Charity begins

24th September 2004 at 01:00
There's a new driver at St Brian's, and he's too fast for Orlando

The staff car park is looking shinier today. There's the usual row of gleaming Rovers and Toyotas that indicate we have a full complement of senior managers in school. Then there are the hatchbacks, in various states of dishevelment - wing mirrors cracked, hubcaps missing, aerials snapped - that flank Anna Hatch's giant 4x4. Anna, our frighteningly fertile English teacher, will have to trade up to a mini bus very soon if her family continues to multiply at its current rate.

There is a loud screech as Orlando Jones's 1976 amber-coloured Ford Escort, complete with lowered suspension, body kit and smoked windscreen, clatters into the car park. Orlando executes a hand-brake turn towards his usual space opposite the Year 13 girls' common room, chassis shaking to the strains of some early 80s rock standard, then stops suddenly.

His space has been taken by a top-of-the-range executive BMW, property of Blaine Harrington, the new advanced skills maths teacher. Orlando finds a spot among the Puntos and Fiestas, then stomps through the front entrance cursing. Not only is Blaine young enough to be his grandson but it is rumoured he is the highest-paid member of staff and brought in an agent to negotiate his contract. Orlando's threshhold application has been turned down twice.

Blaine has set the blinds twitching in the admin office. The "girls" have taken out a group gym subscription, Rose the cleaner is running a nice sideline in black-market Botox, and Miranda the secretary, usually a mumsy figure, has shocked staff with her new collection of low-cut blouses.

Blaine strides into the office clean shaven, freshly coiffured, and looking smart in a two-piece Ozwald Boateng suit and Prada loafers. Every inch the modern teacher. His photocopying has been left out for him in a neat pile with a freshly made espresso on top. The workload agreement certainly seems to be working for him.

Orlando sneers as Blaine strolls off to set up the interactive whiteboard in his classroom, with Amy Studds, the bursar, trotting behind on the pretence of offering technical support.

"She's wasting her time," Orlando spits. "What do you mean?" I ask, puzzled. "For Christ's sake, Charity, he's got highlights! And did you see the way he looked at me?" The latter could be explained by the fact that Orlando is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, tatty chinos and a pair of filthy trainers, but maybe he's right. Nevertheless, after last year's traumas of being stalked by a supply teacher and harassed by the deputy head, maybe a bit of unthreatening male friendship is what I need. After all, there's no harm in just looking and smelling.

Later in the 13 Horseshoes, John Baller, the longest serving member of the maths department, refuses Blaine's offer of a drink. "Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs," he mutters, sipping on his light and bitter.

Returning with a bottle of red for the two of us, Blaine appears immune to the frosty atmosphere. He pours the wine, savours the aroma, and says he hopes I like a little fruitiness. I don't know why, but I'm blushing.

Next week: Meet the new subject leader. Charity Begins: Adventures of an NQT, Charity Casement's diary of her first year at St Brian's, is available from TES Books, pound;2.99. Tel: 0870 444 8633 or visit the TESBookshop at

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