Gemma Warren discovers real life

28th April 2000 at 01:00
I am sitting in a crowded pub in the centre of London. Running through my head is a silent prayer, addressed to the patron saint of teachers, although let's face it, the general evidence points against the existence of such a benevolent deity.

My prayer runs something along the lines of: "Please don't ask me what I think, please don't ask me what I think. If you can just allow me to sit here unnoticed I will sponsor every member of Year 10 who comes to me with yet another one-day famine sponsorship form. And I will do it with no other motive than to do good, rather than the hope that Year 10 might starve themselves to death before I have to mark their coursework essays." For once the patron saint of teachers actually gets off her arse and does something. I am left alone. Next time I'll ask for a pay rise.

My recent conversion to the wonders of prayer is mainly because of A, my non-teaching boyfriend. We're out with some of his friends from work and I'm forced to admit that I don't understand a word they're saying. What's more, A's friends are not even remotely interested in teaching. I mean, they take a polite interest of course, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of whether Blutack or Sellotape is better for your classroom walls, quite frankly, they couldn't care less.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this. "You're at that three-month period," said one of my colleagues the other day when we were meant to be invigilating an exam. "Sooner or later he's going to stop pretending to take an interest in your Year 9 Romeo and Juliet diaries and tell you to shut up because he'd rather be going out with a Mongolian goat-herder than a teacher who never stops talking about school. And you need to start seeing him as a person and not a work-experience opportunity for WAR 11 (my form)."

This is real food for thought. I consider it as soon as I have a spare five minutes away from some hysterical Year 11 crying her eyes out because, rather than work, she's spent the past two years at the back of the class trying to work out which flavour of Hubba-Bubba blows the biggest bubbles. I don't want him to be off with a Mongolian goat-herder. I don'twant him to go off with anyone unless it's me. I am forced to come to a momentous realisation: there is a life outside school. I just need to work out what it is.

I want to make clear that over the past two years I have been out with people. But they've tended to be teachers. And we've tended to talk about school. Last year, at a dinner party, the head of art got pissed off and ordered that for the next 10 minutes we were going to talk about something other than education. "I mean, we're all intelligent people. We've all got stimulating lives and relationships and hobbies," he announced. There was silence for the next five minutes. It was a relief when someone got out the Trivial Pursuit.

So I am rediscovering life. It's hard. School doesn't leave you with very much time to be a person. I go with A to see his office at the BBC. It's got security guards and computers you don't need to queue for. The walls are suspiciously clean and devoid of lists of numbers headed "countdown to the end of Ms Warren's lesson". I wonder if anyone would notice if I quickly ran off 30 copies of a worksheet on apostrophes, and then squash the thought instantly. I feel like one of those monkeys they take into space to see if it can survive in a different atmosphere. I am out of school. I am alive.

So we end up at the pub with his friends. They're discussing a treatment. That's not a beauty treatment, by the way. It means an idea for a programme. It's a good thing I realised that before I pointed out that rubbing your face with a man who lives in a caravan near Wolverhampton is not scientifically proven to prevent wrinkles. I even manage to laugh once, but it's only because they want to make the main character's son a Year 9 boy who'd rather be working than playing football. Yeah right.

I realise this a rare opportunity just to sit, and not be planning, or marking, or complaining, or discussing. So this is how the other half lives. I think I make a pretty good real person, and if not I've heard that flights to Mongolia are pretty hard to come by.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. E-mail:

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