The undeleted Simpsongate tapes;School Diary;The Further Adventures of Morris Simpson
I'm going to be a father! Gail had a final appointment with her doctor and got in touch on my new mobile telephone just before lunch-time. I was delighted, and heartened by the congratulatory remarks of my colleagues.
Even Mr Pickup seemed pleased to hear that Gail was in a state of infanticipation. "All helps to keep up the numbers, m'boy - and keep us all in jobs," he assured me over a plate of Marlborough tart and custard in the school dining-hall.
Alas, my joy was slightly soured when I tried to return my mobile telephone to the Rockston Cellular showroom, whence I had hired it six short weeks ago in anticipation of the need to remain contactable by Gail pending confirmation of the pregnancy. My understanding that I had signed an open-ended contract which allowed me to return the telephone at any time was now explained in a little more detail by the salesman who had been so keen to equip me with this state-of-the-art technology. Apparently, I am indeed at liberty to return it whensoever I wish - but only once the "service provider" (a misnomer if ever I heard one) has seen fit to debit my bank account for a full 12 months of rental and itemised billing charges.
"And anyway, sir," oozed the salesman, "if you were needing the 'phone to learn about your wife's pregnancy, then wouldn't it be a good idea to keep it against the, er, time of the happy event? In case she needs you in a hurry, I mean . . ."
The man had a point, but I was in no mood to grant him such an easy victory. "Well that's as may be," I said grudgingly. "But that still doesn't remove the need for you to telephone the police, to my mind."
"The police, sir?" he looked puzzled. "Why would the police need to be involved?" "Well they usually are in cases of robbery," I pursed my lips. "Especially the daylight variety!" Unfortunately, I don't think he understood the joke, so I pocketed the mobile, turned on my heels and left. It's time someone stood up to these cowboys!
This was my first day with Scott Black, the student with whom I am developing a mentoring - or, rather, an advisory liaison - scheme in conjunction with Ms Lees and our local teacher training college - or, rather, Teacher Education Institution.
Scott seems a nice enough lad, with a real enthusiasm for the profession, and I can tell already that he should turn out to be a good teacher: apart from assuring me of his pleasure at having such an experienced hand to be his liaison adviser, he expressed a desire to sit at my right hand during this evening's first-year parents' night. I rather wish he hadn't, but it demonstrated the lad's willingness to go the extra mile.
Also, of course, it made any potentially awkward confrontations with parents even more problematic then they might otherwise have been. In particular, I shall not forget the unpleasantness of my interview with Kevin Elliott's father (though it did at least inform me concerning the origins of Kevin's expletive-laden vocabulary), and it was with some unhappiness that I endured a lengthy discussion with Mrs Welch after she produced a loose-leaf folder of complaints about incidents of classroom indiscipline, as catalogued by her daughter Morven - who, she claimed, had "gone right downhill wi' her wurk since she came intae this dump".
"Yes, well it does take some of the children a little while to settle in, Mrs Welch," I assured her. "Now, if you'll excuse me, there's rather a queue building up."
As indeed there was. And as soon as Mrs Welch had been dispensed with, I had an encounter with a gum-chewing female teenager and a micro-cassette recorder! "Yes?" I enquired abruptly. "Can I help you? I don't think the youth club's on tonight. We've got a parents' evening in the school," I waved my arms around the room in evidence.
"Aye," the slovenly young madam replied. "'S'right. Ahm here fir Simon Alexander."
I looked at my register, then back at her in horror. "You're not . . . but you can't be . . . Simon's mother?" I queried, incredulous.
"Christ, naw," she blasphemed. "Ahm his big sister, Patricia - 4P, y'ken? But ma mum 'n' dad are away tae a gala ball the night, so they've telt me to come an' ask a' the teachers tae say whit they want about Simon intae this," - with which she thrust the recorder at me and urged me to "get goin any time ye like, sur . . ."
The cheek of it! I was a little surprised, I must confess, so that the first half-minute or so of my taped testimony consisted of some rather uncertain stutterings, but once I got into the swing of things and consulted my notes I was able to oblige with a swingeing denunciation of Simon Alexander's academic prowess, or rather, lack of it, and concluded with an ironic suggestion that I'd be more than willing to discuss the matter face-to-face if Mrs and Mrs Alexander could spare any of their valuable time to come up to the school and discuss their son's future in a more interactive fashion.
"And, oh yes!" I voiced a last-minute thought into the recorder. "Try to stop Simon hanging around with Kevin Elliott. The boy's an appalling influence on your son, in both linguistic and behavioural terms."
The episode had the undoubted benefit of reducing their interview time dramatically. No awkward questions, no answering back, and I almost got back on schedule because of it. Maybe we should think of conducting all parental feedback in similar fashion.
Scott Black had a rare insight to the workings of the adolescent mind this morning, not to mention the difficulties he is likely to encounter over schoolhome liaison procedures. To explain, I was just conducting a tour of duty with my (largely non-certificate) fifth-year class, and came across Roddy Stansfield's loose-leaf folder of personal creative writing, which suggested that his talents might lie in erotic portraiture rather than any stirrings of a literary bent. For, across the cover of his personal folder, there appeared a grossly offensive nude caricature of Ms Honeypot (PE department) wherein every possible appendage had been enlarged beyond anything physically possible - or, indeed, desirable - and whereupon the artist had seen fit to label each anatomical detail with the lewdest of descriptors. I threw up my hands in horror at the gynaecological outrage before my eyes, and started to castigate the boy.
"But, sur!" he protested, eyes rolling. "It wisny me that drew it, sur. Hoanest!" "And I repeat," I continued unawares, "that I find this picture the most hideously offensive piece of - what did you say?" I broke off suddenly. "This is your personal writing folio, Stansfield, but you tell me that you hold no responsibility for this . . . this . . . filth?" I proferred the offending portrait to Scott Black, who blanched visibly.
"Naw, sur!" protested Stansfield. "It wis ma Uncle Peter whit drew it!" For once, I was speechless. "Your Uncle - er - Peter?" I eventually stammered. "But what on earth?" He likes drawin, sur," Stansfield assured me. "Been tae art coallidge, so he huz. Good, intit?" he smiled proudly at the offending portrait.
Ye gods! How can I discipline the boy's uncle, for heaven's sake? I confiscated the cover and declared loudly that I would see Stansfield about it later.
"And what'll you say to him?" Scott Black asked me during our post-lesson analysis.
"Nothing," I shook my head quietly. "Let's just hope he forgets about it, and then so can I. The warning was for the rest of the class, to make sure they don't try anything similar. But some kids - and Stansfield's one of them, Scott - are just beyond discipline. Beyond hope, really."
"I see," Scott chewed his pencil thoughtfully and started to write copious notes on his record of work.
Gail had an amusing little story from her Primary 7 class this evening, concerning the continued inability of four of her pupils to fill in a returns sheet indicating their preferred choice of secondary school for next year.
"It was a simple enough task, Morris," she assured me over dinner this evening, but four of them still hadn't returned their forms by yesterday, so I announced this morning that Billy Carter, Rosemary McShane, George Cruickshank and Gary Barton would be staying with me next year and repeating Primary 7 because the regional offices hadn't had a return from them."
"And they believed you?" "And they believed me!" she confirmed gleefully. "They spent all morning making all sorts of appeals, and promising - absolutely promising - to bring in their forms this afternoon if I could only swing it to let them go on to secondary school next year."
"And did they bring them in?" "After a fashion, yes. Except for Billy Carter, and we're still not sure where he's wanting to go."
"Why not?" "His mother's sub-literate. She's told us that Billy's both male and female on the form, and then she's ticked every single secondary school on the list. So I suppose he'll end up at one of them."
Knowing what I already know about Billy Carter, I can only hope that Greenfield Academy isn't the one. But I have a horrible suspicion that it will be.
I think it's fair to say that Scott Black has received a rounded view of Scottish education this week. Today was another case in point. It started badly, when Ms Honeypot discovered the confiscated caricature of herself which I had inadvertently left on top of my locker, after sharing its offensive contents with Mr Pickup yesterday afternoon and dissuading him from framing it for posterity. Unsurprisingly, Ms Honeypot didn't see the funny side of it in quite the same way that Pickup had.
Things got even worse when Kevin Elliott's father presented himself at the school office demanding to see "Simpson - that prick who wis slaggin Kevin off tae George Alexander at parents' night!" Alas, as my subsequent researches confirmed, Messrs Alexander and Elliott have been close friends and neighbours for several years now, and my recorded testimony to Patricia Alexander's micro-cassette concerning the inadvisability of Simon Alexander continuing a friendship with Kevin Elliott had clearly been broadcast to ears for whose hearing it was never intended.
Fortunately, this allowed me to demonstrate to Simon the advisability of keeping the school office staff on his side, for it was young Sandra who kindly declared me incommunicado for the rest of the day, thus saving the embarrassment of any confrontation between Mr Elliott and myself.
Scott was also intrigued to discover that special bond of pupilteacher relationship which transpires when news of great moment is revealed. Details of my impending fatherhood have by now, of course, spread from the staffroom to the classroom, so imagine my reaction when - in stark contrast to the friendly warmth of congratulatory remarks on Monday - Barry Cook and Roddy Stansfield greeted my arrival in class this morning with left hands clasped firmly on to right upper arms and proceeded to make an assortment of clenched-fist, thrusting movements to the accompaniment of obscene and accusatory remarks along the lines of "We know what you've been doin' - sur!" And then there was the afternoon session with 1S, wherein we ventured into my second-floor classroom to discover Kevin Elliott atop the window ledge, announcing to the world that he was about to throw himself to a premature destruction on the playground beneath.
To my immense subsequent regret, my nobler professional feelings got the better of me, and I spent the best part of the lesson persuading Elliott to reconsider his position, which he eventually did some two minutes before the end of the period. A smirk on his face, he thanked me for my concern and was then to be witnessed collecting several monetary gestures from his classmates, no doubt in return for his successful architecture of a splendid work-avoidance scam.
Luckily, I don't think Scott noticed these transactions, and he seemed enormously impressed that I'd managed to stop a pupil from committing suicide. Indeed, he seemed so taken by the week's events that he rejected the chance of joining Pickup and myself for an after-hours libation at the Rockston Arms.
"He's gone home to write up his observation notes?" Pickup demanded with incredulity as we toasted my impending fatherhood with a fifth pint. "On a Friday night? My God, Morris - that sounds like you in your prime!" It was true. Scott's educational enthusiasms, his touching naivety and his heartfelt desire to impart knowledge unto youth did remind me of myself in so many ways. But that was all a long time ago. A very long time ago.
Next month: more mentoring, plus Michelle Paterson's alternative approach to family planning.