Howl and the Pussycat

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Remember the disaster of the prize-giving last June? I vowed never again to repeat the experience. The compromise was a Celebration of Success, well in keeping with the current political agenda.

At St Pats, we have more than our fair share of "challenging behaviour".

One of our biggest challenges is Kenny, our first Tourette's syndrome pupil. This terrible affliction had not prevented Kenny from becoming a great favourite with the school community who gradually accepted his problems, although some of our Chestnut Lane residents had moved their offspring to other schools.

Kenny worked hard at overcoming his difficulties, and much of the credit was down to the hard work of the learning support staff.

Lizzie had asked me to include Kenny in the end of term event - a high-risk strategy. I wrestled with my conscience, balancing up human, educational, emotional and, to be honest, career factors. Father Murphy was praying for Kenny. That should do the trick.

Lizzie had taught Kenny "The Owl and the Pussycat", and he loved the poem.

I was invited to see Kenny in a practice. The tics were much less evident, and the lad was really proud of himself.

Rightly so. It was quite moving to see the effort and the achievement. Go for it, Bridget. I decided to keep Kenny in the wings, and only to bring him in for his part in the proceedings.

"Heineken Harry" Anderson, our local councillor, Father Murphy and Sister Verity were to attend. Heineken Harry had allegedly given up drinking and wouldn't need to be hidden away like last year.

The day arrived, and the parents took their seats, ready to record each single minute for posterity, courtesy of every camera, phone and gismo known to Cash Converters. Lizzie was keeping Kenny amused with some PlayStation games in the base. I took my place with the VIPs and twirled my beads.

The infants were inspirational, the middle stages magnificent and the P7s perfect. We had readings, recitations, choral pieces, soloists and instrumentalists. I saw Father Murphy crossing himself. It was Kenny's turn.

On came the young man, and it brought a tear to my eye. He was totally relaxed, showing little in the way of twitches and breathing calmly. Lizzie was in the wings, well within eye contact.

"The owl and the pussycat went to sea . . ." I willed him to succeed. I sweated. I fidgeted. I twirled my beads. I mouthed the words with him. He finished to tumultuous applause. I was crying my eyes out. Lizzie rushed on, led him off and gave him a great big hug. The whole school stood and applauded -loud and long.

Councillor Anderson had insisted that he "do" the vote of thanks. He was the type of councillor you always knew existed but, until you actually met them, you couldn't believe it.

He was full of self-importance, delusions of grandeur and pompous in the extreme. Ideally qualified to be the vice-chairman of the education committee. Harry rose to his feet, preened himself and, holding both lapels of his best blazer, began.

"It is the duty and responsibility of us yins on the council for to educate youse young people today. Now I'm sure all of youse will agree with me that thon was a pure dead brilliant performance tonight. I must pay special tributary to the young lad Kenny who, you might not know, has Tourniquet's syndrome. To hear him recite thon poem was nothing short of perspirational."

I cringed as Harry asked Kenny to come back up on stage. Lizzie tried to attract my attention, but I had by then closed my eyes, as I commenced a slow slide down my chair. Kenny beamed as Heineken Harry called for another round of applause. The cringe factor was going into overdrive, as Harry stood with his arm round Kenny basking in his reflected glory.

"Well young man, and what do you want to do when you leave the school?"

asked Harry. Kenny handled the situation magnificently. I was proud of him.

He answered sensibly, telling Councillor Anderson that he knew he still had much to do, but wanted to be a vet.

After the Celebration of Success, we retired to the staffroom where Kenny's performance was praised by all concerned. The bold councillor, who was by now in full flight describing his achievements in local government, asked me what I had thought of his speech tonight. I counted to 10. This man and his colleagues controlled a budget of millions and could dictate our professional future. I searched for the right word.

I heard the answer from along the corridor. Kenny had obviously lapsed and let out an almighty F word.

I smiled. The councillor looked shocked.

"That's Tourniquet for you, Councillor."

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