Lesson 37 on Making a Virtue of Necessity.
Mandy’s school was in the centre of a dispiriting estate, next to a sprawling industrial development, about a mile from a junction on the M3. All the pupils lived on the estate. All the teachers, however, lived well away from it. Most travelled in by car from the pleasanter parts of the Berkshire countryside. I was the only teacher who drove in the other direction from London.
Any hold-up on the motorway caused problems. The pupils would arrive in school, but the teachers would be stuck in traffic until the blockage cleared. This situation was always worst in bad weather.
One morning towards the end of my first term there was a heavy snowfall. The only adults in school by the start of the school day were myself, the deputy head (who came by train), the school nurse, the school secretary and the kitchen staff.
“What happens now?” I asked the deputy.
“We can’t send them home.” explained the school nurse. “It’s not safe. We have to keep them in school, and hope enough staff make it through.”
“What usually happens, is that we put them in the hall with a video, till the staff come in,” added the deputy head.
” I’ll send Sukvinder down to her uncle’s video shop,” offered the school secretary. “He always lets us have something suitable.”
Sukvinder was despatched to the shop at the end of the street, while we organised the pupils. Because we were in such a deprived area, the school kitchens were opened for breakfast. This meant we could leave the pupils in the dining room for a while, till we had the video set up in the hall.
Sukvinder soon returned in triumph carrying a plastic carrier bag.
“Uncle’s sent us something really good,” she said. “Because it’s Christmas, he says we can have this for a special treat!”
The deputy head sent her off to the dining room to alert Nurse and Secretary to allow the pupils to come down to the hall. Meanwhile we loaded the video into the machine.
It was only then that we realised what it was- it was an illegal, pre-release copy of ET! ET was just then being hyped as the biggest cinema release for the upcoming Christmas holiday.
But what could we do? By now Sukvinder would have spread the news of Uncle’s Christmas treat. We had 400 excited pupils and hardly any teachers. We had a warm, safe hall, entertainment and a working kitchen to provide hot food.
We showed the film. It was a dreadful copy – it was so dark you could hardly see it on the screen. But even our hardest pupils were riveted to it. They sniffed and wept their way through it. The hall throbbed with emotion.
In ones and twos the rest of the staff appeared, but there was no way we could stop the showing. At the end there was a communal sob as ET took off at last for home.
We must have broken every rule in the book, but what a shared emotional experience. The best Christmas treat ever!