The joy of trips comes at a heavy price

7th November 2003 at 00:00
In a way, I became inured to school trips. I was used to the problems, such as having to sit with the troublemakers on the coach and stop them going to burger joints during the interval at the theatre and bringing back greasy snacks. This to take their minds off the fact that they were watching Shakespeare and missing Coronation Street and an adult movie on TV, and to give them something to share with Sharon in the hope they might get a snog later, if she was in the mood, which she often was.

Each sojourn was predictable. As the coach set off, Vanessa, always our organiser, would announce that if anyone caused any trouble, they would sit beside Mr Brindle for the remainder of the trip. How I loved Vanessa and those fun-filled days, being head of department, and responsible for all things disciplinary, all urchins recalcitrant. Skiing in Austria, shopping in Dieppe, restoring old mills in the Yorkshire Dales: been there, done those, shouted, threatened, lost hair.

There were highlights. Such as when the girl one row in front and 20 seats along at a production of Love's Labour's Lost, screeched my name, making me edge towards her as everyone turned round and the production faltered, until she could regale me with: "Sir, there's gum in my hair." You could feel sympathy for her oozing from the audience. How proud I felt to be the one she turned to in her time of despair.

There were other memorable moments. Such as when a coach driver was displeased as our journey home was delayed for nearly an hour because of a tardy student who finally arrived with, "So, I'm late. So what? I was busyI "; and the driver understood that teachers can't lay hands on children so he seized the child by the throat and explained to him that he was not delighted at being late home for his wife's cottage pie and that if he twitched before we arrived back he would see to it that he'd never twitch again.

Such times were what school trips are all about. However, I'm now involved as a parent and it's different: Coke spilt on the seats can be remedied; rude signs to passing motorists are part of modern life. Suddenly, my children's trips just mean expense: pound;250 for a French exchange, pound;175 to see a German market, pound;100 for a weekend abseiling. And that's just this month.

I've developed a different perspective. I try to imagine the poor soul sitting with the miscreants on the back seat and the teachers patrolling corridors to ensure that Petunia goes home in the same pure state as when she arrived, but all I see is my bank balance.

My children love the trips, as children do. It's painful being a grown-up, and I didn't realise that parents suffer, as teachers do. Where my patience and soul used to be screaming, it's now my wallet. And I haven't decided which hurts most.

Keith Brindle

Keith Brindle is an educational consultant and writer

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