Assembly point - A sick joke?

5th December 2008 at 00:00
Stand and deliver takes on a whole new meaning for Paul Hending

I was the custodian of a lively third-year tutor group when my turn for head of department assembly came up. This was in the days when assemblies were required to have some sort of religious theme so, even though I was head of science, religion they must have.

I was well aware of the risks of ad-libbing a well-known Bible story with a bunch of rustic teenagers (Year 9s), but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Class involvement and all that. And the rehearsals, for want of a better term, used up several otherwise dismal tutor periods.

On the day of the performance there was great excitement. One of the stars complained of feeling ill but, as I pointed out to him, he only had to lie down, so get out there and get on with it.

The curtain rose on the greater part of the class arranged in a loose line towards the back of the stage, clad in an alarming range of fancy dress illustrating the diversity of man and miming enthusiastically to "Help" by The Beatles, played at fearful volume through an illicit PA system.

Near the front of the stage, left of centre, a solitary figure lay, apparently lifeless. The music faded to background and the chorus fell silent.

Enter stage left, a shifty-looking character in striped jumper and flat cap. With a contemptuous look at the audience, he approached the prone figure, knelt and rifled through the victim's pockets. Standing up and disgustedly displaying empty hands, he dealt the poor chap a casual kick in the guts.

It was more than enough. The victim vomited noisily on the floor. Exit would-be robber, stage right, at speed.

I still don't know if the boy on the floor was too ill to move or if he was a real trooper but, thankfully, he stayed put.

Enter stage left, a boy in black with a large, white cardboard collar. Having been behind the curtain in the wings he had been unable to see the drama on stage, so the vomit and groaning apparition on the floor came as a surprise. He cast a panic-stricken look at the audience and yelled: "Christ, he's been sick."

Exit clergyman, stage right.

Now for the real star.

Enter stage left, one of the less amenable members of the group in full punk regalia. He seemed to take in the situation at once. He turned to the audience with a challenging stare and knelt beside the stricken traveller.

"It's all right, mate," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. "We'll leave the puke for the cleaners. I'll get you to the sick bay."

He helped his classmate to his feet. Exit stage right. The faded-in Beatles were drowned by the applause. Curtain down.

I stood up from my front row seat and the applause died down. My prepared sermon was pointless now so, through the unaccountable lump in my throat, I merely said: "You've all heard about the Good Samaritan. Well, now you've seen him."

More applause. I was never formally congratulated for that assembly but, for me and 3Z, it was the best

Paul Hending was head of science at a Somerset comprehensive.

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