That God it's Friday

11th July 1997 at 01:00
Monday: There's nothing like primary school furniture to bring you down to size. Squatting warily - oh, the embarrassment if I actually broke it! - I re-enter the world of little people. Beth, who's on work experience here, was blood-testing cows last week, so it's a little strange for her too. We talk about vets and painting, about new thoughts and responsibilities. And then the bright-eyed Lilliputians, back from assembly, greet the new teacher. Well, they thought I was a teacher. No, I'm like a grandad-teacher - at least we're all confused now.

Tuesday: Another rural primary school. All hard-working and heads down, they barely notice as Lizzie and I are directed to the "cloakroom", to have our talk. The "cloakroom" is a hallway with pegs and the full range of outdoor clothing for the very young. But at least I can sit on the step without fear of breaking it, and Lizzie is considerate enough to provide me with a cushion. I don't have to ask if she's enjoying it; the answer's there in her smile. Sums and swimming, reeling and writhing - she might want to become a teacher now. Maybe every secondary teacher with flattened June batteries should spend some time in a primary school and remember what it was like being a child.

Wednesday: Gripping my Egon Ronay and street guide to Ludlow, I ease open the aged oak portals of The Feathers. (If I play my cards right, I might be in for a free lunch. Oh no, I forgot, there's no such thing.) The Jacobean Tardis effect takes hold straight away and I'm whisked into another dimension. But I'm saved from total disorientation by Jo's familiar and radiant smile from behind the reception desk. Another happy camper, I'll be bound. She's been working in the restaurant, as a receptionist and as a chambermaid (or, to use the modern nomenclature, "a bedroom-linen refurbishment operative"). I've done this so often now I can almost write the manager's comments about our "polite", "helpful", "enthusiastic" student before he's opened his mouth. Makes you feel proud.

Thursday: I stow my wax jacket and wellies in the boot, and it's off to Mortimer Forest, leaving schools and hotel for the great outdoors. The snap of twig beneath foot, conifer resin to soothe the sinuses . . . so of course I find myself with Richard and Gary in a conference room in an office block. Oh well, at least it's wooden, which, it is immediately obvious, Richard and Gary are not. In 20 minutes they tell me how to fence, mark trees, brush, scythe and prune. Not forgetting planting, thinning, tree-rotation, re-routing footpaths, conservation, and "tariffing". They start at 7.30am each day and even scored a "6" for enthusiasm, when the sheet only went up to "5".

Friday: It's been an unusual week, but sitting next to Marianne in a stripy Suzuki in a field full of wallabies and monkeys requires an unusual leap of the imagination, even for this hardened traveller in the world of work experience. I knew it was going to be peculiar at the West Midlands Safari Park when Helen said, "She's with the lions now, but they're fetching her out". Visions of Albert and the Lion, in which Albert gets eaten, are quickly dispelled, as we drive in and out of giraffe legs and past the odd rhino, up to the "Monkey Jungle".

Marianne seems to take this all in her stride and, once again, everything's going well - except she doesn't like mucking out the lions. Remembering a rather incontinent old tom-cat I once lived with, I feel instant empathy.

What a week. I am left with a host of pleasurable memories, but two feelings predominate. The first is my sense of gratitude towards all those schools, businesses and individuals who give up their time and energies to share their experiences. And my second (actually, it's really my first) is my sense of pride in my tutees' enthusiasm and success, and my sense of pleasure in sharing it with them. I can't help wonder, though: how do you muck out lions? Long-handled pitchfork? Sedate them with a "Born Free" video? Maybe someone will go there next year and I'll find out.

Peter Lockerman is a teacher at Ludlow CE School, Shropshire

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