Charity begins

24th October 2003 at 01:00
The party's over, but the carnage is about to begin

Nigel Horsmel wants to see me. Apparently the flow of "see me" memos always increases when Horsmel is in charge. (The head, Dr Alastair Scarlett, is away delivering a lecture to the National College for School Leadership entitled, "Baghdad to St Brian's: why the bullies must never win".) I make my way to our flagship conference centre, or Room 101 as it's been dubbed. My heart is racing. What can he want? Maybe it's that business with 9C and the empire-friendly history curriculum we've been piloting. I knew it was a bad idea to show them a video of Zulu. When Judith Crock, my head of department, took them for their next lesson they recreated the siege, with a Michael Caine impressionist standing at the front of the room screaming: "Front row... FIRE! Second row.... FIRE!" Judith started having flashbacks to last term's Year 11 airgun battle. She's been off sick for a week.

It must be the party. Orlando Jones's bloody party. Half of Year 12 stoned out of their minds and the head of drama getting off with Ramona Lynch.

Every time I see Orlando in the staffroom he smirks and starts singing:

"She was just seventeen..." Apart from Orlando and Gabriel Mooney, I was the only other full-time member of staff at the party. The others knew.

Horsmel's going to crucify me.

Horsmel is sitting in the head's black leather chair, with his back to the door. He's gazing at the piranhas in the fish tank, which is a multi-coloured collage of fin and scales, with Horsmel's reflection overlaying the scene of thrashing, bloody carnage.

"Take a seat, Ms Casement," he says, without turning. He spits out the "Ms" like a possessed man casting out a demon. Suddenly he swings 180 degrees to face me. I'm half expecting to see a white long-haired cat on his lap.

"They certainly know how to have fun, don't they?" He raises a knowing eyebrow. I feel sick. The memories of Orlando's "soiree" flood back - the booze, the drugs, the sixth-form girls stripping off to the sound of Godspell playing in the background.

"When you say 'they'..." I begin. Horsmel smiles, revealing pointy little teeth. "The fish, of course. Sporty little devils, don't you think, Ms Casement?" That spitting again. "We could learn a few things from them."

"I don't know. I suppose..."

"Listen, Charity," he snaps, pushing his chair back and placing his feet on Dr Scarlett's Le Corbusier glass table. "You're a bright girl. Scarlett isn't going to be around forever. He'll get his knighthood and it'll be bye-bye St Brian's. I know all about Orlando Jones and his degenerate friends. And I know all about you."

Horsmel has started talking to my chest, which is actually a relief from direct eye contact. He throws a folder across the table. "Open it." I pull out a photograph of a smiling, bespectacled man in a suit. "I don't understand, Mr Horsmel. Who...?"

"David Miliband, Charity. The future! He's going places and so are you - I want to put you on the fast track programme."

Beyond his shoulder I can see the fish tank. An angelfish has been cornered by a piranha. I flinch and look away.

Next week: Rescued byGraham Love

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