And so we face the final curtain

30th June 2000 at 01:00
The adventures of Morris Simpson.


This week looks set to be the saddest of my teaching career, notwithstanding the imminence of the end of term. Alas, my old friend and mentor, David Pickup, had a massive coronary attack at last month's farewell dinner for Mr Tod and Ms Lees. He lost his fight for life last Thursday; his funeral is on Friday. As the recipient of his chair in the staffroom plus his coffee mug, I am due to make the public tribute.

Frankly, his untimely death has left me filled with disaffection and I am unable to face the daily round of lessons with recalcitrant pupils. Consequently, I have resorted to a diet of pre-recorded video tapes for nearly all my classes this week.

Alas, even this initiative seems cast with tribulation, because the television developed a series of irritating failures during the course of a Shakespeare video I showed to my second years in preparation for their Standard grade course next year. First the volume level dropped to a whisper and then made resurgence with startling ferocity as I adjusted the controls, causing me to jump back in alarm. After that the picture disappeared.

"Must be a faulty tape, sur," claimed Michael Willis.

"Ah've goat a Friends tape here. Kin we watch that instead?" I sighed, shrugged my shoulders and took up the offer. It seemed to do the trick and 2C kept silent for the rest of the period.


Gail has been frustrated beyond belief as the children in her P7 class have been marking their final weeks at Parkland Primary by mounting a valedictory extortion racket based on the dubious trading value of Pokemon cards. Apparently, Tony McManaman was behind the most outrageous episode, wherein a P5 pupil was persuaded that it would be in his very best interests to swap a "Mew" for a "Mewtwo" plus a "Pikachu" (an apparently lunatic financial exchange), otherwise he might find himself in need of "some serious plastic surgery".

The P5 child's parents were up at the school this morning, though not to demand that this ridiculous practice be banned from the playground forthwith. Rather, they were desperate to see the reinstatement of their son's apparently invaluable cards on the basis that they could be "worth a bloody fortune in the right hands".

I just hope that this pathetic craze is over by the time McManaman joins us at Greenfield Academy in August.

Meanwhile, the English department's store of video tapes continues to give problems. This afternoon, I was showing a rather dated copy of The English Programme to 2C (so dated, indeed, that most of the participants were wearing flared trousers!). Once again, however, the quality of the tape spoiled the experience, with intermittent volume levels and sudden loss of picture rendering the programme unwatchable.

Kylie Patterson offered to help out with a video she had entitled South Park, which she suggested the class would enjoy. She said it was a National Geographic production that she had "taped oaff the satellite, all about gruzzly bears". I gave permission and went off in search of Simon Young to ask whether we were storing the tapes too near a magnetic source. By the time I got back, it was too late to realise that Kylie's tape was not exactly as she had claimed.


As we draw near to the end of session, and notwithstanding the melancholy of the week's end, most members of staff are having to look ahead to next year. As ever, there will be new challenges; as ever, the staff at Greenfield will do their resolute best to ignore them.

Simon Young, for example, has dug in his heels once more about the implementation of the Higher in English, and the words "over my dead body" (a particularly tasteless remark given Pickup's demise) "unless the SQA gets its act together" were uttered again at the departmental meeting.

And Pamela Blane seems unlikely to be in a position to implement the latest 5-14 guidelines for modern European languages, as she has not yet been in receipt of them. ("Oh, they'll arrive all right," she explained to me. "Probably on Friday morning with a request for returned comments to be made by the end of July.") Then there's the McCrone report to consider. Among all the recommendations and considerations that might, or might not, be implemented, one thing is clear: Ruth Lees, our depute head recently departed for the world of educational consultancy, saw the writing on the wall and got out while the going was good. Her decision is indeed being seen as prescient, given the fact that in two years' time she would seem likely to be getting the same pay as our lethargic bunch of assistant headteachers. And none is more lethargic than Jim Henderson.

"Too bloody right!" laughed George Crumley when I formulated the thought at morning break. "Poor Ruth: 15 years climbing the greasy pole, only to find she'd be on the same salary scale as Jim, whose last management decision was to replace the toilet roll dispensers in the boys' bogs!" I started to say that I thought his contribution to the school had been a lot more than that. And then I began to wonder whether Professor McCrone might have learned a thing or two from speaking to the likes of Jim.


Our new headteacher has been announced. It's Richard Dick. His appointment was marked aptly by the art department, who sent around an italic script notification framed in a funereal black border.

"My God," said George, shaking his head as he pinned the proclamation to the staffroom noticeboard. "It doesn't seem like six years since that feisty prat went off to be head at Parkhill Academy. Why's he coming back here, then?" "His escape tunnel fell in," I explained. "Three years at Parkhill, then out into the glad confident morning of a senior advisory post only to have it made surplus to requirements earlier this year. So we've got him back."

I stifled a bitter laugh. "If only Pickup could have lived to see the day."

"I don't know, Morris," said George, looking quizzically over his glasses at me. "I think it's as well he never knew."

Perhaps he was right, as I couldn't help but remark to Gail this evening. "He always hated Richard Dick," I told her. "He called him a jumped-up little squirt with one eye to the main chance. And the other on any female probationary teachers who passed his way." I laughed in recollection and fell silent as a lump grew in my throat at the prospect of tomorrow's funeral service.

"Come on, Morris," Gail tried to console me. "It'll soon be the holidays."

"Not for David Pickup," I swallowed hard. "Not for David Pickup. He was like a Mr Chips to that school."

"Mr Chips?" Gail queried. "You mean that kindly, old, sweet-tempered gentleman with a vocation like a priest's and only the children's interests at heart?" "Well, no, not exactly," I was forced to concede, as a picture of Pickup came to mind, vomiting extravagantly on my stag night. "But he was a good friend to me, Gail. He was best man at our wedding remember, and I" "Yes," she cut in sharply. "I remember only too well."

"And," I continued regardless, "he was a good friend to me from the day I started teaching until the day he left. And beyond.

"And maybe I wouldn't have stayed in the job all these years if he hadn't been there to guide me and console me.

"And I just hope that all of that comes across tomorrow when I make public tribute to him."

"I'm sure it will, Morris. I'm sure it will."

I returned to my speech.


The mystery of my wayward video tapes was solved this morning. In fact, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the tapes. Rather, Michael Willis had availed himself of a "Baby G" wristwatch with which electronic gimmickry he had apparently managed to control the television from his desk.

Hence, my attempts to correct volume and picture interference had been at his sole and dictatorial control. And hence 2C's hilarious response when I once again endeavoured to resolve the problem of a crackly soundtrack during a programme on war poets.

"I'm sorry," I apologised for the umpteenth time, "there seems to be something wrong with this TV again. For the life of me, I can't I" "Hey, sur!" squealed Joanna Grieves. Check oot Mykie's wristwaatch."

"Sorry?" I said, confused.

"Mykie's waatch!" Joanna repeated in exasperation, as if speaking to the slow of learning. "It's all wired up fur controllin' the telly."

I smote my brow. "D'you mean to tell me, 2C, that all of this week you've been deceiving me with I?" They smirked as one and I knew they had. Furious, I launched into a diatribe against their deceitfulness, malevolence and dishonesty.

And then I stopped. Bearing in mind the funereal event I was about due to attend, it all seemed fairly pointless, and the bell rang as if to confirm my decision.

"Class dismissed," I said wearily. "Have a good holiday everybody."

And off they went. And off I went to the crematorium.

John Mitchell

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