From Brad to Vinnie in a day

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Headteacher John Roberts believes it's important to start the year in a positive frame of mind. But a sticky drawer puts a blemish on his day.

Whenever I go back to school after the summer I always finish the day with a spot on the end of my nose. It happens every year. I spend the entire holiday looking like Brad Pitt on a good day and finish the first day looking like Vinnie Jones with a bad case of impetigo.

I can even feel it developing. To combat this I go into positive overdrive with everyone I come into contact with. For example, the first person I meet in school this year is the caretaker, who asks me how I am. "Bursting with optimism," I reply, arms outstretched, eyes shining. He looks at me in much the same way you'd look at someone who tells you he was Hereward the Wake in a previous life and is now a carpet fitter.

I ask him how he is and he says: "Fine, until I discovered blue asbestos in all the reception classes and in the nursery." I stand rigid with shock. Eyes pop, my jaw drops and I mouth the words, "blue asbestos". "Gotcha," he roars. "Blimey, you're easily spooked."

My hands want to grab him round the throat. But then I remember that he is two stone heavier than me and has a black belt in something that sounds like a Japanese fish. I let the moment pass.

Undaunted, I stroll to my room and begin the day by making major management decisions. I take a file from the bookcase that used to be labelled TRIST then GRIST then GEST. I cross out GEST and write STANDARDS FUND. Major move.

I then look at my desk. The big task of the day. Sorting. The desk is massive: old, wooden and heavy. It has more drawers than Imelda Marcos and each one is so deep that you have to go through a time zone before you get to the back. I find amazing things. I come across photographs of evacuees who went from our school to north Wales in 1940 (brilliant resource). I find a map of the Lake District, price 76d, and I find one catapult and two water pistols, which I put to one side (handy for irate parents).

But there is one drawer I have always been reluctant to delve into. It is at the bottom on the left. Whenevr I have opened it, a strange pong has floated up. This time I fully open it and find why it gives such a whiff. At the back, wrapped in thick cellophane and tied with a red ribbon, are the remains of a toffee apple. It is now a gooey black blob. I pick it up, rush to my secretary's office and put it in her bin. This is, I believe, good for staff morale, because if my cleaner ever finds out that I am untidy, word would soon spread.

I return to my room and try to think about the toffee apple. It occurs to me that the only time I ever confiscated a toffee apple was when Bradley Simpson attempted to ram one into the ear of Stanley Barton. Bradley wrote to me not so long ago. He is now an architect, works in Duesseldorf and has two daughters, Sarah and Lucy, who are apparently both good at synchronised swimming.

The buzzer goes. I let in the postman and he hands me a sack of mail. I drag it to my room, tip out the contents, stand still and stare. Then I sit down and stare. But my mind is on that toffee apple. I go to the cleaners' room, make up a chemical mix, return and give each drawer a form of sheep dip, which should see them right for another 25 years.

I look at the pile of mail again, walk round it and decide to roam the school. It does me good to see the place in such good shape and then I stop and imagine what it will be like when all the children, staff and parents return. Despite this thought, I remain positive and stroll back to my room, walk around the mail and place in each clean drawer items of relevance, throwing away the rest. This is a tremendous exercise. It gives me a sort of righteous glow and I finish the day feeling that I have made great strides.

I walk positively to my car, drive positively home, park positively in the drive and stride into the kitchen greeting everyone with hearty well wishes. "Been to school today, Dad?" my son asks. "Sure have," I reply. "How did you know?" "You've got a spot on the end of your nose." My shoulders slump, my head drops and I slide off to the settee for a long lie down.

John Roberts is head of Park View county primary school, Knowsley, Merseyside.

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