Willie-Ron's farewell gig;Further Adventures of Morris Simpson;School Diary

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Monday. I've been asked for a guidance appointment by the mother of Willie Redmond (Ron). This underachieving fourth-year pupil - whose persistence in appending a parenthetical acronym to his name is explained by his mother's desire to ensure that we are fully aware that he is a statemented student with a record of needs - has caused me no end of grief since his arrival at Greenfield Academy (his sixth school in four years) only four weeks ago.

Aside from an unhealthy and unwelcome insistence upon spending most of his intervals and lunch-breaks standing outside the third-year girls' toilets, young Redmond has shown little or no academic inclination other than a passing interest in Mr Pickup's religious education classes. In checking the most recent update of the boy's national record of achievement, I was pleased to note that Pickup had been able to let the boy record that he had - and I quote - "learned to appreciate and understand religious discrepancies, and display tolerance to those of other beliefs".

"Congratulations, Pickup," I commented at lunch-time. "You seem to be one of the few teachers able to get through to Willie Redmond."

He looked puzzled, until I showed him the ROA. "Oh, that?" he shrugged carelessly. "Well, I wrote that, didn't I? The original version didn't say it quite like that, Morris."

"Didn't it?" "No, no," he smiled patronisingly. "Willie Redmond's original assessment after my lesson on religious tolerance was 'Today I learned that not all Fenians are bad'; so I had to smarten it up a little, the same way I do for all the ROA comments."

I sighed in disappointment. Still, maybe it's a start, and I look forward to hearing Mrs Redmond's views on how Willie is settling into his new school.

Tuesday. Some council officials arrived at my classroom door just after 9.30 this morning, and announced that they were due to conduct a check-up on all electrical appliances within the room at some point in the day.

"Come in, come in," I bade them welcome. "Actually, you've chosen quite a good time, because the room's free until 10.15."

"Well, actually," one of them checked his watch. "We're just about to go for our tea-break. But we'll be back later. OK?" I gazed in startled bemusement. A tea-break at 9.30? Needless to say, they arrived back just as 4C were entering for their lesson on the war poets, so I spent a slightly tiresome 50 minutes trying to explain the inner subtleties of Sassoon's cadences and rhythmic assonance, while Messrs Cable and Wireless scurried around the room with screwdrivers, meters and assorted stickers with which to declare the relevant equipment tried, tested and proven.

"Thank you very much, gentlemen," I waved an ironic hand in valedictory gesture, "for doing your best to minimise disturbance. And - hang on a minute," I interrupted myself. "You've put a sticker on my cassette recorder."

"Eh?" "That's my own cassette recorder," I gestured at the offending article. "I have to bring it in for aural work with the class because we don't have enough to go round in the department, but it's not school property" "Isn't it?" the foreman declared. "In that case, you can't use it, I'm afraid"

"Why not?"

"It's not been checked."

"Yes it has. You've just checked it."

"Ah," he narrowed his eyes. "But it's not been pre-checked. Everything has to be pre-checked before you can use it in council property. And this hasn't been. So I'll have to take it away," he declaimed, removing the sticker of approval and heading for the door with my cassette recorder under his arm.

"You will not!" I barred his exit route. "Gail and I won't have anything to play our tapes on if you do that."

He shrugged uselessly. "Take it back then. But I'm forbidding you to use it in this classroom, or anywhere in the school for that matter."

"Fine," I replied angrily. "I won't. And it's the kids who'll suffer."

He gave me a withering glance of disbelief and marched along to the staffroom, no doubt intent on removing Mrs Mitchell's electric fan and Mr Pickup's sandwich-toaster. Talk about petty bureaucracy.

Wednesday. A quiet day, at least with regard to academic endeavour. Most of the pupil population is intent upon rehearsals for tomorrow's Talent Competition, for which event I have been roped in as presiding judge.

These extra-curricular activities are all very well, but this one is taking up an unconscionable amount of preparation and rehearsal time. Indeed, the staffroom door has never been busier, with frantic enquiries for advice and assistance on costumes, presentations, lyrics and dance routines.

So tiresome have these interruptions become, that Mr Pickup was moved to erect a large notice on the door which boldly announced: "If Your Enquiry Has Got Anything To Do With The Talent Contest - GO AWAY!".

It's not very encouraging for the children...

Thursday. The Talent Contest was not a big success. Certainly, a lot of effort had been made by the participants, but 14 different presentations of the Spice Girls became somewhat tedious after a while.

And then there was the unlikely bonding which appears to have taken place between Brian Booth (4C) and Willie Redmond (Ron): clearly, they had spent some considerable time in rehearsal of their musical rendition - Oasis' Greatest Hits. And what they might have lacked in musical accuracy had ample compensation in their close and pointed impersonations of the brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, complete with mirrored sun glasses, yobbish sneers and an appalling range of vulgar gestures directed at the audience.

It also gave them ample opportunity to mouth every four-letter word I'd ever come across - plus a few more besides - after which they commenced a spitting assault of explosive force upon the audience. Fortunately, I was seated several rows from the front, but some of the first years were simply drenched in phlegm, and I eventually took it upon myself to call a halt to their performance, in the interests of common decency and public health.

It was not a popular decision, and my swift curtailment of the entire venture by announcing that the prizewinners were "- er - Spice Girls Number 6!" was even less popular. I had chosen the number completely at random, but the fact that Marlene Beveridge had been playing Posh Spice in that particular line-up was immediately perceived as ardent favouritism by most of the audience (Marlene has long held an adolescent crush on me, which I've tried to repulse at every opportunity).

Unfortunately, Marlene viewed the award as ardent favouritism as well, and took great pains to thank me with an adoring smile, a huskily-breathed "Thank you, sir. Thank you for this. And for everything."

I shook my head, handed her a winner's medal, and hurried away from the stage as swiftly as possible. It's the last time I get involved in a ruddy Talent Contest.

Friday. My interview with Mrs Redmond went in line with all of my expectations. Disastrously. Far from expressing gratitude that she has at last located a school where her son can expect sympathy and tolerance from the staff, the woman is convinced that Willie - a convicted kleptomaniac and budding psychopath, in my opinion - is the victim of a grand educational conspiracy.

"It's just no ferr, Mr Simpson!" she bellowed across the desk as she commenced a litany I have heard from so many mothers, so many times.

"Now, ah ken that Wullie-Ron's no angel. But!" (It's always that 'but' that makes me squirm.) "But!" she repeated vehemently, a forefinger jabbing arrogantly at my chest, "it's clear as the nose oan ma face that Wullie-Ron's bein' victimised here like he's been at every other school in the last fower year. Eighteen punishment eccies, seven referrals, an two exclusions in fower weeks just isnae ferr, Mr Simpson."

I endeavoured to labour the seriousness of the incidents that had merited such reprisals, but she was having none of it.

"Naw!" she exclaimed forcefully. "Mr Simpson: ah don't want ye tae think that ah'm one o those erotic women ye keep readin' about."

My jaw dropped. "I beg your pardon, Mrs Ron - er - Redmond?" "Ye've not tae think that ah'm some kindae erotic woman, always thinkin that everyone's out tae get me, an' goin' crazy about it."

Foolishly, I smirked as I saw what she was trying to say.

"Whit's sae funny?" she barked in fury.

"I think that what you've just suggested was a malapropism," I started to explain. "You were meaning to use the term 'neurotic woman', but..."

Sadly, I never got to finish my explanation, because she erupted with volcanic force. "Improper suggestion? Improper suggestion? I'll 'improper suggestion' you, ya wee runt!"

"No, no. I suggested it was a malapropism, Mrs Redmond, and then..."

"I heard ye the first time, ya tyke!" she rejoined angrily. "An it just tells me ah was right all alang. Wullie's no safer here than he wis at any o' the other dumps he's been tae. Ah'm transferrin him out o' Greenfield, Mr Simpson, an ah'm takin him somewhere he kin get a decent education! Wullie!" she bawled into the corridor, where her hapless son was awaiting the results of our conversation.

He seemed prepared for the outcome (after all, he's been through it several times before), and it was with little sense of surprise that he appeared to realise that his personal educational diaspora was set to continue.

Throwing a bag across his shoulder, he thrust both hands into his pockets, hunched his shoulders and - towering over his mother - Willie Redmond (Ron) walked down the corridor and out of Greenfield Academy - and my life - for ever.

God help him!

John Mitchell

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