Last days and final straws;The further adventures of Morris Simpson;School diary
Mr Pickup is now completely demob-happy. His last day as a teacher at Greenfield Academy is this Friday. He has spent most of the past 10 days constructing what he promises will be an epic speech of departure for his leaving presentation.
"It's about time somebody said the things I'm going to say about Scottish education!" he pronounced over a quick pint at today's close of play. "And I'll tell you this - there'll be a few members of the board of studies who won't know where to look!" "No?" I enquired.
"I tell you, Morris, I won't be missing anybody - and if Ruth Lees knows what's good for her, she'll stay well away from . . ."
I left him to announce his revenge plans aloud, while my own mind wandered uncertainly to the problems surrounding our application for free "Books for Schools". Having spent the last umpteen weeks exhorting every child in the school to collect tokens from a certain crisp manufacturer in the hope of replenishing our textbook supplies, it is only now becoming apparent - to me, at any rate - that the list of books does not seem to include any textbooks whatsoever. Rather, we have to choose from a collection of fiction and reference titles, whose provision will be welcome but whose availability is unlikely to satisfy the earnest hopes of our school board that "every child can now have a textbook".
"And another thing!" Pickup cut into my reverie, having moved on to his plans for addressing our esteemed headteacher on Friday. "If old Tod thinks I'm going to come out with the usual platitudinous crap about having my job made easier by his fine leadership, then he's got another think coming."
I assured Pickup that "platitudinous crap" would be the last thing expected of him by Mr Tod, then apologised for going. "I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow for a physics competition with Mr Greig, and I haven't packed my sandwiches yet. See youWednesday at Rashmani's for the end-of-term leavers' dinner?" "Oh God, yes. My last session at "The Salmonella Palace", Morris - I can hardly wait. Cheers, old son!" He raised a glass of salutation and bade me farewell as he brought out his notebook once more and added a few further choice words to Friday's speech.
An early rise to accompany Mr Greig and his senior physics classes on their trip to a civil engineering competition. To my mind, this kind of term-end activity is exactly what education should be about - young people going away for the day with members of staff in a relaxed and non-academic environment, then competing with pupils from other schools in a friendly spirit to advance their frontiers of knowledge.
Well, that's what I thought before the competition.
This year's organisers had asked schools to plan a design brief beforehand. Using several balls of string, four rolls of sticky tape and 40 sheets of medium-grade sandpaper, the teams had to model a structure capable of hoisting a crashed bus from a ravine. At the end of the day, the structures would be tested for strength.
Unfortunately, Greenfield Academy's team found itself next to a rather arrogant collection of youth from an independent school, led by an even more arrogant teacher. He first annoyed me intensely by announcing loudly to his pupils: "Not everyone here is as respectful of property as you are, so don't be lending out any equipment." Sadly, not thinking at the time to announce to our own pupils that it was, "above all, a fun competition, so feel free to help anyone in any way you can", I left for the rather nice buffet lunch.
As Mr Greig and I later discovered, this rather bumptious man had taken the trouble to assemble three teams, all of whom proceeded to erect some fairly impressive constructions, all of them based on a similar design. And all of them, at the end of the day, were the sole prize-winners. This wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the triumphalist reaction of the pupils - and their academic instructor - upon each result being announced.
"Ye-ess!" he punched the air upon being awarded third prize. And "Yee-ess!" he punched it once again upon being awarded second prize. And "Yeeeee-esssss!" he punched it thrice mightily on being awarded first prize.
Talk about setting an example. The rest of us just looked on sadly, then left for some fish and chips on the way home. So much for the joy of taking part . . .
An unusually sober leavers' dinner at Rashmani's, at least as far as the fifth and sixth-year pupils were concerned. Clearly, this was a sign of the times. Apart from Marlene Beveridge (whose slurred invitation to join her in the ladies' toilet to check that her make-up was "oan straight" I declined), the pupils were a model of decorum. Most of them explained to me that they were "past all that drunken binges and alchopop crap" and that the thought of smuggling in a "sluggae gin in a lemonade boatull" was well beneath them.
Alarmingly, however, they informed me that they had more exciting possibilities afoot in the guise of various drug-related activities, but only after the official part of the evening had concluded. "We widnae want tae embarrass youse all, sur," Charmaine Gibson informed me solicitously. I thanked her for her consideration - I'm sure she was only joking about the drugs, anyway - and turned instead to Mr Pickup. My elderly mentor - in stark contrast to his young charges - had once again made the unfortunate error of mixing the grain with the grape.
To be frank, his behaviour and language were not in keeping with a fully registered member of the General Teaching Council, and his frequent challenges to Mr Rashmani's catering staff for a "square-go outside" were singularly ill-advised. Similarly, I deemed his condemnation of our splendiferous meal as a "pile of foreign crap" to be unfortunately judged.
Finally, I insisted that he cease forthwith the amorous advances he had chosen to bestow upon Ashley MacLaine and suggested instead that he and I repair to the Rockston Arms to set a final seal upon the academic term.
"What the hell are you talkin' about, Morris?" he questioned me angrily. "I was just about to get off with Ashley MacLaine!" It was just as well that I was there, really.
Mr Greig has received a letter from Tuesday's competition organisers, announcing a change of rules: in future, any teams from the same school must submit different designs. And quite right too!
Meanwhile, Mr Pickup has called in the environmental health officers. He has blamed all of his illnesses from yesterday evening and this morning on Mr Rashmani's hygiene arrangements, which, if Pickup is to be believed, were anything but hygienic. "The man's a walking E coli outbreak, Morris!" he assured me this morning. "I've been up all bloody night with stomach cramps, diarrhoea and violent outbreaks of vomiting - and all down to that mixed tandoori special he persuaded me to spend an extra three quid on."
"So, it's nothing to do with the two bottles of Zinfandel, two double Drambuies, three whiskies and four pints of lager, then?" "Nothing whatsoever, Morris!" he denied with vigour. "I've lost count of the illnesses I've had after eating at that place. Thistime, I intend to make a stand. Which iswhy I've called in the environmentalhealth officers."
"Well, um, good for you," was all I could bring myself to say.
Alas, as I later discovered, it wasn't the prophylactic panacea that Pickup had envisaged. "Well, yes," he explained to me in the staffroom this afternoon, "they arrived pretty swiftly after lunchtime, but they told me that if they were to trace the source of the complaint, then I'd have to provide a specimen."
"A specimen? What, like a urine specimen?" "Well, not exactly, Morris,"said Pickup with some discomfiture apparent. "More of a . . . kind of . . .um . . ."
"I see. So you've to . . . uh . . .?" "Yes, that's right, Morris," Pickup's face blanched slightly. "Into this container . . .", upon which he held aloft a large perspex receptacle.
I made the mistake of sniggering.
"Don't you start, Simpson!" he shouted with a more than certain degree of acrimony. "If this is what it takes to prove that Rashmani's a latter-day Sweeney Todd, then I'm prepared to go along with it. But what a way to spend my last day at school!" With that, he left in the direction of the gents' toilets.
Somehow, it seemed an inglorious end to his teaching career. I wonder if he'll work it into his leaving speech tomorrow.
A special edition of TES Scotland next week will include Mr Pickup's speech, with a searing indictment of Scottish education