When the plates stop spinning

17th May 1996 at 01:00
A few weeks ago my wife set out with my daughter in search of the Forge shopping centre in Parkhead. This was in spite of my warning that Scottie McClue might be there dispensing what one caller to his (now rescheduled) radio nightline described as "signed autographs". As it was she never found the place and ended up in the city centre, later than she had expected to be.

This left my son Andrew and me with some time to kill at home. I picked up a television listings magazine to see if I could find anything entertaining to put on while we played with Megablocks and the Cozy Coupe. Eschewing Baywatch ("Plastic Pam melts in the sun" according to my fourth year), I settled, sad case that I am, on Top of the Pops 2.

Before doing so I spotted that the Generation Game would feature plate- spinning. This baffling activity used to feature regularly on Blue Peter, usually between an item on making a picture frame that an aunt would be very pleased to receive and one on giving your tortoise (they always said "toh- toss") a pre-winter service.

On comes the plate-spinner intent on breaking a world record and substantial amounts of crockery as well. Up to his armpits in stacked china, he enters a forest of slender, flexible poles. Plates are set atop these erections with a delicate movement of the lower arm. Getting 20 plates spinning seems to be no problem. Even 30 looks a cinch in the hands of an expert.

It is only in the low 40s that problems begin to occur. As 41 goes on, numbers one and two are in trouble. Number eight is throwing a wobbly because it never had the start in life it deserved. A flick of the wrist and they are fine again. Three and four are now irretrievably unstable and heading for the floor. Weaving between oscillating rods whose equations of motion would send most physicists running for cover, the plate-spinner turns to five and six but is too late to save seven or the reprobate eight.

Exit Shep the dog stage left as numbers nine through to 15 hit the dust, save for 13, determined to defy its reputation. Soon the floor is littered with shards of glazed, baked clay. The spinner makes an energetic but ultimately token attempt to catch those in the throes of descent. On walks John or Peter or Val, clapping.

It is a pitifully small amount of applause for such an effort and by the time the opening titles for Scooby Doo (Yaaaageee!) are rolling no one can remember or really cares whether the British, world or universal plate- spinning record was broken or not.

For years I shut off all memory of plate-spinning. My subconscious obviously decided that there was no need to keep the information at the top of my memory heap and banished it down among such trivia as the name of the frog on Hector's House. Then, in the autumn of 1982, it all came back to me as I stood in front of my first unruly class. Girls sexually harassed me. Was I married? Did I have a girlfriend?

Boys with faces like an adolescent Kenneth Williams auditioning for a part in Carry On Being a Complete Pain in the Arse honked sarcastically at an attempt at levity I was foolish enough to inject. When I dealt with one kid another immediately needed attention and I had to dart from person to person to prevent it all crashing about my head. I might not have found an effective teaching style but at least I had a good analogy.

Gregor Steele was once inspired by Blue Peter to cover a model Austin 1100 in sticky-backed plastic.

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