Arnold's World

6th February 1998 at 00:00
A survey carried out last year at the Bishop Reindrop School revealed that the average weight of a child's schoolbag was a shocking 18lbs. To make matters worse, children insist on carrying their bags over one shoulder. This, according to a "senior ergonomist", can seriously damage their vertebral discs. However, there would be no problem if they carried their equipment in rucksacks strapped to both shoulders.

The father of a petite 12-year old guffawed when I suggested that his daughter might try this. The shoulder bag, he insists, is essential if she is to negotiate the narrow corridors of her overcrowded comprehensive. She uses her bag both as a shield and as an offensive weapon. Her aim is impeccable and, thanks to her diminutive stature, she can, with one deft swing, bring tears to the eyes of the burliest Year 11 lad. When a seething mass of children issue into the corridors, each hell-bent on getting to the next class on time, there simply is not room for sentiment. It is strictly the survival of the fittest.

Rather than equip children with lethal luggage, it might be safer to do something about congestion in the corridors. One obvious solution suggests itself. Instead of directing swarms of children from one room to the next, it would be more sensible for them to stay put, and for the teachers to do the travelling. It's true that an entire staff stampeding through a school every change-over time could prove hazardous - particularly if they are carrying all their resources in a shoulder bag, and have old interdepartmental feuds to settle.

I am researching the 1960s for a writing assignment and so have to reacquaint myself with the decade's greatest hits. As I have muddled through my middle-aged chores - scouring seed catalogues, replenishing the Teasmade - the house has throbbed to the sound of Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer, Herman's Hermits, Millie. Who? You must remember her - she had a Boy Lollipop who made her heart go giddy-up. I know how she feels: my heart has been doing much the same, as track after track, in that peculiar way that only pop songs can, brought the past to life.

It came as a shock to discover that my school days were burnt so indelibly in my mind: corridors, classrooms, teachers. One of them even allowed us to play and to discuss our favourite singles in a lesson, although she continued to cling stubbornly to her fuddy-duddy conviction that Tennyson's "In Memoriam" was better than the lyrics of Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do". It cannot have been much fun for her to be told that the times they were a-changing by a squeal of adolescents who seemed to think that their phoney Ringo accents and overcombed mop-heads proved their case.

It is too late to let her know how much I now appreciate her patience, her tact, her willingness to listen - unless, that is, teachers, enjoying the rewards of an Eternal Free Period, still read The TES.

And so here is a thought to cheer you up. Perhaps Barbie Girl and the rest of today's chart-toppers aren't quite your cup of tea. But there could be an occasion in the far distant future when your pupils, however ungracious they may seem at the moment, will accidentally hear a blast from their own past, feel their hearts go giddy-up, and remember you with affection and gratitude.


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