Summer's bitter-sweet ode to joy

5th July 1996 at 01:00
As the personal and social education class settle down to review their year, with one eye on their records of achievement, it occurs to me that I might listen to the advice I'm giving them, and look back on my own year for some of its more memorable moments.

I wish it wasn't, but my major recollection is of the March day around 1,000 pupils entered our school hall in a silence that was stunning. Global quiet is not a regular occurrence and it's a long time since anyone seriously suggested that such absence of noise or activity reflected good teaching practice or effective discipline.

In the aftermath of Dunblane, however, it was representative of a universal reaction across the nation. To watch nearly every child in the school file voluntarily into the hall that lunchtime to attend a service in memory of the Dunblane victims and to observe their demeanour during it and afterwards was to gain a powerful realisation that the currently popular image of young people as shallow and self-centred is well wide of the mark. There is still in our youth a concern for and awareness of others which offers great hope.

And because that same hope and regeneration espoused by the school and community of Dunblane is most strikingly present in the nation's children, it's possible to have other, happier memories of the year.

Such as Billy, who never walks along a corridor when he can shamble, and never dresses neatly when he can appear Geldof-like in his dishevilment. "Tuck your shirt in, Billy," said our headteacher as she passed him in the foyer. There followed an ecstasy of fumbling and jerking, but the offending tail was still flapping free after some considerable time.

"Billy! I've never known a boy take so long to tuck his shirt in," she commented in despair. "I'm sorry, Miss. It's just that I'm a perfectionist. "

But the highlight of the year had to be Gina's English essay. Her first two years at secondary have not often been visited with success, but Gina is a girl with a spark and a vulnerability that brings out the best in us, and many teachers had been trying very hard for her. Happily, Gina finished second year a lot happier than when she started it.

She recorded all this in an essay that was extremely complimentary to the guidance staff, and was persuaded to show the essay to the staff concerned, and to the headteacher.

The final paragraph contained the following educational wisdom: "I like the headteacher as well because she has time for you and she is easy to talk to. In fact, she's almost as good as a guidance teacher."

Outside of school the abiding memory, inevitably, involved a bitter-sweet combination of football and my son.

After Gary McAllister's penalty miss, I phoned my football buddy for the ritual exchanging of platitudinous cliches which happens every four years or so after each glorious Scottish failure on the football field.

In the background he could hear my offspring doing his violin practice. "What's the tune he's playing?" he asked, in an attempt to forget our defeat.

The answer contained such crushing irony that I could barely articulate it before dissolving in hysterical laughter. So it was that we greeted Scotland's failure against the Auld Enemy with tears of mirth.

The tune my son was eagerly deploying was, as it had to be, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Happy holidays.

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