First encounters

11th June 1999 at 01:00
I have reached the stage of my time in school when I have become part of the furniture. I'm getting stuff in my pigeon hole. I go to meetings. I'm no longer mistaken for a sixthformer. This may be because my name and the words "photocopier broken" have become synonymous, but anyway, I seem to have blended in.

So I decide that it's time to take the plunge from the professional to the personal and invite a few colleagues round to dinner. As soon as they accept, I begin to realise the enormity of what I've done. This isn't the pub. They're all going to come round and see the kind of person I really am.

I immediately need to change my life. I realise that this is a golden opportunity to prove that, however crap I am at school, I can get some things right somewhere. All of a sudden, this is not a casual evening meal. This is the show of the century. It's a military campaign. Ms Warren is not completely useless.

I ring my best friend, who is a PR consultant. "Stop having lunch with Tom Jones, I need you to help me reinvent my life."

"It's Tom Cruise, actually Gemma. Now what do you need me to do?" "I'm having six colleagues round to dinner on Thursday. You have to keep on ringing me and ask me loads of questions about post-modern Japanese film-making."

"Why?" "So they'll think I'm really intelligent."

"But all you ever do is watch Mr Holland's Opus and cry."

"So forget that. Ring me up and pretend to invite me to a raving 20-something party."

"But whenever I do that you can never come because you've got too much marking."

"Fine. So ring me up and pretend to be a bloke and ask me if you can whisk me off to Paris for a wonderful romance-filled weekend."

"But you only like men who will listen to your boring teaching stories. Gemma, it won't work. Listen, just try to have a conversation about anything that isn't school for five minutes. If you can, I'll make the phone calls."

I try my hardest. I honestly do. "Nice weather for the time of year ...?" She hangs up.

Deserted, I turn my attention to my flat. I have to hide everything. I need to make it look inviting to all the different subject specialists that will be walking through my door.

For the artists, I take down all my Leonardo posters and nick a few prints off my neighbours. For the musicians, I throw all the Boyzone CDs under the table and borrow a vast and eclectic selection of music. "So who's this Wagner bloke then?" I ask my brother. For the geographers I try to chuck as much stuff around as I can that makes me look well-travelled and cultured. By the time I've finished my flat looks like a junk shop.

This is the most stressful experience of my life. "Why don't you just be yourself?" asks my friend as I frantically stuff old copies of Cosmo down the back of the sofa and replace them with Philanthropist's Monthly. "Sorry, that's impossible."

Mum phones. "Who do you want me to pretend to be again?" "Nelson Mandela. Say that you've read my column and you think that its effect on the cause of world peace and understanding is inestimable."

The door bell rings. I'm naked in the living room. I have enough food for 400 people and it's all burning. I need to hide. My friend goes to answer the door. "Just tell them that everything's completely normal," I tell her. That shouldn't be stretching the truth too much.

Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London

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