Early stirrings of autumn storms
The A5 card announced: "Open Invitation to all Greenfield Academy Staff.
Come and view your new-build school, which is on schedule for mid-August completion, in accordance with the PPP contract."
It seemed a forlorn hope on the part of Richard Broadbent, our depute headteacher angling for promotion, that he could entice any member of staff from the brief respite that our six weeks of summer holidays afford. And yet I and yet I I'm not really doing anything else on Wednesday, I thought to myself, and it would be nice to see my new classroom ...
"You're a sad git, Morris," Gail informed me unsolicitously when I told her my intentions after lunch. "Going into school during the holidays? The only reason Richard Broadbent wants you in there is so that he can see who'll be for him and who'll be against him when he takes up the headteacher post in August and ..."
"That's by no means confirmed," I interrupted my wife brusquely. "Richard might have been hot favourite between the deputies, but there's been no puff of white smoke yet as far as I'm aware. So maybe I'll get an update if I turn up on Wednesday. And if Richard has got the post, it won't have done my chances any harm, obviously, to be seen taking such a keen interest in my new work surroundings."
Gail put two fingers down her throat, made an imaginary retching sound and announced her intention to retire to the garden with a gin and tonic. I told her I thought it a little early to start drinking but she was already scurrying off in the direction of the sun-lounger.
After the class she had last year, she certainly seems to be enjoying her break from school. Equally certainly, I don't think anything would entice her back to Rockston Primary one minute before it was absolutely necessary to be there.
Another trip to the travel agent in yet another attempt to get a last-minute break for Gail, Margaret and myself. After two hours of fruitless searching, Lianne, the inappropriately labelled customer services adviser, was moved to inform me loudly "Thur's no' really any chancy youse gettin' a holiday furr that kinda money, Misturr Simpson. Now, if youse don't mind, thur's a big queue fully people behind ye that don't mind payin mair than 200 quid furra foartnight in August."
I left with as much dignity as I could muster and resolved never to return.
I'm sure there are better deals available on the internet.
A day of surprises. To begin with, I was irritated to discover that there is neither a driveway nor car park (yet) at our new-build school. Having parked my car at the nearest possible access point, I walked for 15 minutes and then teamed up with a desultory bunch of colleagues whose eager anticipation looked similarly dampened by their long walks.
Then, we discovered that Richard wasn't in attendance, having apparently been called to the authority offices for a third interview designed to sort out the final front runners in the headteacher stakes.
The tour of the school (or at least those areas open to the public) gave no great cause for celebration. It seemed impressive at first sight but, if we looked behind the glitzy facade or pried behind the shiny exteriors, there were a few worrying niggles, for example, the light switch that came off in my hand and the taps in the English base (which I turned for a glass of water) that ran dry.
Or there was the ground floor room that felt oppressively warm, despite its uninhabited status, and the upper floor room that had its window slightly open yet felt like the icy steppes of Siberia. We were assured that this was due to the climate-control systems "bedding in", but I wasn't so sure.
Worst of all, it looks as if I am not to have my own classroom due to the efficieny quotient that has been decreed for room usage in all parts of the school, and which has been responsible for the absence of a staffroom. It seems as if I will share room B21 with two other teachers, whose timetables will be dovetailed with my own. If the timetable works out, that is.
It all bodes ill for the new session.
The parsimony of the authority's attitude to the staff they purport to cherish was epitomised by the attitude of our business manager, Michael Miles, when I asked about the delivery of textbooks in his luxuriously appointed office.
"Er, Michael?" I queried hesitantly. "The books in this box aren't what were ordered by the English department, are they? We asked for the books that I" "No, they're not," he confirmed sharply. "But they cover very similar territory and I got a 50 per cent discount from the publisher for any orders placed before the end of the month."
"But surely that's not the point," I argued. "We wanted the books we ordered because they're better than these."
"Au contraire, Morris," he tried to show off his schoolboy French. "With these books, you can afford to give every child a textbook. With the others, they'd have had one between two. So, what looks better in the school prospectus? A book for every child or half a book for every child?"
I shook my head in despair at his public relations logic. And I shook it again in even greater despair at a situation that dictates our textbook choice on the grounds of short-term discounts, never mind long-term educational damage.
Richard didn't get the headteacher job! Bill Dunbar telephoned me this morning with the depressing outcome of yesterday's interviews. Our new leader is Patricia Gibbon, whose record of innovative management speaks for itself, apparently.
"I've never heard of her," I confessed to our maths teacher.
"Not surprised," he concurred. She's never been in one job long enough for anyone to remember her. Except the ones she leaves behind."
I cleared my throat in ominous concern. "Oh?"
"You bet! D'you remember Ruth Lees?"
"Do I remember her?" I gasped in recollection of the virago who had so nearly soured my career prospects for good.
"Don't tell me our former depute was in for the job as well?"
"No, no," Bill chortled, "but you might end up wishing she had been. This one's 10 times worse: every new management theory under the sun, plus she's been in more jobs than you can shake a stick at and has left a trail of chaos behind at every turn. And at every turnaround."
"Oh dear," I whispered.
"Oh dear, indeed," Bill continued, "because that's what she's so good at, Morris."
"Turnarounds. As soon as she's finished turning one school around, she's off to another deserving cause to do the same, making a big name for herself, while the staff and pupils at her previous school are left to pick up the pieces of the half-baked initiatives she's tried to set in motion."
"Oh dear," I sighed again. "So what d'you reckon she'll think of me, then, Bill? Same school for 20 years but completely dedicated to the pupils under my charge ..."
Bill winced, audibly if not visibly. "Hmm, not too sure, Morris, to be honest. Not too sure. It's probably not the kind of CV that makes a hit with the Patricia Gibbons of this world."
He had said enough. I thanked him for the news and hung up.
This morning the Simpson family headed for Wemyss Bay and the ferry across to the isle of Bute.
My internet searches (which had ranged from Alaska to Australia) had finally revealed that, at this late stage, a foreign holiday seems completely out of the question. But an attractive little bed and breakfast place in Rothesay popped up when I entered a price range within our modest means, along with the opportunity to receive a certificate saying that I had walked the West Island Way (a smart piece of marketing from the tourism board that will allow me to pretend a much more impressive achievement to those who don't question me too closely after the event).
Gail didn't look terribly excited as we stood in the ticket queue ("Rothesay. Bloody Rothesay," she kept muttering to herself), but for Margaret, who starts in Primary 4 on her return to school next month, it all seemed a large adventure when we went up top on the ferry and caught the windy lash of good Scottish drizzle on our cheeks.
It might not be the holiday I'd wanted - it certainly isn't the holiday that Gail had hoped for - but, as I pen these words late at night, the hotel is perfectly acceptable, the scenery immensely attractive and the impending horrors of a new session at Greenfield Academy seem thousands of miles away. Long may they remain so.