We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne
This week sees the surprise departure - on Thursday - of George Crumley from the teaching staff of Greenfield Academy. He is the latest recipient of an early retirement package aimed at thinning out recalcitrant principal teachers who have been job-sized.
George's views on the exercise have been well documented already, and with more than 20 years of experience as head of geography behind him, he has not found it easy reporting to the younger management style of Frank O'Farrell, our PT of social subjects (and a modern studies specialist), even with the comfort of a conserved salary. Thus it was that he responded with alacrity to a pigeon-holed offer from the local authority some eight weeks ago. Or so I learned today.
"But why have you kept it so quiet, George?" I asked. "Richard Dick's not made any announcement in his headteacher's newsletter. Aren't we having a farewell party or anything?"
"I don't want any fuss made, Morris," he shook his head. "And clearly Mr Dick feels the same way. He hasn't even mentioned it to me. And if he's not going to mention it to me, then I'm damned if I'm going to mention it to him," he pursed his lips angrily, clearly bitter at the slight.
"You and a few others are the only ones below senior management that will know about it and if you want to join us for a drink on Friday night, then you're more than welcome. But I'd really rather keep this as low-key as possible."
It seems a dreadful shame after all his years of service to the school.
Although he and Mr Dick have never seen eye-to-eye since their timetabling dispute some four years ago, I can't believe that our headteacher is going to let the departure pass without notice of some kind. Maybe he's organising a secret party.
This afternoon Michael Dixon interrupted my Intermediate 1 class on no less than five occasions. The novelty value of his Christmas present - a mobile telephone that takes pictures, for heaven's sake - has yet to wear off and I found myself continuously threatening confiscation if he tried one more time to take an action shot of me as I tried to explain the mysteries of close textual analysis to a group whose idea of subtle humour is to deem this activity "close sexual analysis".
"Michael!" I gritted my teeth. "Will you please put that camera-phone away and ..."
"But, sur," he urged. "This is a great shoat. Ah goat ye jist as ye wur pickin' somethin' frae yur teeth," he declared proudly as he passed the phone along the row.
That did it. I warned him that if I saw it again this week I would definitely confiscate it for three days. That seemed to do the trick, even if I heard him muttering something to the effect that this was beyond the bounds of my disciplinary powers. Unfortunately, he's probably right.
Gail had quite a day of it at work today. First of all, it would appear that the roofing contractors, who spent all of December disturbing classes at Rockston Primary as they stripped back 16 layers of felt from the school's flat roof, have not applied the new coating with as much efficiency as they removed the old ones. Three classrooms now boast water features and equipment and carpets worth thousands of pounds have been ruined in floods that resemble the Severn Bore in full spate.
"And in the midst of all this," Gail sighed, "who should arrive at the school doors but Billy Cox?"
"Billy Cox?" I looked across the tea table in disbelief. "Not the Billy Cox who was at Greenfield Academy, what, 10, 11 years ago now and at Rockston Primary when you first went there?"
"That's the one," Gail confirmed, "and looking just as reprehensible."
"So what was he back for? Looking up his favourite teacher?"
"Not exactly. He wants to be a primary teacher - because of the long holidays, apparently - and was asking if he could sit in with a few classes to get a feel for it."
Apart from the inadvisability of ever entering the teaching profession when you have a surname like Cox, I wouldn't have thought him terribly suited to the role with regard to either academic or organisational ability, and I said as much to Gail.
"No," she shrugged. "Neither did we, but we couldn't really refuse, could we?
"But he didn't stay for very long, not after he discovered he would have to train for four years. 'Whit, d'ye mean, four years?' he said to Betty. 'Ah canny wait four years tae start workin'. Ah'm gettin' married next year an'
ah thought ah could mebbe start next month so as tae get savin'," Gail concluded a very passable impersonation of Cox as I remembered him best: completely gormless and totally unconnected with reality.
Still, it was interesting to realise how little he understood the requirements placed upon aspirant teachers. No wonder most of our pupils have such low opinions of the profession.
Today was George Crumley's last day in the teaching profession and it was a sorry end to a lengthy career. No speeches, no presentations, no farewell dinner or even drinks. Just the rather pathetic image of George filling some carrier bags as I popped into B34 to confirm my attendance at tomorrow's soiree.
"So nobody from senior management has said anything at all about your retirement?" I asked in disbelief.
"Not a sausage, Morris. And d'you know what? I couldn't give a toss.
"Look at this," he held aloft his carrier bags replete with a small collection of liberated stationery items and five rolled up wall atlases that he had had to provide from his own pocket due to restrictive departmental budgets in the 1980s. "It's not much to show for all those years, is it?
"But with the dross that's coming through the system these days, Morris - and I'm talking pupils and staff here - I can't say I'm sorry to be going.
And I don't think I could have made a retirement speech without making a few points like that, and more to boot.
"All the best, Morris," he proffered a hand, which I shook with as much firmness as I could muster. "And remember, old geography teachers never die I" "I know, I know," I smiled. "They just lose their bearings."
"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow. "Heard it before, have you?"
"Once or twice, George. Once or twice."
I have never seen Mr Dick as angry as I saw him this morning. The focus of his anger was directed at the council education offices; the cause, George Crumley's retirement, about which he knew absolutely nothing - incredible though it may seem - until Mrs MacKenzie in the school office informed him of a plaintive request for help from Leslie Hasler in the geography department.
"She asked why we hadn't sent anyone along to cover Mr Crumley's class," she had apparently informed our bemused head.
"And when I told her that Mr Crumley hadn't called in sick, so why wasn't he there to take them himself, she told me that he'd retired yesterday.
"Well, I told her that he certainly hadn't retired as far as I was aware and that if anyone would know what was going on it would be you, Mr Dick."
Alas, he was soon to prove her forcefully wrong (as Mrs MacKenzie later detailed the subsequent events) by getting on the telephone to the council offices and having the facts confirmed by a hapless administrative assistant, who apparently started to outline the detailed terms and conditions of our former PT of geography's retirement package.
"I don't care what sodding enhancement he's got!" Mr Dick bellowed into the mouthpiece at a volume that carried across most of the school. "Just tell me why the hell nobody's had the courtesy to tell ME that he's retiring.
After all, I'm only the bloody headteacher!"
We even heard his fury in the confines of Intermediate 1 English, and I peered cautiously out of my door to see what was going on.
"Michael! Michael Dixon!" I hurried back inside. "Your camera-phone. Give it to me. Quickly."
"Oh, ah huvnae goat it, sur. You telt me that I" "Oh, don't be ridiculous!" I dismissed his lies at once. "Just give it to me for two minutes. Please. You'll get it back."
He looked suspicious but did as bidden. Which allowed me to rush along to the school office just in time to witness - and capture for posterity - the sight of Mr Dick in a full and unrestrained torrent of fury, shouting his anger aloud and kicking a door and a (soon to be removed) soft drinks vending machine as he made his way to George's classroom for his first "please take" in many a year.
It was a champagne moment, if ever there was one. And the photographs from Dixon's phone, once downloaded and printed in multiple quantities, made a highly entertaining focus for George's retirement drinks party in the Rockston Arms tonight.
Once they knew about it, most of the staff came along and a good night was had by all as we saw George off. Mr Dick, alas, was only notable by his absence.