1.6 Pit Stops and Paper Jams

I started the week hiding in the cinema, at a late showing, just to avoid the cold. The cinema was toasty, the film was rotten. I give it two stars, but I think I’m being generous on account of the radiating warmth.

Friends are nothing if not utterly essential on this adventure. At various twists they’ve been there. Offers have rolled in from colleagues since I took up life in the tin can three nights a week. Hot showers, meals, beds have all been on offer. But, at every offer, a pang of guilt rickets through me. The challenge is assailed by charity. Temptation beckons. I’m determined to see it through, but it’s good to know there are plenty of safety nets below as I fling my body temperature against the coming winter freeze.

Thermal barriers are becoming creepingly more essential. The coldest week so far coincided with my tin can’s water pump rattling unsettlingly and so the adventure was rerouted to the warmth of four walls and a double bed, courtesy of merciful friends, while the van sheltered in the pit stop.

My first use of the net so far.

Friends swing to my aid again with thermal windscreen blackouts. The drama teacher has heard of my plight; better still, her parents have. Word is spreading. She asks if some blackouts might be helpful and I almost bite her hand off. So far I’ve been blocking up the windows with my wife’s spare sarongs. I’ve parked facing into hedges too, in order to avoid an imagined nightly visitor’s face appearing in the windscreen while I’m mid pee.

I’m grateful for so many things. Even a top tip from a fellow camper regarding Comfort conditioner bottles.

“Ample room for your particulars, mate.”

“Oh?”

“Your willy.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Get the four-litre one”, he recommends.

“Less time spent emptying it. Yeah, good idea.” Say I.

“Well yeah, but also there’s an offer on.” He winks.

It has been invaluable. Comfort conditioner bottles really do leave ample room for your particulars and the four-litre bottle has the added benefit of feeling as though you’re peeing into an abyss, with no need to worry about overflow – as well as being on offer.

When I was finally reunited with my tin can at the end of the week, I said goodbye to good friends and held out my hand for Adventure’s embrace. There is rain ahead. I’ve avoided the freeze for now.

With the change in temperature outside, so too has there been a change of temperament amongst staff at school.

Mocks have been afoot. Revising, assessing, data entry – watchful eyes scrutinise from the shadows. Even the photocopier is in revolt. Its yellow light flashing, warning of a paper jam.

There is no paper jam.

There is rarely an actual paper jam.

But this is its go to setting when deeply unhappy. It sits idly, winking its yellow light. Ninnering at the end of the corridor, a half wakeful Siren luring in desperate staff in need of that last minute copy for the starter task to the next lesson.

Blink.

Wink.

Plastic cogs cricker, and tap. Blink, wink, blink: Paper jam.

The rising dread of winging a starter creeps in to the teacher’s mind along with those emphatic words we all understand so well: Bollocks!”

In breaks and lunches the rising patois of frustration mounts and breaks surface like the long-held breath of a biblical leviathan. The bi-annual pupil whinge has finally risen up, three days after the photocopier’s last gasp. Lunch, and useful time catching up is usurped by those who cannot contain themselves. Whinge court is in session. Suddenly children are reduced to a number of sighs, groans and expletives.

To partake or not, that is the question.

Curses fly like slings and arrows.

It is an unavoidable necessity for some. An indulgence for others. A requirement of the club. An initiation for some. Our trainee teachers watch on, quietly bemused.

That night, as predicted, it rains. It’s not warm, but it’s not freezing and I bury myself beneath three layers of bedding, at ease with the idea that three nights a week I sleep in a car park, somewhere between moorland and open sea.

1.5 A Knight’s Mournful Muse

As I drew in to my chosen hideaway one night this week, my lights beamed in, across, and away from two friendly fondlers in one of those not so mini minis. Their eyes lit up, not with abandoned passion, but fearful agility. The game was up.

I spent the next hour or so wondering how the liaison was going before they slunk away.

It was Halloween this week. And on that night I sat in the van wondering what was creepier: the increasingly rapid invasion of a culturally irrelevant night of gore and horror marching the streets, (and possibly the carpark) in search of plastic wrapped sugar or a man sitting alone in his white van, in the cold rain in some darkened car park hoping no one raps a tinny knock on the door.

Thankfully, whether a trick or treater comes, or not, the odds of my sanity surviving in a tin can on wheels is probably easier than it surviving in schools at times. I’ve been told a good school is worth the inconvenience, a bad school is to be avoided despite any convenience. I’m in a great school and finding the inconvenience an entertaining challenge.

I love my job. I probably love it most because the kids are so great. I started this blog thinking I only had four months of it. I can happily report I’m now around till the summer. Prior to half term, when children furtively enquired, “Do we have you after Christmas?” I had to answer, “Sorry, no.” My heart sank. Consistency is key and they weren’t going to get it. But things have changed. I’ve been commissioned for two more seasons. This week, when those furtive voices asked again, “Are you still going at Christmas?” my happy answer was, “You’re stuck with me, sorry.” Smiling cheers were the air-pump to my balloon-like ego.

Kids are simple.

All children want you to like them, and all children want to like you. If we give them no indication we like them, and give them no reason to like us they will not work as well as they could, they will not enjoy our subjects and enthusiasm will rot away quicker than the teeth in the sugar-filled maws of this week’s ghostly spooks haunting the streets.

But contradictions abound. We are asked to be all things to all pupils. Our job is to teach, but our responsibility too is to stand as role models; sometimes play the parent; the exo-conscience; the nimble guide; sympathetic mentor; the gardener to emerging identities. But pulling out the weeds has become a dangerous endeavour.

When to intervene?

When to shine a light on a wayward shadow?

In one corner the plea to play a pastoral role, in the other the threatening cuff of an overprotective parent; the self-martyring administration sometimes one step ahead, sometimes one step behind; this strategy, that strategy. In some schools, not mine, “We don’t use the word behaviour. It’s a dirty word.” A discordant concert of prating knaves and mewling strings.

Good leaders say “Well done.”

Poor leaders don’t say much.

Is it wiser to say nothing?

Protect your wage, not the child.

A call out of the blue pulls me away from the dirge. Mum on the phone.

She asks for a Christmas list. It must be November.

I check.

It is.

Rotting pumpkins give it away.

“Bonjour, mother.”

We go through the usual play script. “I don’t need anything. Okay okay. A couple of books?”

“Is that all?”

At 40. Yep. Got my sock collection sorted now.

“What about you?” I ask.

She tells me about an Australian food show she’s been watching. Bake Off with sun and sand; maybe Kylie too, I imagine. She tells me she’s interested in Vietnamese cookery. Wonders if there is a Vietnamese cookery course she can attend.

“Right? Not Australian?”

I get the back story. Vietnamese refugees. Sisters. Don’t waste a scrap.

“They didn’t win, Jonathan, because they can’t do puddings.”

Ah. I muse. Seems unfair, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Asian restaurant that could do puddings. Maybe ice cream.

“Shame.” Say I.

I sit in my tin can, a chill air foaming in front of my eyes as I google: Vietnamese cookery courses.