Even bad kids can give you a lift

11th February 2000 at 00:00

Monday. The first-year cloakroom has become a cacophonous Babel of mobile telephone tunes. As confidently predicted by over 75 per cent of my 12-year-old charges before Christmas, their gullible parents saw fit to furnish them with the latest means of remote communication; yet this seems to be the last purpose for which the first year use them, preferring instead to demonstrate the enormous range of music recitals that can be performed by each ruddy machine.

"Last year," I remarked to Gail over tea this evening, "the mobile phone was the second year's star Christmas present. This year it's first year.

"Next year, I give advance warning it'll probably be your Primary 7 class that's lusting after them."

"They've already got them," she sighed. "I confiscated one this morning after it kept ringing and then tried to shut it off."

"What happened?" "I answered it by mistake. Got a very irate Mrs McManaman on the other end, asking what did I think I was doing using Tony's phone, and when I'd finished with it could I tell him to remember to meet his mother at Kwik-Save after school!" We both sighed and reflected on lost innocence.

"Whatever happened to the simple toys of childhood, Gail?" I asked her. "We didn't need all those elaborate electronic gadgets when we were young, did we?" Just at this point, Margaret's Christmas Furby chose to awake from its reverie before proceeding to recite some of the more infuriating elements of its repertoire.

"Gooh, gooh. Gah, gah!" it sing-sang its inimitably high-pitched baby-whine, before reverberating with an enormous electronic burp, followed by a squeaking "Aahhh. 'Scooze me pleeeese."

Margaret was, as usual, delighted, and clapped gleefully.

Personally I think the damned thing should have been strangled at birth, and I've spent most of the days since Christmas trying to persuade Gail we should remove its batteries and tell our daughter it's suffered an incurable illness.

To date she has refused, on the pretext that Margaret is trying to teach it to speak. I don't know why. It's already got a more advanced vocabulary than most of my third year.

Tuesday. Damien Steele was late for English this morning, and I took him severely to task.

"Damien, that's the fourth time this year," I chided. "Whatever happened to your promise of a new start for the millennium?" "Wisny ma fault," he said. "Ma taxi never showed up."

"Oh, I see," I began, before realising the import of what he'd said.

"Your what never turned up?" "Ma taxi. Ah phoned fur it tae come at hauf-eight, an it never turned up till ten tae nine."

I was lost for words. "Well, you'll - uh - you'll just have to engage a more reliable firm in future," was the best I could manage. It did seem rather lame, I had to admit, as I watched him saunter to his seat.

Wednesday. The disruption caused by Damien Steele's fifth late arrival of the term (9.30 this morning - his taxi again) paled into insignificance this afternoon when I was doing my best to stress the importance of the final piece of folio writing that fourth year must present for Standard grade assessments.

"And don't think you'll get away with plagiarising somebody else's efforts," I warned them severely. "The Board is very tight on that kind of thing these days..."

Suddenly a high-pitched squeal broke forth from the back of the classroom. "Eeh-oh! Eeh-oh! Piss off, Simpy! Get lost Gummy!" "What?" I queried sharply. "Who said that?" "Eeh-oh! Bugger off!" squeaked what I now recognised as the unmistakeable utterings of a Furby in full flow.

"What's going on?" I lurched towards the back row as clamorous hilarity began to swell in the ranks. And there, on Lisa Charles's desk, sat another electronic pest, sweetly clothed in pink fur and red ribbons.

"Ah-hah!" I pounced in triumph, before discovering that Lisa and her cronies had clearly been testing the Furby manufacturer's claims of Language Mastery to the full: the beast had a vocabulary fit more for the parade ground than the playground.

"Eeh-oh!" it sang sweetly as Lisa frantically placed a hand over its eyes to induce silence, alas too late. "Away tae fuck, Mr Simpson," it chortled merrily, then gave one last glorious snore and subsided into silence again.

I was shocked, saddened, and outraged, all in that order.

"Lisa," I said slowly. "I'm shocked. And saddened. And outraged. To think that you should take such an innocent plaything and use it for such nefarious purposes." She looked a little puzzled at this point, so before she lost the plot completely, I decided to confiscate the offending item with a promise to return it by the weekend. I'd better not let it near Margaret's Furby. Who knows what bad habits it might pass on?

Thursday. A please-take for Ms Honeypot of the PE department proved something of a revelation. It was news to me that PE lessons were taking place involving pupils of mixed gender, and I must say I don't approve. To explain, I arrived at the gymnasium slightly late, to discover a scene of some confusion. A multitude of fourth-year pupils was barging aimlessly around the gym, and Tom Walker (the principal teacher who was supposed to be taking this class while I gave Ms Honeypot's class some fitness therapy worksheets to fill in) was nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, Kylie Paterson was in dispute with Michael Willis over ownership of a basketball at the moment of my intercession: "So just because you're stronger than Kylie," I said to Willis, "does that automatically suggest that you achieve ownership of the basketball?" "Sure does, Gummy!" he banged the ball hard against the floor and bounced netwards.

"Right, right, right!" I bawled to anyone prepared to listen. "Just get yourselves into your separate classes - boys over there and girls over there - and Mr Walker should be along to organise the lessons in a minute or two."

Sadly, Mr Walker failed to show up for several minutes, during which time I was informed in no uncertain manner that the class was normally taught in mixed-sex groupings. Having accepted the veracity of their proclamations, I was simply left to await the feckless Walker's arrival and reflect upon the potential for mischief that such ill-advised groupings might cause. Hasn't Walker ever come across the juices of adolescence?

Friday. We're to have a snap inspection! Mr Tod broke the news at morning break, and I must say I've never seen him looking so concerned.

"I must stress that there's nothing whatsoever to worry about," he insisted, ashen-faced. "Greenfield Academy has got nothing to hide, and everything to be proud of, and I've every confidence that those departments that HMI has chosen to inspect - English, geography and maths - will give a sterling account of themselves without any guidance from me. But I'd like to see Messrs Young and Crumley, plus Mrs Bradford, in my office immediately so we can plan our campaign of defence without further ado."

I suppose he wants to protect his back. Rumour has it that Mr Tod's applied for early retirement on stress grounds, and won't want a critical leaving report.

Meanwhile, I found myself in a curious reversal of roles this afternoon. As Gail had the car today, I had to await the arrival of a Number 47 bus, having just missed the 3.45 due to an overload of plastic bags full of weekend marking. Of course, the 4 o'clock .

I took it upon myself to hail a passing taxi: initially, it seemed unlikely to stop, but the driver braked suddenly and pulled in.

"Haw, sir! Want a lift?" boomed the fourth year's finest from the interior. Although initially hesitant, I looked at my watch, decided to swallow my pride, and - with no small sense of irony - accepted the offer of a lift from Damien Steel, whose taxi was as wayward as it had been all week.

"Drap ye aff at home, sur?" enquired Steele. "Uh. Yes. Yes, thank-you, Damien," I expressed reluctant gratitude. "And - uh - d'you have your mobile phone with you by any chance?" "Sure thing!" he drew it from his inside shoulder like a gun. "Want tae use it?" "Thank you. Just need to tell Mrs Simpson I'll be a little late this afternoon."

"Ach, jist tell her NORWICH, sur," he grinned suggestively. "Sorry?" "Jist tell her - ach, never mind, sur," he obviously thought better of some joke he was about to crack, and suggested instead that I treat myself to a mobile.

"Not on my salary, Damien."

"Aye. Right enough, sir."

I didn't know whether to be gratified or annoyed by his understanding.

John Mitchell.

Next month: an inspector calls. And shock news from Mr Tod.

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