Hair today, gone tomorrow

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Gregor Steele will reveal where he is going in a future article

I'm sweating and my pulse is up. It is 9.30 and I've only just managed to get a computer to talk properly to the LCD projector.

Twenty-eight kids sit in the darkened room, unsure what to expect on the day of the final of their science enterprise competition. The video presentation starts up.

Tick. Tick.

To the sinister beat of a clock and a montage of images of birds, Vincent Price reads the first verse of The Raven. Cut to a leather-clad, long-haired rocker standing outside a ruined building. "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath kicks in and the rocker cavorts around, terrorised by some unseen flying nemesis. The pupils are told they will be given a Meccano set and some junk and must build an electrically-powered bird scarer. Some laugh at the twist at the end of the video.

Each team forms a company with a name, logo and strapline. Martin, a real engineer, and my pal Fiona, from the advisory service enterprise team, walk around helping, advising and judging. There is laughter and there is frustration as their creations take shape. One girl says it's the best day she's ever had at high school. I'm feeling pretty much the same way myself.

Once again, the children think of things that I couldn't have thought of. Mobile phones are incorporated into some designs with freakish ringtones remotely activated.

After lunch, each team demonstrates their bird scarer and gives a corporate presentation. A boy sincerely tells the audience that his company has called its motorised scarecrow Mr Steele "in memorium (sic) of Mr Steele".

He is referring to the fact that this is my last day as a teacher in the school and may, indeed, be my last day as a proper teacher in any school.

The judges retire. Scarers are dismantled so that the Meccano can be used in East Kilbride later in the month. Fiona and Martin announce the results.

My namesake scarecrow is third. The children cheer the winners, the bell rings, and I am left in the school library with Susan, the librarian who outed me as a poet some weeks ago.

I recall the last frames of the introductory video. The rocker's long hair is shown to be a wig. A raven has made it into a nest. As for the headbanger, it was me all the time. And thanks to those pesky kids, I think I largely did get away with it for 24 years.

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