Sweet dreams of Arabian knights

31st October 2003 at 00:00
It's 10.30am and I'm sitting in the staffroom with a cup of tea and my favourite snack bar - Fry's Turkish Delight.

I smile as I recall Fry's advertising slogan "full of eastern promise" and conjure up exotic images of Arabia. My imagination runs loose as I contemplate other eastern scenes. The staffroom becomes a palace, and the female teachers, learning support and classroom assistants become members of a harem who grace the hallowed chamber where tea, biscuits and other delicacies are daily consumed.

Then, when they are all chattering busily, there enters that rare being, the male primary teacher. The women step to one side; a favoured one offers him his preferred beverage - coffee, black, no sugar - and he sits on his favourite chair in the centre of the room with his legs wide apart before entertaining all with tales of derring-do. His wives look on, admire and fantasise.

But a dark cloud has cast a shadow over this idyllic scene, for a new member of staff has been recruited. The details have leaked - it is no young concubine to replace the rather mature woman who retired in the summer, but another man, a fresh-faced, virile male.

Now, for the first time, he enters the chamber. All are discreetly watchful. Will he drink tea or coffee? Does he take sugar? Milk perhaps? Where will he sit? And, most worrying of all, will the two males be friends - or rivals?

The two men nod politely and the chattering continues when the new teacher sits in an appropriate low-status corner. The days and weeks pass and gradually the newcomer grows in confidence. Some of the wives like him; mostly those who were rarely, if ever, favoured by the harem leader. Their affections, fantasies and allegiances have transferred. The two men now politely compete for women, grooming, nurturing, complimenting all the while in an effort to retain the allegiance of the wives.

Should the new male speak to an established wife of an older male, she will reassure her mate by glancing in his direction before replying. Her response is polite - but brief.

Those whose allegiance has transferred - who were rarely favoured - find themselves feted. The older male now finds cause to seek their view on this or that matter. He might offer to help at an after-school club perhaps, or give access to his resources.

Hitherto favoured females find their status consequently slightly undermined. Anxieties creep in. What will happen ifI? And if I do, will heI?

I ponder all these manoeuvrings as I float back to the classroom on my flying carpet. They occur regularly but are rarely acknowledged. They add a little more strain to the life of a stressed teacher but, rather like Turkish Delight, they provide for an exotic coffee break fantasy.

Alex Reeve

Alex Reeve teaches in Hertfordshire

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