Thank God it's Friday

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Monday. The alarm goes off at 5.30. It's black. It's cold. I tiptoe downstairs to make a pot of tea. The dog is snoring loudly. I shave and dress. I take a cup of tea to my wife. She groans. I eat my breakfast, then I have to lift the dog from her basket to persuade her that she wants a walk.

I arrive at school at 7.15 and listen to the answer-phone. A woman who fails to leave her name or number complains that someone (she can't remember who) called her about David but there is no David living at her address. I pin the message to the staff notice-board in the hope that someone will solve the puzzle.

For the next half hour there is a flood of calls. The phone is a hotline from sick beds and cars. Three colleagues are ill, one is delayed. I take advantage of a momentary lull to dial the number of a supply teacher. "Are you in bed?" I ask. "Not now," he snarls.

Why did I ever agree to be cover secretary in a school that starts at eight o'clock?


Today there are two messages on the answer-phone. The first is a BT recorded voice which brusquely requests me to "please hold the line".

The second sounds like a very worried young man. He forgets to give his name. "I should have stayed behind on Monday afternoon. I went home. Me and John Phillips were in trouble. I did not do it but we did the things before. The other things. My Year mistress said I had to stay. I got scared and I ran away. I'm afraid that I might be in trouble. I think that I" At this point the tape runs out.

Later I solve that puzzle - we don't have anyone on roll called John Phillips and our female heads of year say they detained no one yesterday.


Two colleagues are away on various courses today. I've organised one supply teacher to hop between the relevant lessons. We don't cover sixth-form lessons, so the supply teacher has nothing to do during periods three and four. I almost hope that someone will be ill - I really hate seeing the school's deficit increasing as a supply teacher sits in the staffroom.


This morning's answer-phone message is the sound of someone sawing I for the full three minutes of the tape. Do other schools get hoaxes as peculiar as this? This is preceded by a governor giving her apologies for being absent from last night's governor's meeting. Doesn't she realise that if she apologises after 4pm she won't be heard till the next morning?

During my GCSE science class the secretary comes in to say that a colleague has gone home, feeling grim. His lesson needs covering now. I look around. They've got the Bunsens burning, acid is heating up, glass equipment is everywhere. I can't leave this! I tell the secretary to go to the staffroom and collar the teacher nearest the door.


A 5.30 start is impossible today - I've fallen victim to the bug that's wreaked havoc all week. I call the school and listen to my own voice on the answer-phone. When will they realise that I'm not there picking up the messages? I think about my timetable, look in my diary and dial a supply teacher myself. He can do it, so I call the answer-phone and tell it what I've done. Now, back to bed.

Chris Jarrett teaches at a school in Bedfordshire

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