School Diary - You know it's really bad when Magaluf beckons
Alas, Gail and I find ourselves at home for most of the summer, a situation that has not pleased our 12-year-old daughter Margaret, most of whose friends are going on at least one, if not two, holidays.
Unfortunately, the credit crunch continues to bite in the Simpson household, a position made all the more galling by the fact that we chose a fixed-rate mortgage just before trackers came tumbling down. My financial adviser suggests we might still win out in the end, as "mortgage rates are bound to go up again", but with my luck that will coincide with the end of our fixed rate.
At least our stay-at-home holiday is affording us the chance to munch our way through the enormous collection of chocolates Gail received from her pupils at the end of term. And the house is festooned with mugs, banners and trinkets, all proclaiming her the "Best Teacher Ever".
"It's strange, isn't it?" I remarked as we prepared for bed, "how primary teachers get showered with gifts, yet once they hit secondary you never see a gesture of appreciation in their entire careers."
"Maybe it's because we inspire them, Morris," she explained. "Maybe it's because we cherish them and reward them and praise them, and devise creative ways of learning to engage them, instead of trying to cram them for exams."
I glanced sharply across the covers to check if she was winding me up, but she seemed serious.
"You've got to be joking?"
"I'm not!" she retorted frostily. "I think I'm well worth every present I get - even if you don't!"
At which point she turned her back to me and pulled the duvet up to her neck, signalling the end of our pillow talk.
Another advantage attached to holidaying at home is the chance to catch up with a backlog of educational press. I am at last examining the amendments to our national awards system, so cleverly announced by the Education Minister at the tail-end of a long academic session.
"Gail?" I queried in disbelief. "Is this right? We know teenagers only begin to show any motivation when they can sense an exam on the horizon? And we know that the last time the SQA loaded exams with internally assessed units, the results were so discredited by dubious marking and downright plagiarism that they eventually had to abandon it?"
"Mmm?" she murmured, more intent on a copy of OK! magazine and a particularly chewy nut cluster from her hoard.
"So they're now waiting another year to start exam preparation, expecting them to do in one year what they now do in two, if they're to achieve a National 5 qualification - and they're expecting employers to give any credibility whatsoever to a National 4 that's completely internally assessed?"
"I wouldn't worry, dear," she comforted me. "Margaret's going to be through the system before it happens, and it should have settled down by the time Ross gets there, given that he's not started school yet."
"Hah!" I challenged her. "Remember Standard grade? Remember Higher Still? I'd wager a lot of money that Ross's year group will be odds-on favourites to take the first National 5s - in 2022!"
One disadvantage of staying at home is the fact that summer weather attracts an assortment of youths to our neighbourhood in loud cars with overpowered stereos.
Tonight, the situation became intolerable, with the thumping sound of bass lines from an assortment of disgracefully loud rap songs pumping across the estate well after 9pm. Eventually, I went to remonstrate, despite Margaret's attempts to stop me: "Dad, don't you dare! I'll be so, like, ashamed if you do!"
But my mind was made up, and I strode purposefully in the direction of a black souped-up car with enormous exhaust pipes and enough extra body- mouldings to weigh down an armoured tank.
"Could you turn it down, please?" I shouted to the three youths inside. "I can't hear my own television for this ."
"Aye, sure, Mr Simpson," drawled the driver, a spotty and sneering youth, who turned out, on closer inspection, to be Billy Woodman, a former pupil of some renown. "Nae problem. Now, you go away inside an' get yer Horlicks doon ye. An' tell Margaret we wur askin' after her."
Ignoring the facetious aside, I turned to go indoors, congratulating myself on such a peaceful resolution. Alas, as I opened the door to go inside, the volume was turned up until it was louder than the original cacophony. I made to turn around and confront them again, then saw Margaret's face at the foot of the stairs and thought better of it.
I have booked a holiday at extremely short notice. What finally decided me was the fact that I discovered Margaret texting Billy Woodman extremely late at night, and then - even worse - caught her watching a recording of an awful television programme called Skins.
It was nothing short of pornography, frankly, voiced in extremely foul language by a collection of over-sexed teenagers, and all transmitted by an alleged public service broadcaster! Margaret assured me that she was a prime part of the programme's target audience, but I find that hard to believe.
Anyway, a holiday will take us away from such malign influences, as well as from Woodman, with whom Margaret is clearly hoping to form a relationship, if her texting activities are anything to go by.
There wasn't much available for next week, but we've managed a seven-day, all-inclusive hotel stay near Magaluf. Margaret seemed pleased, especially when she heard the location. "You know what they call that place in school, Dad?" she questioned me, and didn't wait for an answer: "Shagaluf!"
I don't think she really understood what she was saying. But I still can't quite believe that it's nearly 13 years since I was changing her nappy .