First encounters

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
Gemma Warren goes on her first school trip Are we there yet, Miss?" We haven't even left the playground. It's 6.30. "How long, Miss?" Seven hours. We've been travelling for exactly five seconds and already two people have thrown up. I'm on my first ever school holiday. And I want to go home.

It all started when I heard someone in the staffroom say that the only time they ever see English teachers exert themselves is when there's some coffee going. I'd disagree with that. I'll only run when there's biscuits, too. But in a moment of rashness I leapt up to defend our honour, and now I'm stuck on a coach with a Year 7 group I shall call Hel 7 to some long forgotten valley in Wales. I don't think that it's wise to point out that someone must have deserted this place for a reason.

Actually, now I come to think of it, I'm not sure that I'm cut out for the active life. I get out of breath trying to turn the pages in my dictionary. I spent so much time in bed during my degree that my flatmate said it was two years before she realised I had legs.

"Are we there yet, Miss?" I fish out my specially recorded Ms-Warren-proves-to-Year-7- how- cool-she-is tape. "Who wants to listen to some music?" They're not impressed. "Iwantafuckyermotha, Miss." "Excuse me?" "Iwantafuckyermotha."

"Now? I mean, she's happily married, but I could ring her and ask if she'd be interested..." "No, it's a band, Miss. They're great." "What about some lovely Spice Girls?" Silence. I take the tape and try to find some earplugs.

I mean, I might quite like Wales. I have visions of myself wandering around remote hills looking like the girl from the Timotei shampoo ad. I also have the added advantage of being locked in a youth hostel with loads of gorgeous PE teachers, so the week may have some compensations. Maybe I stand a chance if I've got nothing but sheep for competition.

I had to buy a whole new wardrobe, of course. I'm now the proud possessor of loads of thermals that say things like "weather-proof", and "water-proof" and "mountain-proof". When something needs so much proof to justify its existence, I begin to wonder if someone up there isn't having a big laugh. Once I've got it all on, I look more like Michelin man than Timotei girl, but I'm hoping that maybe PE blokes go for the muscular look. And if anything hides your fat, it's 15 layers of frost-resistant Nylon, but I'm not quite sure how you're supposed to go to the loo. I'm not sure I want to know.

"Are we there yet, Miss?" It's 8.30. Hel 7 have already consumed two Big Mac meals each. "I feel sick, Miss." Apparently, my all-in-one ski-suit can stand a monsoon, a power-cut and an alien invasion, but not an 11-year-old chucking up. "How long, Miss?" Till what? The Millennium?

I feel strangely out of my depth among all these blokes who keep on going on about soil erosion and glaciation, but I'm thinking that if I can read Proust, I can read a map. How difficult can it be? I've already done a bit of countryside research to make me sound knowledgeable. A mile is less than a kilometre, and a kilo-metre is equal to 100 grams. Or something like that anyway. You measure distance as the crow flies, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Always shut gates and a rolling stone gathers no moss. Sorted. They're bound to be impressed.

"Are we there yet, Miss? Miss? Can I borrow a tissue? Have you got a rubbish bag? Miss? Do we go past Glasgow? Have you got a boyfriend, Miss? Why not, Miss? Miss? My sister's got a boyfriend and she's only eight. Miss?" "SHUTTHEFUCKUP!" "Have you got that with you, Miss? They're great! Did you see them on Top of the Pops last week? What do you think of Anal Insurrection?" Five hours left to go.

To be continued...

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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today