Trouble with buses and babies

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Monday: Our baby is overdue. Gail was taken into hospital this morning with a view to hurrying things along if necessary, so I decided to take one of my paternity leave days and informed the school accordingly.

It was good to be able to exert a calming influence on Gail - though she didn't put it quite that way herself - as she prepares for blast-off, so to speak, and we spent a happy visiting hour this afternoon discussing names for our son (identified as such during a scan some weeks ago).

Despite my protestations of modesty, Gail has convinced me that the only appellation worthy of my son and heir should be Morris Simpson Junior, so Morris Simpson Junior he shall be.

The only dispiriting aspect of the day was that Gail's labour is to be put in the charge of the humourless Dr Phillips, with whom I've already had some unfortunate dealings in the ante-natal classes. I wonder if it's too late to go private?

Tuesday; "Morning, Simpson," Mr Pickup greeted me at 9 o'clock. "I hear the little lady's gone in to be seduced, then?" his eyes twinkled mischievously.

"Induced, David," I sighed at his boyish humour. "And it's not definite, anyway. She might set herself off, y'know."

"Yes, yes, I know," he waved his hands impatiently. "Talking of being set off, you'd better go and see Ruth Lees - she was fizzing about some hassle on the buses with one of your guidance lot - Kevin Elliott, I think."

I shut my eyes in despair. It was in fact Kevin's mother who was causing trouble with our depute head by complaining about the bus company which transports her offspring to and from school.

For once, I thought I was going to find myself in agreement with the woman, because it's struck me on more than one occasion that the standard of maintenance on these buses leaves something to be desired. However, I found myself completely unable to sympathise with Mrs Elliott's bitter recriminations about the bus seats not being flame-retardant, a state of affairs which had become apparent to Kevin after he had attempted to enliven last Thursday's homeward trip by setting light to one of them. Luckily, an alert bus driver and a serviceable fire extinguisher had doused the conflagration, but not before Kevin had received a nasty burn to his upper arm.

"So what're ye gaunny dae about it?" Mrs Elliott had apparently demanded of Ms Lees, who in turn had been happy to make assurances that her son's guidance teacher would deal with the problem on his return to school. Which is how I found myself with an angry parental confrontation first period after lunch.

I was unable to persuade Mrs Eliott that her logic was perverse, and promised to raise the issue of flame-retardant seat-covers with the bus company.

God save me from stupid parents.

Wednesday: Bryce Wallace is proving to be a troublesome member of my top fifth year class. Not content with insisting upon a study of James Kelman and Irvine Welsh for the review of personal reading element in his Higher (contrary to my advice: they are a most unsuitable and unsavoury pair of authors, in my opinion), he has now taken to questioning my judgement in marking his essays.

The piece in question was a composition which I conceded to be admirable in many respects, for it gave a deeply reasoned and imaginative account of the boy's desire to become a high court judge. Accordingly, I awarded it 28 marks out of 30, the highest score I have ever given. But this wasn't enough for young Mr Wallace, oh no!

His main cconcern was the fact that Mr Chittick - previously teacher of this class - had given the essay a perfect score, as had Mr Young when he had submitted it for a Standard grade assignment.

"You mean you've used this essay before?" I interrogated him.

"Certainly, sir," Wallace pursed his lips. "Every year since first year, actually. I only got 14 out of 15 for it then, but I changed a few paragraphs and everyone else has given it full marks."

"But that's dishonest!" I argued. "You can't just go through your school career resubmitting the same composition year after year."

"Why not?" he queried me closely. "It's a good essay, isn't it?" "Well, yes, but . . . " "So what's wrong with using it as often as I can if it helps my grades?" "Well, it's not just that," I parried hastily. "It's - um - it's the whole question of giving full marks for an English essay. I mean, you just don't do it. " "Don't you?" he threw the words back at me. "Mr Chittick did. And Mr Young did, as I've already said." He paused. "And he's head of department, isn't he?" I stared fiercely at him and tried to decide whether it was worth risking my career by belting him across the chops.

The decision was taken from my hands, however, by the appearance of Mrs David from the school office with news of an urgent call from Parkland Maternity Hospital.

"What!" I squeaked. "Right! Gosh! Um - here, Bryce - take this back to your seat," I urged him, amending my score of 28 to 30 to shut him up, then rushing along to ask Pickup to keep an eye on the class.

He cheerily consented, and wished me on my way with another appallingly tasteless joke.

"Watch out for the doors in that maternity hospital, Morris: the ones on the left of each doorway say 'Push'."

"And the ones on the right?" I queried.

"Push harder!" he guffawed loudly.

I shook my head in dismay and hurried for the car park. The moment of truth had clearly arrived.

Thursday: An exhausting day, which started last night, and which has almost witnessed my resignation from the teaching profession.

Gail's labour had started naturally yesterday afternoon, but it was a long and difficult affair, not aided by the militaristic approach of Dr Phillips, whose stentorian commands to Gail that she "put in some proper effort, then!" at around 4am this morning did not go down well with either potential parent.

Perhaps I was a little sharp in my reprimand, but I was furious that she asked me to leave the delivery room because she felt that I was - and I quote - "not helping things by wittering on like a five-year-old". She did at least keep her promise - but only just - of recalling me to the obstetric bed as the birth became completely imminent. Happily, I made it in time to witness the arrival of an extremely messy bundle which Dr Phillips swiftly identified as a "lovely wee girl".

"Eh?" I queried immediately. "Don't you mean a boy?" She drew a withering glance and informed me that her medical training had included the ability to differentiate between male and female infants.

"But you said at the scan that it looked like a boy," I reminded her.

"It did," she shrugged. "But scans are a notoriously inaccurate means of telling sex, Mr Simpson."

Well, of course I didn't want to spoil the inestimable joy of the moment, and I pointed out that I was just as delighted to have a baby girl - but it did mean that Gail had spent an awful lot of time knitting blue cardigans to no good purpose. Not to mention having to think of a new name at such short notice.

"What d'you think, Morris?" Gail beamed up at me. "I've always liked Margaret. "

I explained that Elizabeth had always been a favourite, so we quickly settled on Margaret Elizabeth, and added Gail's maiden name lest we offend her mother. Whereupon - at 8.30am - I telephoned school to announce the need for another day of paternity leave.

It was Mrs David who eventually came on the line and explained Mr Tod's ruling that I'd already had my day of paternity leave - "to be taken during the period one week before or three weeks after the birth, Mr Simpson" - and that I was therefore not entitled to any more. I was speechless with anger, but managed to refrain from inappropriate language long enough to let Mrs David know that I would be spending the rest of the day in bed, failing which they would find me in the company of my wife and new-born daughter at Parkland Maternity Hospital.

Sometimes you have to make a stand against petty bureaucracy. One day's paternity leave indeed!

F riday: Congratulations all round about Margaret's birth, not least from Pickup, who insisted that we make entry of Mr Tod's autocratic interpretation of paternity leave rules in the Bullywatch log-book which is kept in the staffroom - after which he gave me some helpful advice on completing my self-certification of sickness for yesterday.

"Fill in anything you like," he shrugged. "Virus, severe cold, stress: whatever you fancy."

I decided on a mixture of all three, handed the form in to Mrs David, and hurried along to my guidance office, to be met by Ruth Lees, who - after some very peremptory congratulations - informed me that Kevin Elliott and his cronies had spent a trip home endeavouring to destabilise their double-decker bus by throwing themselves en-masse from one side of the top floor to the other as it negotiated corners, much to the fury - and petrification - of the bus driver.

"Fine, Ruth," I acknowledged her instruction to look into the matter, and immediately placed the report at the bottom of my in-tray so that I could sit and glow at the collection of Polaroids I had brought from the hospital last night.

I should probably have turned down Pickup's later invitation to "wet the baby's head" at the Rockston Arms after school. It might have prevented my somewhat slurred arrival at visiting time this evening. And it would certainly have prevented any discussion between Gail and myself over changing our baby's name.

For it was Pickup who had asked me if we really wanted to call our offspring Margaret Elizabeth Saunders Simpson.

"Why not?" I queried across our fourth pint. "It's a lovely name, isn't it?" "It's fine, Morris," he assured me. "It's just one hell of a set of initials, that's all. Have you tried spelling them out?" I had to confess that I hadn't thought of that. I wonder what we should do?

Next month: more trouble on the buses, and will the acronymically unfortunate Simpson child be renamed?

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