Charity begins

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Week one is over, and Charity Casement NQT is getting the drinks in

So, I'm a nomad. A nomad with a bad back. You don't get a permanent teaching base at St Brian's until you've been here five years, so you invest in plastic boxes - Homebase, six for pound;12. That's the first lesson I learned in my first week. You colour-code the boxes for each class and stagger round the building, bumping into people you met in Homebase on Sunday.

And here's the second lesson: sobriety is not an option. Staff who don't drink are pariahs. You're either in the 13 Horseshoes or you're out. And some people seem to be in a lot longer than others.

People like Orlando Jones, the head of drama. It's my second Monday and Orlando has decided it's time I had a "proper drink". The two halves of lager I had last week with John Baller, the union rep, don't count, apparently. So here I am in the Horseshoes. At four in the afternoon.

Orlando and his friend Gabriel Mooney, the RE teacher, missed the first week of term. Orlando told the head that the school production of The Romans in Britain which he took to Edinburgh was such a success he was asked to stay on to advise some BBC execs on educational content for their next drama season. Gabriel claimed a medically unique case of recurring Ebola virus. After his second pint, Orlando confides that the two of them were in fact "on the rampage" in Holland. "Never mind The Romans in Britain," he booms, getting a little too close. "The British in Amsterdam.

Now that's what you call filth."

Orlando is a man of indeterminate age. When I ask him how old he is, he smiles and tells me I should come and look at the painting in his attic some time.

It's round two (Belgian lager and pork scratchings), and Orlando is telling me that colour-coded boxes are trouble. "You know where that road leads, Chaz? A Barrett home and bourgeois oblivion, that's where."

He lights a Gauloise and develops the theme. Textbooks, worksheets and interactive whiteboards are all emotional props for inadequate teachers that hinder the educational process. His only resources are a Biro that doesn't work, a black rollneck sweater and the question: what is drama? "My body is my resource," he thunders. "And a marvellous resource at that," Gabriel adds.

It's round five and I'm drunk. Orlando won't buy me a Perrier because he says only members of the senior management team drink water. He's bragging about the success of The Romans in Britain. He considers the audience walkout during the male rape scene, performed brilliantly by Rupert Dodsworth from Year 9, an artistic triumph. (Nigel Horsemel, the deputy head, doesn't think so; an investigation is under way.) By 7.30, Orlando is barely coherent. He gets up and staggers to the door.

"Listen, Chastity!" he bellows. "You're either an inmate or an outmate.

Which one are you Chastity, eh, which one are you?" He falls through the door.

Later that evening, I review the lessons of the day. Maybe Orlando is right. Perhaps I should be less regimented about my teaching approach. How can my boxes compete with his assured theatricality? I need a mentor. Will my head of department ever return from sick leave? Judith Crock, where are you?

Next week: Horsemel's crocked

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