Signing up with resigned despair

25th May 2001 at 01:00

It was a relief to get into school this morning, after a torrid weekend which has witnessed the Simpson family put down a deposit on a new house, part of an attractive building development just north of Parkland.

It was some weeks ago that Gail first broached our move as a possibility and at first I had put my foot down firmly. "Gail!" I recall taking her severely to task. "There is simply no way that we can afford one of those overpriced mansions.

"I'll quite happily have a look at the showhouse so that we can get some ideas should we ever apply to Carol Smillie for a shot at Changing Rooms, but that's where our interest will stop! Understand?" Clearly, she had as much interest in obeying my strictures as Michael Willis of 3C, because our own house goes up for sale next week and we plan to move into our new abode at the beginning of July. I am dreading the mortgage repayment sums.

Meanwhile, the SQA biology exams took place today for various members of the upper school. "Coarse" Davie McManus, as our principal teacher of biology is popularly known, was on hand to give appropriate advice to his many charges as they entered the portals of the examination hall clutching a bewildering array of fluffy toys and lucky charms.

"Go on, ya tubes! Get stuck right in there, kids!" he clenched a fist as they walked nervously past him. "Show those bampots at the SQA youse can take anything they care tae set ye. Stick it up them, that's whit ah say! Right up them!"

I blanched in despair and disgust. Alas, the examinees seemed mightily encouraged by his profanities and waved friendly greetings in his direction.

My own view was that as a demonstration of professional support to his pupils, it lacked both dignity and decorum. And it didn't seem to go down terribly well with Mr McDonald, our chief invigilator, who came striding from the hall in order to quell the disturbance only to discover that its fons et origo was a senior member of staff. I just hope he doesn't put it in his report.


The SQA has invited me to join its marking team. The call to arms arrived by telephone at morning break. "Mr Simpson?" enquired a sweetly polite voice. "You used to mark for the Scottish Examination Board, didn't you?" "A long time ago," I conceded.

"Why did you stop?"

A lot of memories, most of them unpleasant and all of them concerned with professional disagreements between myself and the chief examiner, came to mind. But I hid my thoughts.

"Poor pay and too many hours," I said, making an alternative summary of the situation, whereupon Mrs Conrad proceeded to outline the enhanced payments which might be available should I choose to help make up for a slight shortfall that had become apparent in the English Standard grade arrangements.

I was about to reply in the negative, but Mrs Conrad proved very persuasive and explained that experienced teachers like me were just the kind of people they wanted more of in the marking ranks. By the time she had finished, she had made me sound like the answer to every diligent examiner's prayers and I felt moved to offer my services. It will be my little contribution to the smooth running of the SQA examinations this year.

Plus, of course, the money should prove useful for our new mortgage payments.

George Crumley laughed long and hard when he heard of my decision. "Pah!" he exlaimed with utmost derision. "You? Acting as an SQA marker, Morris? The words 'barrel', 'bottom' and 'dredging' come swiftly to mind."

I thought his remarks were uncalled for and told him so.


Geography exams today and Mr McDonald discovered one of the Standard grade General candidates cheating!

In a sense, I blame myself, for I had noticed Brian Finlayson laden with mobile telephones in the playground just before the exam.

"What on earth do you need all those phones for, Brian?" I'd made polite enquiry.

"Different networks, sur, different deals."


"Vodafone had a guid deal oan this Noakya," he explained patiently, "especially when ahm phonin' ma pals who've goat a Vodafone package. But Cellnet dae hauf-price text-messaging," he proffered an Ericsson model that seemed smaller than the palm of my hand, "while Wan-Tae-Wan had a smashin' pay-as-ye-go deal oan this phone, with free music downloads. So ah need tae huv three tae get the best deals."

I shook my head, completely and utterly bewildered, before reminding him to switch them off before entering the examination lest his communicative wizardry start to function in the exam room. And thought no more of it.

Alas, one of the many "deals" that the bold Finlayson had set up involved sending himself a set of text messages before the exam with a host of statistical information on weather and climate studies, which completely contravened examination regulations.

As Mr McDonald explained during the lunch hour: "He was fumbling in his pocket and at first I thought he'd developed an embarrassing itch. But when I got a little closer I realised he was getting a phone out of his pocket. He claimed it was to check the time on the alarm, but when I looked at the screen it was covered with information about barographs, barometers and sunshine recorders!"

Finlayson's script - and his card - would appear to have been well and truly marked. And it looks as if Crumley's pass rate is going to be a bit disadvantaged.


Richard Dick, our headmaster, has a new hobby-horse: it's called assertive discipline. He has asked our educational psychologist, Jack Boyd, to give a presentation about this latest educational nirvana on the next in-service day. Personally, I think he could save his breath, if our discussion today is any precursor to the event.

"So what's it all about this time?" I cross-examined him. "A solution to all our disciplinary ills?"

"If it's taken seriously, Morris, yes," he entreated me with earnest acclaim.

"In summary, it asks you to examine what kind of a teacher you are. If you're a shouter, you'll find that your discipline is based on fear that you can't really enforce. And if your discipline is based on being a funny man - someone who likes to be liked - then you'll find disorder and chaos will soon start to spread.

"What you need to provide is calm, assertive discipline, based on a clear set of ground rules that all your pupils understand.

"I've got case history after case history that I'll be sharing with you all on the in-service day."

"I can hardly wait," I said drily. "So where does this scheme come from anyway?"

"America," Boyd proclaimed proudly. "It's worked wonders in some schools over there."

"Oh, America? And that's where they've got the best discipline in the world, isn't it?"

He pursed his lips and turned away. There is no point in trying to argue with me once I start to use heavy sarcasm like that.


French exams today. I don't think Pamela Blane (PT of modern languages) appreciated my expressed hope that her students had each remembered to bring a plume de ma tante to the exam. She simply shuddered, muttered something to Madame Croisette about schoolboy humour and suggested I grow up!

I abandoned the conversation in despair. Whatever happened to people's sense of humour?

I made for home and an appointment with the estate agent responsible for putting our house on the market. He has assured us of a phenomenal price if we sign up for an advertising campaign in the Parkland Gazette, the cost of which (it seems to me) would put the marketing efforts of Unilever in the shade.

"It's all about getting proper exposure, Mr and Mrs Simpson," he persuaded us. "Hit the market hard, hit the market fast and the market will respond. Keep your house hidden in the backwaters of the small ads and nobody will ever see it.

"And with a house as beautiful as this one," he looked around our lounge and curled his lip ever so slightly, "we should have viewers lining up from day one. I fully expect the house to be sold within a week at well over the asking price.

"I can't guarantee anything, of course," he quickly covered his professional base, "but that's my own considered opinion."

I looked at the commission figure on the contract, sighed with resigned despair and put the sale of our house into his hands. I have the uncomfortable feeling that this is a decision I may live to regret.

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