The end (of term) is nigh;School diary

24th December 1999 at 00:00

The sign outside my office says it all: "Mr Simpson, Principal Teacher Guidance". Admittedly, it would have been nice if I could have had one with the official Council Education Services logo, but I understand that the waiting time is approximately six months from notice of appointment. Consequently, I've been very grateful to Mr Connolly from Computing Studies (or "Rambo", as he is known to the pupils - I don't know where they get these nicknames from) for running up a temporary affair on his computer, though I could have done without the little caricature at the side of my name.

Alas, I am currently extremely short of first-year pupils on whom I can exercise my guidance capabilities. This last week of the Christmas term has seen an unprecedented number of unauthorised absences, which we're going to have the devil's own job concealing in the end-of-year statistics. If it's not a drastically reduced "turn of the millennium deal" holiday that is encouraging parents to remove their offspring from school some two weeks before the official holiday date, it's a parentally endorsed - and accompanied! - Christmas shopping extravaganza that will see more than 75 per cent of my first-year charges equipped with a mobile telephone come the feast of St Stephen. Apparently, it's at the top of the present list for everyone in first year.

And to think that the height of my own Christmas aspirations as a child was a Dan Dare walky-talky kit that would let me converse with my elder sister at a distance of 25 yards!


Dropped Gail off in the town centre for her Christmas shopping morning. Her headteacher has an enlightened approach to the whole affair, whereby members of staff cover for each other while everyone gets a half-day break for Christmas shopping in turn. Happily, this coincided with my dental appointment in town, which (less happily) involved a further two extractions and the fitting of a temporary denture in readiness for the real thing after Christmas. O tempora! O mores!

Returned to school for an afternoon of fourth year English (zero pupils) and first year social education (seven pupils). Actually, the lack of an audience proved something of a blessing, because my temporary denture is slightly ill-fitting and this results in a slight lisp in my speech. I understand that this is only noticeable to myself, and I don't think any of the first-years noticed anything amiss.

At least, I didn't think so until the S1-S3 Christmas Dance this evening.

I had never been terribly enthusiastic about Ruth Lees's suggestion that I don a red suit and whiskers to be this evening's Major Festive Guest, but - given her wholehearted backing during the recent promotion stakes - I felt I had little choice in the matter. Thus it was that - after an evening patrolling the boys' toilets in a fruitless attempt to halt the quaffing of illicit alchohol - I found myself struggling into an ill-fitting Father Christmas outfit and hoisting a sackful of "99p Christmas Kwackers" aloft my left shoulder before entering the school hall to a triumphant post-pubescent chorusing of "Jingle Bells". I've never been so embarrassed in my life, though I suspect that Miss Tarbet's role as an enthusiastic reindeer caused her no small discomfort either.

Anyway, I thought the evening had passed off with my identity concealed - I had taken off my glasses as a precaution - until it came to the dispensation of gifts. Little Katie Ross gave me the most inquisitive examination as I expressed the lisped solicitation: "Tho, I hope you get everything you want for Chrithmath - ath long ath it'th not a mobile telephone!" She nudged Philip Walters severely as she went back to her place, and I viewed his suspicious approach with trepidation.

Alas, as he held out his hand to receive a gift, my yuletide moustache and whiskers started tickling my nose and precipitated an enormous sneeze. This, in turn, had the effect of dislodging my temporary denture in projectile fashion a full six inches in front of my face. With amazing dexterity, I caught the offending article and thrust it back in my mouth. But not, alas, quickly enough for the eagle-eyed Master Walters.

"Haw!" he turned triumphant to his first-year colleagues. "What'd ah tell youse! It's Gummy Simpson! Ah said it wis!" I'd had enough, so I enlisted the assistance of Miss Tarbet's reins and retreated, disconsolate, to my igloo. So much for the magic of Christmas.

And what a ridiculously inappropriate nickname!


An anti-climax, if ever there was one. After the excitement of last night's party, which saw a miraculous number of first-year pupils apparently returned to health, this morning witnessed Greenfield Academy's lowest-ever pupil attendance figure.

It was just as well, really. I couldn't have dealt with any further humiliations akin to that of yestere'en, and was content that the only passing reference to my lack of incisors was made by Philip Walters, whose audacious insolence I easily crushed.

Come 3pm and an early closure, I was ready for the off. As my last teaching day of this millennium, it had an elegiac feel, what with 20 per cent attendance and no lessons to teach.

If only the future held such promise, I thought to myself.


Mr Pickup, my recently retired colleague, insisted upon an end-of-term drink at the Rockston Arms, beginning at lunchtime.

"I've used up quite a few of the days I'm allowed to work supply," he explained, "so I've been away on a rail rover excursion for the past three weeks. But I could never miss the liberation day session with my old pal!" he said, thumping me firmly between the shoulder blades, and announced a continuing satisfaction with his retired state.

"Honest to God, Morris," he elucidated, "I don't know how I ever found the time to work! Apart from the supply days that keep me in spondulicks, I've never been so busy in my life! Painting classes, Open University courses, an MBA at the local technology college - sorry, university - and a complete I" "What?" I enquired. "You're taking all these courses?" "Well, not yet," he conceded gracefully. "But I'm spending a hell of a long time leafing through the brochures."

It was ever thus with Pickup, I thought. So much potential. And so little of it used.

Perhaps, to be brutally self-judgmental, I could have said the same of myself some 10 (yes, 10) hours later. Pickup and I had gone through all of the emotions (most of them drunken), from A to B, as Dorothy Parker so memorably recorded. After a brief altercation about unauthorised absences (Pickup had the gall to compare Gail's Christmas shopping excursions in school time with the illicit pupil holidays that we've encountered this week), we agreed to reconciliation for old-times' sake - and then made a joint entry of the Rockston Arms Christmas karaoke competition. This was not a wise move.

Pickup's rendition of "Frosty The Snowman" left a lot to be desired, I know, and I'm sure that my own ethereal attempt at "A Spaceman Came Travelling" was found a little wanting by the assembled populace. But it was in our joint - practically blasphemous - attempt to replicate the graceful beauty of Cliff Richard's "Millennium Prayer" that we came ultimately unstuck. I know that the complications of my ill-fitting temporary denture and a somewhat jumpy karaoke machine might explain some of our tribulations, but it would be difficult to forgive some of the lyrics that we managed to conceive.

Let's just say that I hope the Day of Judgment is still some time afar.


Christmas Eve Around the Christmas tree with my family, as it all should be. A piece of doggerel, I know, but - call me sentimental - it seems somehow appropriate. This is Margaret's third Christmas, and - with my recent promotion - it seems the Simpson family is set fair for a reasonably pecunious encounter with the new millennium. Tonight, we placed the final advent fairy on our artificial Christmas tree, and I decided to count my blessings.

Although - sadly - Meet Me in St Louis was not on television tonight, we happily made do with Some Like It Hot. Not that Margaret would have understood either of them: she is intent upon receiving a Furby for Christmas (whatever that is), and Gail assures me that has been arranged.

Fifteen and a half years into my chosen career, I reassure myself that teaching remains a worthwhile vocation (this is always easier at the start of a holiday, of course), and I willingly rededicate myself to the moral, social and educational aspirations of every pupil under my charge. And if that's not a new millennium's resolution, then I don't know what is!

John Mitchell Next year: Morris Simpson gets his proper denture ... and a more realistic approach to pupil aspiration.

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