Lesson 26 on the Importance of Forward Planning.
Of all the times and places in which I worked, Airport Comprehensive during the year Concorde first flew had to be the worst. I passed the whole year in a distracted haze.
Nobody wanted to be there, staff or pupils. The head was demob happy – he was retiring at the end of the year. He had sold his house already and was living during the week in his caravan in the school carpark, using the school facilities for washing etc. I think he was an ex-serviceman. He had a military manner and bearing.
He had been the only head left from the three individual schools thrown hastily together to form the new comprehensive. The others had taken the money and run. No wonder. The three widely separated 1960s buildings were in need of complete refurbishment and repair. The sites, let alone the clientele and the staff, were impossible.
Absenteeism was rife. Pupils and staff went AWOL whenever it got too much. Staff seemed to operate an unwritten rota for sickies. If you had covered for somebody one week, then you took a couple of days off the next.
Nevertheless, registers still had to be taken, some semblance of school work had to be done, reports had to be written.
Bizarrely, some egalitarian activist in the past had set up a link with Eton. A party of boys would be bussed in for a couple of weeks in the summer term to learn about the proletariat. Our fifth form lads were meant to return the favour, but it was hard to drum up support. They were too scared, though one aspirational middle class boy (his parents must have misguidedly assigned him to us from left-wing convictions) leapt at the opportunity and spent a productive fortnight networking.
My source of comfort during my year there was my fifth form. Due to truancy it was a manageable size of 18 pupils, all strong characters. I suppose they had to be in order to survive through to leaving age.
Brian was one of my favourites. He was like a big bear. He lumbered around and didn’t say much, but he was good-natured and well tolerated by his peers. He seldom got into fights despite (or perhaps on account of) his strength and size. He hated to get into trouble.
One morning he was dramatically carried off by the police. Rumour swept round the school. I raced down to the staffroom for information. None was forthcoming. Then at afternoon registration Brian was back again in his usual seat looking a bit woebegone, so we got the story from the horse’s mouth.
The previous night he had been really miserable and concerned because he couldn’t do his homework. (Unlike the greater part of the school population, Brian was very conscientious. He attended regularly and did his best to complete every task.) He had worried himself into sleeplessness, when, in a Eureka moment he saw the solution to his problem. If there was no place to hand in his homework, he would be in the clear. He would burn down the school.
He rose from his bed, dressed himself in appropriate burglar-type gear and made his way back to the school, which was conveniently located on the opposite side of a large open area of scrubby parkland from his own back door.
Once there he was faced with the problem of how to go about things. It is hard to find flammable materials in a concrete school playground in the middle of the night and, being a careful soul, he didn’t want to break anything. The open ground behind the school was bare grassland. No trees or fly-tipping to provide kindling.
In the end he remembered the old railway sleepers which served as benches for weary dog walkers. Using all his strength, he dragged one to the cellar steps and tipped it down. He knew it was wood and should burn, but the problem was how to set it alight. Railway sleepers are hard to ignite at the best of times, and all he had was his cigarette lighter. In the end he had to admit defeat and go home disconsolately.
How he was singled out as the culprit he didn’t know. Probably he was just a likely suspect, being the strongest and on the doorstep, If they had asked him straight out, I’m sure he would have come out with the whole story. At least he didn’t have to hand in the homework, having been removed from class for questioning.
I can’t remember him being punished. Worse things happened, though the caretaker complained bitterly about having to get the sleeper moved from obstructing the cellar door.
I expect somebody lectured him on the error of his ways.
Though, all things being considered, perhaps he had the right idea.
The caretaker complained bitterly at having to get the sleeper removed from obstructing the cellar door.
Perhaps a senior teacher was deputed to lecture him on the error of his ways.
Though secretly in staffroom and playground alike