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Wine, but no roses

Monday: Exam study leave for the senior pupils has left the school somewhat emptier - and quieter - than usual, as well as giving Mr Pickup the chance to organise our annual Scrabble championship with his usual efficiency.

He's really gone to town this year, with a championship ladder and scoreboard which would put Wheel of Fortune to shame, and a record entry of 23 contestants - a total which would have been even more impressive if Sandra Denver hadn't declared herself and the entire history department ineligible for entry because of a Development Day which she's organised at her own house for next week. To me, it sounds like a cosy enough venture, involving tea and scones at 10am, lunch at a nearby hostelry scheduled for 12.30pm, plus a plenary coffee and crumpets at 3 o'clock. But Sandra assures us that they'll get through "much more work than if they were in school, where the distractions of pupils might get in the way of the development plan".

Hah!, say I. What pupils?

Tuesday:One of the best things about this study leave period is the chance to catch up with the daily newspapers, although sometimes I wonder whether I'd be better shielding myself from the harsh realities of stories such as the one I read today. It concerned the fact that certain adults have initiated court proceedings against their former schools because they had failed to provide adequate tutoring to ensure examination success. What, you might say to yourself - as I did - is the world coming to?

It was a topic of torrid tea-time conversation with Gail - recently returned to work at Parkland Primary after the successful conclusion of her maternity leave, but finding the burden of tiresome parents just a little too much to bear.

"Well, Morris," she sighed in desperation over our slightly-burned salmon quiche, as I belaboured my anger over litigious former pupils. "What am I supposed to do? Yesterday I gave David Renwick a punishment exercise because he's failed to bring in a newspaper article for commentary, after five times of asking. And today I get a snotty letter from his mother telling me that she's 'forbidding David to do any punishment' because they don't get any newspapers in their house, and 'why should David be disadvantaged against the other pupils in the class, just because they don't get any newspapers?' Quote. Unquote. And four weeks from now, she'll be up at parents' night asking why her precious son's still to achieve a level A in Reading and Writing. And I'll be hard-pushed not to tell her that it's because he's got such bloody stupid parents who see their main aim in life as obstructing the school rather than helping it!" Gosh. To be honest, I'd never seen Gail quite so angry. "Never mind," I laid a consoling hand on her wrist. "Margaret's our future. And I'm sure that she'll be all right."

"She should be," Gail looked up from hooded eyebrows, "if we get enough cash together to send her to Rockston Academy."

I pursed my lips. Although Gail and I see eye-to-eye on so many different topics, the idea of educating my daughter at a private school is one on which I am unlikely to give in. Ever.

Wednesday: During the current exam period, it is occasionally depressing to witness large quantities of our senior students entering the school's assembly hall, many of them so clearly unprepared for the rigours of an examination which requires a concentration span of more than 15 minutes. One laudable exception has been Brigitta, a Swiss-German girl whose multi-lingual talents have allowed her to make the most of an exchange-year abroad, the last eight months at Greenfield Academy. Obviously, she is likely to achieve top grades in her Higher German, but the fact that she is taking examinations of a similar standard - in a non-native language - in subjects as diverse as English, chemistry and history speaks volumes for her determination, not to mention her academic credentials.

It was with such thoughts in mind that I witnessed our principal teacher of modern languages hand over a bottle of wine as the pair made some final farewells. Clearly, this was a touching moment of educational conclusion. Or so I thought, until I listened in a little closer.

"Thanks ever so much, Brigitta," Pamela Blane whispered across the modern languages storecupboard as I hovered by the doorway. "I don't think I could've managed to mark half of those Higher German essays without your assistance. I've always found German a little tricky, to be honest."

"My plessure, Miss Blane," Brigitta ensured her. "It voss an honour."

I couldn't believe my ears. To think that Pamela Blane should abdicate personal responsibility for her marking duties and hand it over to a member of the class whose essays she was supposed to be marking in the first place.

Thursday:Shock news from the council's staffing department. Mr Pickup was first with the news - as usual. "Poor old Eddie Potter!" he sympathised with grand insincerity. "A third of his department wiped out at a single stroke. "

"Why? Has there been an accident?" "No, no," Pickup assured me. "Just a clearing out of the temporary staff. Regional offices have made Brian Gargan redundant."

"Gosh," I bit my lip. "How much notice have they given him?" "About seven minutes. Notice came in this morning, and he was gone by lunchtime. Someone in the offices had realised that he'd been put in post to accommodate a long-term absence which would cover the Standard and Higher grade presentations this year - but as his pupils are all off on study leave and won't be back till August, if at all, then his presence wasn't really required any more this term. It's really buggered up my Scrabble championship good and proper, I can tell you. Brian Gargan was running a very good fourth until this morning. I wonder whether he'd be willing to come in during his own time to help finish it off...?" Even I knew the answer to that one.

Friday:We're being sued. Gary Sinnot, a former pupil - whose acquaintance I last came across during a court case when I was happily excused jury duty on account of previous knowledge of the defendant - has issued a writ against Parkland High School (and its current incarnation as Greenfield Academy), claiming that he was - and I quote - "emotionally abused and physically threatened on numerous occasions during his time at Parkland High School, as a result of which he was unable to fulfil his full academic potential".

"God almighty!" Pickup clasped a hand to his forehead upon reading the staff bulletin requesting academic and guidance records relating to our accuser-in-chief. "Sinnot? Wasn't he the one that got pissed before going on stage in your nativity play, Morris?"

"And wasn't he the one who set up a massage parlour five months after leaving school, and got pulled up by the fuzz after - ?"

I stopped him. "Yes. That was Gary Sinnott. Ironic, isn't it," I shook my head, "that he's thinking of suing us? Because I often thought of suing him for the mental stress he caused me in the opening years of my career."

"Gosh, Morris!" Pickup smote his brow. "D'you think we could?"

It was a lovely idea - indeed, we both pondered on the implications for a full seven minutes - but I really didn't think it would stand up in court.

Gail agreed in general terms when I related the story over a carry-out Chinese to which we'd treated ourselves at tea-time. Alas, however, she didn't seem terribly interested in the details of the affair. Her main concern was the unfortunate upshot of the David Renwick newspaper-commentary affair.

"Look at this, Morris!" she flourished an angry cutting across a hygienic foil container of egg-fried rice. "It's disgusting, isn't it?"

I couldn't but fail to agree. "RANDY ANDY IN GANG-BANG HANK-PANKY" read the headline from one of the national press's more salacious offerings, along with a torrid - if prose-light - account of some minor celebrity's sexual peccadillos during an ill-advised evening of personal gratification.

"That's disgusting," I agreed once more. "And you say that David Renwick brought this in as a suitable topic for newspaper commentary? If I were you, Gail, I'd contact the parents immediately - well, on Monday morning, anyway - and let them know what kind of filth their son's bringing in to school under the guise of personal home-work study."

"Morris," Gail sighed once again. "David Renwick won't know anything about it, or about what the cutting even means. Mr and Mrs Renwick will have sent it themselves. It's their petty little way of getting back at me, and at the school, over the homework dispute at the beginning of the week. And I can't do a bloody thing about it."

Gosh. With parents like that in the state sector, I begin to wonder whether Rockston Academy might not be an option after all. It just seems rather a pity that the assisted places scheme is now being phased out...

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