The curse of the mummy

31st May 2013 at 01:00

The remains of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen are shocking to see. The painted death mask is crushed beyond recognition; the bandages that contained his 3,300-year-old remains are draped across the bookcase; the contents of several Canopic jars have been scattered over the floor. Was this a deliberate act of sabotage - or could it be the curse?

The mystery of how the remains of the boy king were defiled will have to wait. Niall has self-esteem issues and, however this act of desecration came about, it has caused him untold emotional damage. I poke what is left of the death mask into nothing like its original shape. "I think we can fix this," I say.

Niall stops headbutting the wall to ask, "When?"

"When what?" I reply.

He turns a hot, tear-stained face in my direction. "When can we fix my fucking sarcophagus?"

In the interests of circumventing physical damage to Niall (and structural damage to the building), I promise that if he refrains from swearing we will repair it during lunchtime. I neglect to tell him that my lunchtime already has an evil curse of prior importance hanging over it. All week an ancient threat has haunted my thoughts: "Update your pupil assessments, Mr Eddison, or face disciplinary proceedings."

I should have been straight with Niall and said, "Look, there are times when life is just not pharaoh, OK?" But I didn't, and now I am riven with guilt. It is a guilt compounded by a fond memory of Mr Kettlewell.

"Don't worry, lad, we can put it back together again, as good as new," Mr Kettlewell said after Fred Butcher sank the HMS Ark Royal in a fit of nautical jealousy.

I had painstakingly crafted the vessel in question out of interlocking cigarette packets and papier mache over a series of Friday afternoons in the 1960s. Fred Butcher said it looked more like the Bismarck and stamped on it in the national interest.

I have no doubt that if such a violation were to take place today it would leave me emotionally and behaviourally challenged. But the 1960s was another place and a unique sense of optimism prevailed. After all, it was only 20 years since my grandad had won the war. Tuberculosis was coughing its last, polio was kicking off its leg braces and antibiotics were beating the hell out of bacterial infections.

The future was assured. James Bond would keep the world safe from the likes of Auric Goldfinger. The Doctor had thwarted the Dalek invasion of the Earth. And two days earlier I had kissed Brenda Watson behind the bike shed.

But today a brooding tension fills my lunchtime classroom. I speak in whispers, urging Niall to wrap bandages around Tutankhamen's body in silence. The delicate task of fixing the death mask while simultaneously entering student data into the system begins.

But only a few seconds have ticked by when I am interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream. It is followed by the unravelled remains of a long-dead pharaoh levitating through the air at great speed. An instant later, I come face to face with the curse of Niall. "I don't fucking want to! It's fucking crap! That's why I fucking smashed it up!"

Steve Eddison teaches children aged 7-11 at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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