In brief

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Home and Colonial: a South Coast comedy

By DJ Edwards

Pen Press pound;7.99. www.penpress.net

For some time, as I read Home and Colonial, set against the background of an urban comprehensive, I thought it was going to be bogged down by the trivia of school life. Early on there's a scene in the school office.

"Deborah examined the boy's bloody nose, directed the lost girl to the technology department and made sure the teacher did not walk off with Marcia's stapler."

There's quite a bit of that sort of thing, with dinner ladies, crossing wardens and, of course, a bureaucratically minded headteacher. As the novel progresses, however, you're drawn into a good story about three generations of women working in the same school: young teacher Cheryl, Deborah in the office, and Gran making tea for the teachers. As a tale of life and love on the Sussex coast it works well, with authentic detail of the often darkly comic happenings on a big estate, and the problems of bringing up children in that setting. ("Meter readers seldom pass beyond the steel doors and snarling Rottweilers on the Kennedy.") The subplots in school are well done, too; there's a jaw-dropping account of Cheryl's Year 11 PSHE lesson on sex (they make models of the human body using pipe cleaners, sticky tape, ping-pong balls and Play-Doh). In the end, school turns out to be a bit player in the drama, which is something of a relief.

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