Flight from litigation

27th June 1997 at 01:00
MONDAY: Litigation abounds, as Gary Sinnott - a dysfunctional former pupil - continues an attempt to sue the school for his failure to achieve examination grades that might have kept him from the three short prison sentences he has experienced since leaving us.

The notion is catching. Mr Tod has today been issued with further legal documentation from a solicitor acting on behalf of Rothesay O'Brien (formerly Rothesay McLeary, but since, alas, divorced from her schooldays sweetheart and reverting to her original name), who is claiming similar academic abandonment in addition to a lack of social and personal guidance which had, she claims, its ultimate consequence in the early break-up of her marriage.

"My giddy aunt!" exclaimed Mr Pickup as the news broke this morning. "They'll be blaming us for their birth defects next!" I shook my head in sad reflection of the times, and recalled the pastoral homily which I had delivered to Rothesay and Alan McLeary as they announced their betrothal after the senior dance some four years ago now. "I tried to warn them, Pickup, but they wouldn't listen. Love's young dream, and all that."

"Hah!" he exclaimed scornfully. "Lust's young dream, more like, if I remember Alan McLeary."

"You do," I confirmed. "Three kids already, and Rothesay's claiming child support in the writ against the school as well."

Pickup sighed heavily. "And all on legal aid, I suppose? Ach, never mind, Morris," he slapped me playfully on the shoulder. "Come Friday and we can switch off for the summer holidays. No more kids, no more lawsuits, and the chance to get your feet up in the back garden!" I nodded, albeit somewhat glumly. Gail is most insistent that we try to book a late summer holiday in some continental tourist trap in Majorca, whereas I would prefer a spot of camping around the Trossachs as usual. True, it might be more difficult with an eight-month old daughter in tow, but I don't relish the prospect of a three-hour flight to the Balearics with Margaret at full-screech. I just hope the travel agents' warnings about non-availability for late-bookers will hold true for once.

TUESDAY: Our annual awards ceremony was re-scheduled for today rather than Thursday because - as Ms Lees explained last week - we'd be unlikely to get an attendance rate any higher than 40 per cent if it were any closer to the last day of term.

"And the staff turn-out could've been even lower," Pickup smirked as we awaited the beginning of this morning's ceremony which, as usual, provided a litany of achievement awards in sports, social endeavours, attendance records and effort gradings. And - once more, as usual - the event completely failed to make recognition of academic achievement in any shape or form. It was quite enlightening to discuss the affair with Councillor Tyler at the subsequent sherry reception: he bristled fiercely at the absence of a dux medal award, and pondered aloud upon the lack of uniformity in our pupils' dress. I shrugged my shoulders in agreement and suggested he take the matter up with senior management, where responsibility for such matters rightly lies. Little did I know what I was starting.

WEDNESDAY: Distressing news from Paris, whence Miss Tarbet and Pamela Blane are due to return tomorrow with the second year trip. Their planned activities for the last evening of the holiday had taken the form of a trip to a fun-fair where one of their number - Kevin Elliott - had banged his face on the steering wheel of a dodgem car, with the loss of two front teeth.

"Couldn't have happened to a nicer child," muttered Pickup on hearing the news. I was appalled at his attitude and reflected gratefully on the fact that he has not been allowed in charge of a foreign venture since an unfortunate incident on the cross-channel ferry some years back.

Luckily for Kevin Elliott, Miss Tarbet possesses a good deal more medical and organisational capabilities than Pickup, and had spent all evening and most of the night with her charge, ensuring the best and promptest of medical attention.

Meanwhile, and closer to home, Councillor Wyatt has been making waves - with a vengeance. The first I knew of it was Ms Lees' furious entry to the staffroom demanding to know "Who the hell's been sounding off to the councillors?" Sensibly, I refrained from comment and instead enquired: "Sounding what, Ruth?" "Off!" she spat angrily. "Councillor Wyatt's been on the warpath to the authority offices demanding a report on school uniform policy as well as a list of all schools awarding dux medals to their brainiest kids. And the authority has been on to me to find out why only three kids at yesterday's awards ceremony were wearing a school tie!" "Gosh!" "Yes, gosh, Morris! Anyway, the upshot is that I've decided - or rather, Mr Tod's decided - to reintroduce a school uniform policy."

"But I thought we'd decided long ago that uniform was a restrictive interference with the children's personal freedoms?" "That was then. And this, as they say, is now. We want the kids to avoid competing with each other to wear the best designer clothes. We want them to look smart without impoverishing their parents. To have a sense of pride in their school."

"And we want," Mr Pickup cut in sharply, "the local shopkeepers to be able to identify any of our little toerags who try shoplifting during the lunch-hour. "

Ms Lees ignored the interruption: "So I'll be drawing up a uniform code over the holidays, and I look forward to full support from staff in its implementation."

I nodded in firm agreement. Anything for a quiet life.

THURSDAY: I was volunteered for supervision duties at the third year dance this evening, an arrangement which didn't go down very well with Gail, who was still trying to pin me down over the holiday.

"Sorry, darling," I abandoned her with a forest of travel brochures. "If you see anything within our price range, just mark it for me to look at when I come home."

"Your price range, do you mean, or mine?" she replied with caustic charm. "Because Millport's our limit if we're going by yours."

"Actually, we could do a lot worse than Millport," I threw in before heading for school. The dance was a torrid affair. My 30 minutes of toilet patrol witnessed the break-up of three vitriolic arguments about dancing partners, two stand-up fights, plus assorted cases of spectacular - and alcohol-induced - vomiting. And then there was Marlene Beveridge.

This little siren arrived in what could only be described as the most provocative outfit it has been my discomfort - and Pickup's pleasure, I have to remark - to witness at a school function. Her mini-skirt could have doubled as a large-width leather belt, and the fleecy crop-top which adorned her upper half clearly took serious delight in revealing as much of her developing cleavage as possible.

But it was the earring in her navel which was drawing most attention from a phalanx of her lecherous peers. The item was a serious safety hazard, not to mention a direct contravention of our school clothing policy. Mindful of Ms Lees' forthcoming uniform clampdown, I decided to take matters in hand and asked Marlene to remove the offending item.

Her response was brief, and not to be repeated here. Suffice to say, my alternative suggestion that she cover up her tummy button did not meet with approval either. Thus it was that I found myself in the position of enlisting Ms Honeypot's assistance in trying to stretch Marlene's crop-top those extra inches to cover her navel, otherwise she would have had to be sent home.

I think we managed it eventually, although Marlene's objections were forceful, to say the least. But I considered it important enough to make a stand on the matter, and I'm certain that Ruth Lees will give my actions the fullest backing.

FRIDAY: Yet another lawsuit raised its ugly head this morning, this time from Mrs Elliott. I could hardly believe my ears when Ruth Tarbet broke the news that Kevin's accident - for which she assures us the boy was almost exclusively responsible himself - was leading to a charge of neglect against those teachers in charge.

"It's incredible," she shook her head in frustration. "He was the worst behaved child on the trip, and he didn't even pay for it himself."

"He didn't?" I puzzled.

"Nope. He got most of it paid for by a special fund to help disadvantaged kids who couldn't otherwise get on these trips. Not that I'm supposed to tell you that," she hastened. "But it makes me sick."

"I know," I sympathised quietly. "Gary Sinnott and Rothesay O'Brien are still pursuing their actions as well, after all we tried to do for them. Sometimes makes you wonder whether it's all worth it, doesn't it?" "It isn't!" Pickup broke in sharply as he crashed through the staffroom door. "And it certainly won't be for you, old son," he cast a warning in my direction."

"Eh?" I questioned.

"Mr and Mrs Beveridge are in the school office," he jerked a thumb behind his right shoulder, "and they're spitting mad. They're saying that one of Marlene's guidance teachers made an indecent assault on her at last night's school dance, and what are we going to do about it? They're planning to call in the police. "

My knees turned to jelly, but I knew that decisive action was called for, and strode purposefully towards the telephone. "Who're you calling?" asked Pickup. "Your lawyer?" "Nope," I shook my head as I waited for the call to be put through. "Hello?" I enquired as the connection was made. "Is that A T Mays? Good. Listen: do you have any last-minute bookings for Majorca? Two adults, one infant? " I waited patiently as the operator conducted a computer search, and came up with some extremely welcome news. We leave at the end of next month, and I'm keeping an extremely low profile until then. If there's one thing I need, it's a decent holiday - and as far away from this school as it's possible to get.

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