I returned to school on Monday, I displayed my Dunkirk spirit, digging my car out of the snow, braving the SOHK car-park, which resembled a skating rink, wrapping up in my new Mollie Sugden anorak and wooly hat.
By Tuesday the weather was even worse, driving conditions were truly terrifying. But my cockles were warmed by the sight of Pompous Pilate, ruddy-faced, sporting a donkey-jacket and Benny-from-Crossroads hat, spreading grit and shoveling snow. To be fair that is pretty much all he and King Cravat (our camp yet sleazy Dance and Drama teacher) have done for the last 2 days. They are the school's only men of the male gender, after all. Last night they proudly showcased their strength and virility by pushing the female teachers' cars out of the car park. The crisp, wintry night was heady with the aroma of de-icer, testosterone and sweat. At one point, with Pompous huffing and puffing behind my car like an amorous bloodhound, I did wonder how I was managing to resist the temptation to slide the car into reverse. One stealthy slip of the Hush Puppy and hurrah! Stepford liberation!
Today I shall tell you a little story about King Cravat. He is possibly the laziest man I have even encountered. He teaches each class once per week. The lessons are supposed to be Dance and Drama, but they are really just random exercises in 'winging it': morris dancing one week, DVD the next. King Cravat is one of the senior members of staff and earns twice as much as me.
When I joined the SOHK I had a class from hell. The class included many severely disturbed children. The mix of personalities was toxic, every lesson was a ticking time-bomb. It was a very tough class for an NQT, my days were spent breaking up fights, dealing with swearing, racist abuse, sexualised language, hyperactivity and bullying. 10% of my time was spent teaching. It was a baptism of fire, but I did enjoy that year, and I grew to be very fond of my class of reprobates.
I did have a short respite every week when I sent the crazy rogues off to the slothful Cravat for their Dance and Drama lesson. It gave me a much needed hour of peace and tranquility, time to potter in my sunny, colourful classroom. Utter bliss. Unfortunately, 5 minutes after the children had left, my peace would be shattered by a dreaded knock at the door. It would inevitably be one of my class, sent back, because of their behavior. That would be the first of many. Some days he would simply send the whole class back, refusing to teach such insolent and aggressive children. I did ponder why as an NQT I was expected to teach the class all day, every day, without complaint, and for a salary of £20k, when Cravat seemingly couldn't cope with them for one hour (on a salary of £45k).
There is also something very slimy and lascivious about him. He is a rather camp fanny rat. I always feel slightly dirty after a conversation with him (and not in a good way). Every Thursday we have a 'Sharing Assembly' in school. Teachers choose a couple of kids to go to the front and share their work. I recall one day last year when I sent 2 girls to share work they had done about food groups and healthy eating as part of a Science lesson. Later that day King Cravat sidled up to me in the corridor. He leaned in so close I could see the toothpaste conjealing in the corners of his mouth.
'Hmmmm, Miss Underscore, luuuuuurve your Science.' he smarmed.
I think I must have looked aghast at such a blatantly sexual remark.
'Your Science, you know, the girls' shared work in assembly this morning. I thought it was very good.'
Rochester loved that line, and would use it often. I thought he used it with great aplomb in a text to Madam Noir once. Madam Noir has 'venetian tendencies' (she is a lezza). But, she has only quite recently 'come out'. Rochester always claimed she was lezza, even whilst she was still firmly locked in the closet. I am not sure how he knew this. He did take a lesbianism module at Durham University some years ago. Who knows, he may have even got to dissect one in a lab. Or maybe it was feminism he studied. I'm not sure. It was part of some caring-liberal, tweedy fuckwit Social Policy course. It is perplexing why such a politically-incorrect, Geordie oaf would choose to take such a course. To heckle, maybe. I imagine he was frequently given detentions where he had to copy lines from The Guardian and was forced to wear a dunce's cap made of fair-trade corduroy. But, I digress.
Rochester also had a long term romantic relationship with a lezza, so I expect his lesser-spotted-lezza identification skills must have been finely tuned, having lived with one for many years. I asked the cove once if there were signs to his partner's Sapphic status.
' Aye, there was petal, she wore a lot of Birkenstocks and wasn't a very good kisser. Oh, aye, and she did work in a women's prison.'
Dear God. You don't need to be Hetty Wainthropp to crack those clues!
Anyway, Rochester would tease me that my best friend was lezza, and was secretly in love with me (sorry Madam Noir, he did). He even wrote a poem about a day-trip we had to Edinburgh.
One dreary Sunday I was driving Madam Noir back from Sunday lunch at the Bowburn Hall Hotel. I had taken a photo of her reclining in the chintzy, country-house splendour of the lounge - it made an interesting composotion: M.N. pale in her modernist, post-gothy black, surrounded by faded velvet curtains, blowsy floral wallpaper and old ladies in twin sets and pearls. I sent the pic to Rochester. A couple of hours later in the car, on the way home, my mobile trilled. I had a message.
'Can you check that?' I asked M. N. (I was driving)
'Awww. It's from Rochester.' she replied.
'Oooh, open it. What does he say?' I always loved his texts and was too excited to wait till I got home to read it.
M.N. opened the message and read it intently. There followed a deathly, funereal silence. Tumbleweed started blowing through the Focus (or it may have just been dalmatian hair in the air-con). Finally Madam Noir spoke up.
"It says 'thanks for the pic petal, she's definitely a lezza.'"
Oh dear God!!!!!!!! At this point M.N. was in the torrid throws of her first lezza relationship with her guitar teacher, but she had not 'come out' to anyone. Looking back, the clues were there of course. Weeks and weeks of guitar lessons passed and she still couldn't even play Frere Jaques let alone Stairway to Heaven!
Anyway, M.N., not easily phased, texted the bumbling blackguard back, explaining she had read his text. She demanded to know why he was making such outrageous claims.
Rochester, ever the chivalrous gentleman, replied. And placed the blame firmly on me!
'Actually Madam Noir, it is Miss Underscore who is always saying you're a lezza. I tell her she's quite obviously wrong, you know what she's like, it's got to the stage where I just humor her. '
There was more silence whilst M.N. tried to think of a witty retort to that. Her silent musings were interrupted by another trill of the phone. He had texted again.
'By the way . . . Madam Noir. . . . love your Science!'
Thankfully she laughed. It was still some weeks till she came-out to me, on Boxing day, on my sofa. I texted Rochester the glad tidings.
'Aye, well petal. What did I tell you? The answer is always right in front of us.' he smugly replied.