To hell and back in a week

6th June 2003 at 01:00
IF anyone else says, "Well, the way we always do it here is", I shall scream. Every time I try to introduce something new, I have my predecessor's view of primary education thrust back in my face.

He was highly thought of, but that was in the local Rotary Club, golf club and headteachers' association. The staff were not exactly shedding tears at his departure, but his tenure is now seen as a golden age among the more conservative members of the staffroom.

The Great One always took the primary 7 "educational visit" to Edinburgh, although it would have taken the powers of Sherlock Holmes to detect a truly educational aspect to some of the venues. Returning teachers often needed three days to recover, and had dubbed the experience, in the words of Nat King Cole, "unforgettable".

I felt a migraine coming on, and that was before the bus arrived. The kids were eager to board the "luxury executive cruiser". Rumour had it that the local football team used the bus, and the boys immediately headed for the card tables. The girls giggled, preened themselves and the decibel level seemed to go through the roof.

Copies of Smash Hits and Match quickly replaced the prepared worksheets, and Melanie fell out with her best friend before the first exchange of seats had taken place.

Mrs Hughes was tapping on the window, beckoning me outside. A fixed smile was duly applied as I disembarked. "Mrs McElroy, ah forgot tae tell ye (pause) Fiona still . . . ye know . . ."

Her embarrassment was obvious. My mind raced. Could I take this?

In true Les Dawson style, she mouthed a silent word. My expression was one of incredulity. We had issued forms, held meetings and given countless opportunities for special requests. Now, as the driver was revving up the engines, she tells me that her little delight is a serial bedwetter!

The journey was fairly routine, with punch-ups and projectile vomiting in equal measure. The toilet stops were well patrolled, but I had my suspicions about the apparent increase of mints, toothpaste and shampoo sachets which the boys had accumulated. My mind saw vending machines, inane giggling and pound coins being quickly thrust into slots while lookouts kept vigil.

The hotel was well used to school visits, and the proprietor expressed genuine disappointment at the absence of my predecessor. I explained his retirement, and the epitaph accorded him would have done credit to a missionary, saint or pioneer of medicine.

The week passed. Slowly. Far too slowly. Jimmy got stuck inside the barrel of Mons Meg, Kylie ended up in a lap dancing club and Stuart had to be taken to the Royal Infirmary with an overdose of mints.

The P7 class were delighted by the ghost tour, and I'm sure that they must have scared the living daylights out of the accompanying Japanese family.

The male-oriented itinerary drawn up by Himself had bored the girls silly, and I tried to compensate by an informal visit to Harvey Nics. My eyes were everywhere, but I think they failed to make any significant inroads into the stock.

I had aged several years by the time we turned back into the playground.

They had all fallen out with each other, had spent all their money on every bit of tat and kitsch available from tourist counters. They had bought their "presents" for families, and I really didn't want to know what they were.

My face drained of what little colour it had, when I saw two of the girls with bags which proudly displayed the Ann Summers logo. When? What? How? Who for?

Fiona was last to leave. She smiled and said proudly: "I was all right Miss, and I was dry all week."

She patted my arm, as Mrs Hughes searched for her in the onrushing throng.

I felt quite proud of her. Never mind the worksheets, the assessments, the reports and the evaluations. This wee girl had reached a huge target. I forgot all the late nights, the accidents, the rows and the hint of alcohol and tobacco aromas.

The school was deserted. My mail was piled high on my desk. I made the mistake of quickly looking at the letters. One had a familiar look. It was marked OHMS.

I wondered if Fiona had thrown away her "special" pants?

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