First encounters

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Nicholas Lind has a peculiar curse

My friends have many misconceptions about the life of a teacher. The most quoted one is their belief that I stop work at 3.10pm. But there is one myth that really bugs me: that school trips are nothing more than a free holiday. Free holiday? They're more stressful than 8Y5 on a wet Tuesday.

School trips and I don't get on. I must be cursed. If anything, no matter how small, can go wrong on a trip, you know it will go wrong around me. It all dates back to the first trip I took with my placement school last year. A week in France with Year 8. Relatively simple, I thought - a bit of cheese-tasting, a couple of D-Day museums and a shedload of duty-free on the way back. Yeah, right.

It all seemed to be going well until we got to St M re-Eglise. We visited a museum and then let the kids do a little shopping in the town. It seemed simple. So imagine the scene, if you will: I'm walking down this pleasant Normandy street, admiring the architecture, when all of a sudden this mad-looking woman runs at me, gesticulating and babbling in French.

Languages have never been my forte. I can read and write French competently, but my oral skills are non-existent. I never really got much beyond asking for a return ticket to Marseilles. In fact, I am so bad that one of my teachers (I seemed to get through several) suggested I merely learn the phrase "les lapins sont dans les arbres" and repeat it with a big smile on my face whenever anyone in France spoke to me. It wouldn't get me very far, but everyone would think I was crazy and at least leave me alone.

I decided this particular woman cared little for rabbits, so I tried my best to communicate. The scene slowly drifted into some kind of Monty Python sketch as w tried various ways of understanding each other. Finally, I gathered that she owned a shop and that there was a little ambiguity as to whether one of my lads had paid for an item. Twenty minutes later it was all sorted and we were away in the coach. But the die was cast. I was never to have a peaceful trip again.

We take 50 kids down a coal mine and one tall boy hits his head on a beam. Whose group is he in? You've guessed it. A trip to Cadbury World?Someone's sick on the bus. And then there was the arts trip to London. I just shouldn't have gone. I never stood a chance. An overnight stay, 90 pupils, more than half in Year 7. What was I thinking?

It started with a great journey up and an entertaining performance of the musical Blood Brothers. We arrived back at the hotel around 11pm. My room was on a corridor full of Year 7s and we teachers decided to give them until midnight to get into their rooms.

Midnight came and they were still running around. At 1am doors were still slamming. Then it was 2am and still they would not sleep. At 2.30 I lost my patience. I was tired, I needed to sleep. I heard footsteps in the corridor and the sound of children's' voices. I looked round my door and saw two figures disappear into a room. I had them.

I walked up to the door and banged loudly. "Come on you two. Out now, I've had enough." I heard the sound of voices and then the door swung open. There in front of me stood a man flanked by his two young children. Thirty rooms on the corridor and I had picked the only one without my kids in.

"What the hell do you want?" the father asked. "It's half-two in the morning."

I smiled sweetly. "Les lapins sont dans les arbres."

Nicholas Lind is an NQT at Ashton Park school, Bristol

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