Take the long way home…

Last week I went to a party, there was a band and a bar and lots of music and I had a good time.

There were also a large number of familiar looking old men drinking beer. I stepped forward and stood there in line with my old school friends who have all suddenly reached the age of 50, which is odd as I remember us all as young things in our prime with everything still ahead of us – not just our stomachs. In fact, I still do think of myself as a young thing. If only there were no such thing as reflections (or photos) I could carry on happily deluding myself forever.

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It is hard to look at a row of respectable middle-aged men that you knew as a child and not remember what they used to be like:

Carl getting his ear pierced and his mum not noticing for several months as his hair was so long. (Now, no earring – or hair.)

Mike dressed in the sharpest threads, all straight lines and creases. (Now, mostly curves.)

Mark crashing his first motorbike, and then rebuilding it. (Actually still riding motorbikes – but not crashing as much!)

And Gary.

Gary and I were inseparable at school, always out together, doing things and having a good time. I have so many stories to tell about Gary that I was expressly forbidden from being his best man in case the speech went on too long or got out of hand.

But the story that always comes to mind when we meet up is this one;

We had been playing snooker. This was not an uncommon way for us spend time when we were in our teens the call of the snooker hall was ever present.  Clearly we struck a balance between this and school as we did not want to neglect our studies. So we were making our way back to take part in the part of the school day we felt we were most likely to be missed from, cues in hand, taking a short cut through the park.

In the distance we spied a group of younger students and their teacher on a field trip. It was still not too late to turn around and head back through the gates and around the long way without being seen: Which is exactly what I did.

But not Gary. He decided the best course of action would be to hide up a tree and wait for the group to pass, thus saving the extra time and distance involved in walking around the park.

Gary’s description of what happened went along these lines; “He (the teacher) got all the year 7’s stood around the tree and started to tell them what sort of tree it was and that sort of stuff.” Gary was not much of a botanist. “I still thought he hadn’t seen me, but then pointed up without even looking and told them that if they looked they would see Gary ****, and if they wanted to see me again they could come and look through the windows of the detention room. Bastard!”

Let’s pretend.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the Christmas break I found myself teaching mostly Nursery and Reception (the excitement of supply teaching is never quite knowing what the next phone call will bring – but more about that another time.) Anyway, I have fond memories of teaching this age group; it’s huge fun and never fails to offer its fair share of surprises and enjoyment.

It’s a bit hard sometimes, being a man in a job which is usually associated with women.  Some parents look wary at the sight of a strange man standing in their child’s Nursery greeting their children, others just look grateful that somebody is there and they can go off to wherever they need to go. The children on the other hand have no qualms about marching up to you and demanding to know who you are. What you are doing and why you are there. It is their Nursery/classroom after all; they have a right to know.

Things usually reach a status quo after a short while; they accept the change and start to let you join in with their little ‘Lord of the Flies’ type activities; re-enacting Frozen, taking toy animals to imaginary vets and reading upside down books, after all, they do  know who is in charge of the snacks. My only real gripe is that after a few days of floor level activities my knees were killing me.

On one particular day, to give my knees and back a break I braved the elements, opened the doors to the playground and offered some wintry outside play activities. Half an hour later, after doing up 27 zips and getting 54 thumbs into mittens we were out.

“Can we get out the building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we get out the REALLY big building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we build something REALLY big?”

“Yes.” (I am actually much more talkative than this in real life, but you can have too much detail!)

“Will you help us?”

“Of course I will, I thought you would never ask. What are we going to build and how can I help?”

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We ended up building a REALLY big box. Then we made a door to go on the front. Then we stood it up so it would be a REALLY big tower. Then we were going to knock it all down and build something else. Before we did I asked one of the children if they wanted to go inside. They did. I asked if they wanted to see what it was like if the door was closed, they were nervous – but did. Then another wanted a go. Then another.  Soon I had a queue of 27 children all rushing round to wait patiently for another go as soon as the door opened and they came out. It was fun.

Afterwards I drank tea and reflected on how many other jobs involved building brightly coloured plastic coffins that people spent whole afternoons waiting to try out. Probably not many, that’s what makes this job special.

(Photo is from the Little Tikes website who make the fabulous Waffle Blocks!)

Deadmouse

Way back at the start I used to teach the daughter of a close colleague and good friend of mine. My friend had been helping me through those difficult days when you are busy trying to apply all of the information, theory and essay writing from college into something that you can use on ‘actual children’ – (like people, but smaller was always my favourite description.)

Anyway, we regularly met up for coffee and social engagements and I got to know them well in and out of school. It was my first education into how different children are when they are at home compared to when they are in the classroom.

She was a dear sweet little thing who couldn’t do enough to help, listened nicely, joined in enthusiastically at tidy up time – (I have previously explained that this is a euphemism used by teachers to describe the time when children are herded into one part of the room and trapped there with a book while staff frantically put everything away.) By contrast, at home, she was loud, messy and frequently didn’t do things she was asked! I loved her.

On one visit we were met by my friend at the door;

“This may not be the best time, her pet mouse died last night, and we only just found it.”

We were invited in anyway, to commiserate with a distraught and upset little girl who was sitting forlornly on her tiny chair drawing pictures of her recently deceased pet.

“Is there anything that would make you feel better?” her dad asked. “Anything at all? What could I get you that would help you feel less sad?”

She looked up at him, big eyes starting to brim with tears again, head tilted at exactly the right angle to make her look as miserable as possible;

“I don’t know, I am very sad.”

“Do you want another pet, a new mouse?”

A slight sobbing sound and more sad looks.

“Tell me what you think would make things okay.”

“Well, maybe if I had a Gameboy….”

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