Thank God It's The Holidays

28th July 1995 at 01:00
Monday: Tomorrow we leave for our third house exchange with families from the US. After two summers in California we feel we've done the west coast, so this year it's Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While looking for some holiday reading, I spy a copy of The Light Beyond - the transforming power of near death experiences on my boss's desk. I search in vain for the chapter on OFSTED training.

Tuesday: As we leave for the airport I am comforted by the evidence of my son's latest leisure activity. He and a friend take it in turns to sprawl on the pavement while the other chalks round his body. A realistic looking bloodstain, made from a mixture of vinegar and ketchup, is then applied. Just the thing to make our guests feel secure.

At Gatwick, as an antidote to SCAA's obsession with standard English (Irritable Vowel Syndrome), I search for a James Kelman novel.

Wednesday: Portsmouth is a beautiful town, with houses dating back to the early 1600s. There is a sports field with a baseball pitch and a basketball court at the end of our road, so Tim is in his element.

It feels very safe, although the houses bear an eerie resemblance to those in Nightmare on Elm Street or Hallowe'en. Our exchange vehicle, described to us as a "van", turns out to be a Chevrolet Bonaventure, which is about the size of a long wheelbase Ford Transit and brings back memories of driving the school minibus.

There is also a sense of deja vu about the local papers, whose pages carry stories of the problems encountered by schools forced to charge for extra-curricular sports activities and the trend for more parents to opt for home schooling.

Thursday: We visit Water Country, which is every swimming complex you've ever visited put on to one site with slides and tube rises four times the usual size. As I am not wearing my glasses, I inadvertently find myself at the top of a ride called Geronimo which resembles an upside-down walking stick held at an angle of 60 degrees. The man in front of me queries the sign which urges you to cross your legs before descending and the member of staff on duty asks him, "How'd ya like a cold water enema at 70 miles an hour"? I cross everything that can be crossed.

Friday: Virtual reality is very much on the agenda here. I look forward to the time when OFSTED has installed cameras in every school and I can don a headset and virtually inspect them. Of course this probably won't happen until the design of the ethos detector is perfected.

In the meantime, I shall continue work on my interactive reading scheme Phonic the Hedgehog.

In the late afternoon we go on a whale watch. We are fortunate and see a dozen finbacks and humpbacks. When a creature the size of two coaches comes alongside your small boat, the reality of your place in the scheme of things becomes only too apparent. The virtual I can live without.

David Meaden is an education adviser in an outer London borough

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