Thank God It's Friday

9th December 1994 at 00:00
Monday: Postman Pat is clearly inquisitive about his frequent delivery of thick buff envelopes. I have 270 examination scripts to mark in three weeks. I calculate a daily allocation of 15, with Sundays off - an easy target for a retired teacher.

I tear the envelopes up, retrieving the high-value stamps, a philatelist's delight, before reading that the scripts MUST be kept in their packets. I'll remember next time. Begin marking. After 10 papers my red pen gives up the ghost. The required daily average rises to 15.3.

Tuesday: Dodging the National Lottery queue, I call in at the newsagent's for a new pen. I am on my way to the first of two centres as the dreaded A-level oral examiner. Spend the day jollying the candidates along through a series of amusing role-plays. Endeavour to maintain my cheerful demeanour as they expatiate in French on the ruin of l'environnement and institutionalised cruelty to animals. Young people are such idealists. Flaked out on arrival home. Struggle through a mere six scripts: average now 15.9.

Wednesday: By lunch-time I am a reluctant expert on global warming and the force-feeding of geese to produce pate de foie gras.

I counter incipient depression by making myself react with interest and enthusiasm each time I hear what has clearly been prepared en masse in class.

One nervous girl breaks into an English panic as soon as the tape-recorder is switched off: "Have I got a C? My Mum'll kill me if I don't get a C."

Plough through four scripts before bed: re-adjust my goal to 16.66 recurring.

Thursday: Another centre today. Students have chosen the literature option and we discuss such merry topics as a poisoning in Ionesco's Le Roi se meurt, the internecine family rivalry in Anouilh's Antigone and whether Hoederer's murderer in Sartre's Les Mains Sales was motivated by politics or love.

Home again, I am motivated only by extreme fatigue and I've got to take a nap.

A recurring dream of sitting an exam paper and not understanding any of the questions is replaced by a new one: a pile of scripts sits waiting to be marked but they're all written in a language that's foreign to me. I wake to find that my daily average has leaped to l8.

Friday: Last days of orals and they've all prepared le racisme. The candidates stretch their language to empathise with young Maghrebins in disadvantaged Parisian suburbs. Wonder whether their indignation stems from political correctness or genuine passion.

Give permission for girl with persistent cough to bring in glass of water, not mentioned in regulations. As she leaves, she makes my day, if not my week: "Thank you for being so nice." What, I wonder, did she expect?

Only two more weeks to go before my deadline and my daily average soars to nearly 20 papers, give or take a decimal or two. It'll all get finished in the end; it always does.

Michael J Smith is a retired head of modern languages living in Swaffham, Norfolk.

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