalley, then?"

"Over there, Mr Dallas," I explained, innocently pointing to the other side of the room. "That thing with the computer on it."

"But, Mr Simpson," he objected, "ah've goatta joab sheet here, that says there's a computer troalley needs assemblin'. An' it looks as if it's already been assembled! Who assembled it - was it wee Duncan?"

"It certainly wasn't 'wee Duncan'," I assured him. "I've seen neither sight nor sound of you or any of your colleagues since we made the request to have the trolley assembled four weeks ago. So I assembled it myself, and ..."

"But ah've only had this joab-sheet oan ma desk since Monday morning," he lied smoothly, "an' if - hold on a minute!" he interrupted himself. "Did ye say that you put the troalley together?" "I certainly did."

"But ye're not allowed tae. Health and safety regulations clearly state that any constructional furniture that's tae be assembled oan site has tae be assembled by an appropriately qualified employee. Which I am. And you're noat!" he jabbed a peremptory finger in my direction and I jumped back in my chair, startled.

"Ye'll need tae dismantle it, Mr Simpson," he warned as he left the guidance office, "or the insurance won't cover it. Ah'll be back oan - eh - Friday's the first ah can manage," he mentally consulted his busy schedule of endless tea breaks and closed-circuit TV monitoring. "And then ah'll be happy tae assemble yur troalley. Properly, this time."

I sat back in my chair and sighed, then decided to forget it. After all, I've got more important things to think about.

Like tomorrow ...

Thursday (Interview day)

The morning was difficult, because I was involved in the obligatory "show-round" of the school along with all of the other candidates for the job - in spite of the fact that I could have given each and every one of them a guided tour myself, right down to the spot where Mr Pickup had that unfortunate incident last year with a tube of Germolene in the staffroom.

Anyway, at least it gave me a chance to size up the opposition. To be honest, it didn't seem to amount to much: one chap, a Mr Tolan, admitted he was in it for the "interview experience" and the two ladies on parade appeared deeply apprehensive. But I wasn't leaving anything to chance.

"A word of advice," I leaned over my caramel flan at the candidates' lunch and spoke quietly to Miss Medwin. "About Ruth Lees, the depute here: she's got a terrific sense of humour," I lied with blatant affront. "So if you can do anything to crack a joke or two, get her in your sights beforehand.

"And she's got a real down on school uniform," I turned next to Mrs Wright on my left. "The head's been trying to reintroduce a uniform policy, and she's fighting it tooth and nail. She thinks it's demeaning to the kids, and completely unfair to those on lower incomes," I shook my head sadly. "And whatever you think about her views, it's her that's on the interview panel and not Mr Tod. So you'd be advised to frame your answers accordingly."

"Gosh, thanks Morris," Mrs Wright appeared breathless with gratitude. "It's really good of you to come clean like that." I felt a pang of guilt, but it wasn't that large, to be honest. After 15 years before the mast, I think it's every man for himself. Or woman.

My own interview went like a dream. Of course, as the last candidate in, I had the confidence-building experience of witnessing my three rivals emerge in varying states of mental condition. Brendan Tolan, of course, appeared fairly nonchalant, while Jacky Wright had clearly received a frosty response to her denunciation of school uniforms. And in the post-match briefing with Sarah Medwin, I had to control myself when she explained how, in response to the question "What do you feel about co-operative teaching?" she had winked broadly at Ms Lees before announcing that she thought it was a very good thing for all the members of a department to get on well with each other.

"They all thought I meant it seriously," she said, "and Ruth Lees just didn't seem to get it."

"Really?" I arched my eyebrows. "That's strange. She's usually very sharp." And then I quietly clenched my fists in excitement, knowing the job must surely be mine.

Certainly, my television training with Gail stood me in good stead. I made sure to turn slightly to the right as I answered every question thrown at me, and removing my glasses gave me time to compose a proper response to the hardest one I got ("What managerial strategies would you bring to bear with a member of the guidance department who considered you to be incompetent?").

The only question they forgot to ask was "What qualities do you think you could bring to bear in this position?", and I wasn't going to let them get away with not hearing my answer! When it came to their final enquiry - "Now, do you have any questions for us?" - I turned the whole affair on its head with: "Well, I wondered if you'd be interested to know what qualities I think I could bring to the post?" The PT guidance from Graybridge Secondary (whose question this should clearly have been) was initially discomfited to be reminded of his omission, but recovered with alacrity by indicating that nothing would interest him more.

I gave the stock response and that, frankly, was that. I walked out of the interview room knowing that I'd got the job. Forty minutes later, and Morris Simpson was Principal Teacher of Guidance, Greenfield Academy. They didn't exactly announce it with a puff of white smoke, but when the news came through I felt beatific!

Along with today's dollop of backdated pay settlement, I think I could safely say that this has been the most satisfactory day of my career to date. I wonder how long it'll be until I make assistant headteacher?


Amid all the congratulatory messages this morning, it was difficult to draw my mind back to the matter of Mr Dallas and the still-assembled computer trolley. However, as things turned out, we reached an amicable solution.

"I'm terribly sorry, Mr Dallas," I explained with deep contrition, "but I simply haven't had time to take the ruddy thing apart yet."

He drew himself up to his full height and was about to bristle, but I jumped straight in. "Of course, I could get on and dismantle the whole thing now if you can just wait a few minutes. But couldn't we try another approach?"

"Such as?"

"Well, let's say you were to check the tightness of every single screw, and visually inspect every joint that's been made!"

"Uh-huh?" he said suspiciously.

"And suppose I was to give you this final castor to complete the trolley's construction?" I handed him the item I'd earlier removed. "Couldn't we say that you'd performed the final construction, with a degree of assistance from me? And that it took you, say, an hour and 40 minutes to do it?" His face lit up as he foresaw the possibility of an extended tea break with a job sheet for an alibi.

"Ah'll jist get checkin' those screw torques!" he announced as he took the castor from me. Five minutes later, he was gone.

Somebody once told me that being a guidance teacher was all about giving recalcitrant pupils an escape route with dignity from their misdemeanours, plus the chance to start afresh. They didn't mention recalcitrant janitors.

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