Thank God It's Friday

21st February 1997 at 00:00
Monday: While the rest of our region (and, indeed, most of Scotland) is screaming at the prospect of drastic budget cuts, our school is having expensive emergency repairs done on the flat roof and rotting windows. Great - except that nothing in life is ever that simple, especially on this island.

There's health and safety for a start. We've got power cables stretching across the length of the roof and I'm informed that the workmen can't start until the said cables are safely buried underground.

The nearest electricity pole isn't in the playground at all, but in the neighbouring bog. Permission to dig a trench must be sought from the neighbouring farmer.

He agrees, reluctantly, provided the most awkward route is followed, which involves digging up a lot more playground than we'd bargained for.

Tuesday: Two local lads arrive in the morning with the "wee digger'' to begin the work. The school day begins with terrible threats from me to my 14 pupils: don't go anywhere near the trench, don't play in the piles of earth and don't bury your classmates. (I can't afford to lose a single one of them.) Dire consequences will follow if anyone disobeys.

By playtime, the Usual Suspect, aged six, has been brought in, protesting his innocence while his mud-caked "wellies'' and dirty hands tell a different story.

Others are guilty too but they've decided that he will be the fall guy. I resolve to do more work on our personal and social education programme.

Wednesday: The workmen join us for school dinner - second helpings all round. They don't seem worried by the absence of a ground plan showing the location of pipes, drains and septic tank. I know roughly where the septic tank is, but not the route taken by the schoolhouse drains to reach it. "Och, don't worry, " they say cheerily.

Thursday: The chief excavator appears at the classroom door. It seems they've hit a pipe - probably one carrying the schoolhouse sewage. I don't live in the schoolhouse any more, but the Gaelic Historical Society does.

I've got a lot of teaching to do before home-time so belatedly I phone the Department of Architecture and Related Services on the mainland to ask if they have a ground plan showing the drains. They fax me an utterly useless one, showing some little dots which might be a drain, but which could equally be fly droppings.

I hand it to the excavators on my way out and head up the island with the cook and auxiliary to see a video of our epic Christmas production of Sleeping Beauty.

We return to school as darkness is falling, to find the workmen still there. "How are you doing, boys?'' I ask with as much cheerfulness as I can muster.

"You'd better tell her,'' mutters the younger one, lighting a cigarette. It turns out they have squashed a copper pipe this time, just under the surface.

"I suppose I could fix it,'' offers the chief excavator.

"Do that,'' I agree.

Friday: I telephone the secretary of the Historical Society to explain. I assure her that Saturday's Gaelic class can make tea in the school tomorrow, and that, of course, everyone can use our toilets until the pipe is fixed. It's just as well that we know everyone in the community, so there isn't a security problem.

The non-teaching staff have gone home, and it's pitch black as I feel my way out to the car. Luckily the trench hasn't got to the Tarmac yet, or I'd probably fall into the blasted thing.

As it is, the workmen have jammed the bolt for the school gate firmly into the ground and I can't shut it. No way am I leaving the school gate open overnight - free grazing on school grass is definitely out.

So I take off my shoe, belt the bolt firmly with the heel, and promptly drop it somewhere in the darkness. Hopping round shoeless I wonder if things can get any worse.

And if they do, shall I tell the Clerk of Works - who might then have a seizure?

The author is headteacher of a small island school off the West coast of Scotland. She writes under a pseudonym.

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