'We're on our way to becoming outstanding. We need you. I'll match the salary, I was going to upgrade your management post anyway. Just don't go!'
It was a rather touching moment. However, this extra money was by no means guaranteed. It could have been a ploy. And even if Pompous was telling the truth, the money would probably take months to come through. SOHK is essentially being run by the LEA at the moment (due to Pompous's gross mis-management). I confided my predicament to one of the LEA school improvement team.
'Should I go? I do love it here.' I whined. Her answer was immediate.
'Go and don't look back. Trust me, this place is sinking. Get out while you can.'
I ironed for the interview, dear readers. I actually ironed. I never iron. Creased linen, crumpled jersey, ballet pumps indented with lurcher teethmarks: these are the components of my capsule wardrobe. (Although, I do occasionally accessorise with a smear of Laughing Cow or Pritt stick.) My rationale is that rumpled linen is good enough for Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche. Indeed, Juliette Binoche is my ultimate style heroine, as she can look radiant and chic with both tussled linen AND unbrushed hair. I have stopped brushing my hair in recent months. Not because I'm some gin-addled slattern. Ok, not ONLY because I am some gin-addled slattern. I am following a hair routine. A hair religion, if you will. It is called Curly Girl. Brushing is FORBIDDEN. Washing is also forbidden, although that is a step too far, even for me. I have no desire to resemble a crusty, dreadlocked, Glastonbury falafel seller named Luna.
I digress. Back to the interview day. As well as IRONED linen trousers, I also sported a terribly chic emerald-green cashmere cardigan and red lipstick. My hair was in a bun. I am not sure how successful the bun was, to be honest. My sights were set on a chic and ethereal 1950s Grace Kelly chignon. The overall effect was definitely more Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from Open All Hours. But still, I made AN EFFORT. Do you see? A big effort.
I had a momentary flicker of doubt when I entered the interview room. The previous candidate was still in there, collecting her things. She was a large, matronly lady in a garishly floral Per Una tunic. She briskly gathered up her folders, sternly fixed her gimlet eyes on me, disapprovingly pursed her frosted coral lips, nudged her bosom and sailed out of the room, her widefit Footglove moccasins squeaking as she passed. I payed Joan Plowright and her tunic of shame no mind though. Poor soul. She was quite obviously intimidated by my cardigan. (And who wouldn't be?) I assumed she was going home to read Maeve Binchy and share a boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce with her colony of cats. She was no threat to me.
The interview panel consisted of the headteacher and two school governors. In previous encounters, I had quite liked the head, although I thought him rather fey. Short, bald, beady-eyed and gratingly energetic, he is the kind of gent my Aunty Margaret would describe (witheringly) as 'natty'. Wayne Sleep's chosen interview attire struck all the expected 'limp, lefty, bookish' notes, but also hinted at a worryingly theatrical nature. He was sporting a beige, pin-striped linen suit, neckerchief and highly polished loafers. 'Are there any REAL men in primary education?' I asked myself, as I set up my PowerPoint. 'Stubbly, rugged, oafish, chain-smoking, politically incorrect sorts. Men with carpet in the bathroom and a stash of power tools, beer and 1970s soft-pornography in the shed.'
The two school governors on the panel were salt-of-the-earth, ex-mining types. They had a combined age of 206. This was a shoo-in, I thought. As a miner's daughter, I'd have those old duffers eating out of my hand in no time at all. All I'd have to do is mention stottie cakes and pit ponies a few times and hint at my Easington Colliery heritage. Hell, my Dad worked at the very colliery on which this new school was built. What, in the name of Arthur Scargill, could POSSIBLY go wrong?
My presentation went well. But I sensed things starting to go downhill during the interview. It became blatantly obvious that, although I was charming retired pitmen Bert and Ernie, the head and I had fundamentally opposing views on many aspects of education. Even when answering his questions, I was aware of this, but found it impossible to be anything less than myself.
Wayne Sleep: This school is situated in an area of high deprivation. How would that impact your teaching?
Me: It wouldn't. It really doesn't matter where I teach, my expectations of children's behaviour, progress and attainment are the same. I accept it can be challenging working in areas of extreme deprivation, but schools should be careful not to use their catchment areas as a way of excusing poor results, or limiting their views of what their children can achieve. I strongly believe that is a dangerous road to go down.
OK. I possibly wasn't QUITE as erudite as that. But, essentially, that was my answer. Wayne Sleep was not impressed with it, I could tell. It occurred to me that he, like Pompous Pilate, probably batters every school inspection team on the head with encyclopedia of statistics about deprivation. Inspectors, quite rightly, see straight through this and are only interested in the quality of teaching and learning. Sometimes it feels like there is a culture of failure in Northern schools: each vying to have the worst deprivation figures. I hate that.
So, my interview was over. I bid a fond goodbye to Bert and Ernie and sallied out to make my way back to the School of Hard Knocks. As I left, I noticed a lanky, sinister figure loitering in the school reception. The next candidate, no doubt. I shuddered as I passed, even my Boden cashmere cardigan couldn't stop the hairs in the back of my neck prickling. The cove bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Dennis Neilson.
Later that day I took 'the call'. It was Wayne Sleep,
'It was a hard decision, but at the end of the day one of the candidates scored higher on a key question. I'm sorry, Miss Underscore. You did very well. Bert and Ernie LOVED you. Ernie's going to pass on your pease pudding recipe to his wife. Bert said he'd never met anyone named after a pit pony before.'
That night, I assumed that I'd been beaten by Ms Cod in Parsley Sauce. Never underestimate a woman in a Per Una tunic, I told myself. After all, look at Judy Finnigan. I was mistaken though. The next morning I was called in to Pompous's office lair.
Pompous: I've been doing some digging. I've found out who got that job. I still can't believe you didn't get it. You were perfect for it!
Miss U: Oh, it was some Joan Plowright sort. It doesn't matter Pompous. It's a relief to be staying, to be honest.
Pompous: Joan? No, it was a fella. You lost out to a fella.
Miss U: (gasping) Dennis Neilson?
Pompous: Don't know his name. But, it was a stitch-up. He already worked there, internal candidate. You never stood a chance. Listen, I meant what I said. I will try and sort out your role next year. It should be on a higher salary, I know. Leave it with me eh? You and me together for another year, Miss Underscore! By heck!
A Rogue Repents
Rochester has been rather elusive of late. So much so that I've begun to suspect he has another woman. I mean, along with me and the redoubtable Mrs Rochester. Not that he 'has' me. Well, he hasn't for 18 months or so. We rowed yesterday. After ignoring me for quite some time, he rang to talk ENTIRELY about himself for 20 minutes before abruptly cutting me off for a peg customer. This is very much his modus operandi.
'Aye flower, we COULD talk about you, but you never go anywhere. Or do anything. And I know fuck all about crocheted tea-cosies. . . Oh fuck. I'm losing you. . . bad reception, ta da peta. . . '
He called back this morning. I was buttering toast and still rather sleepy.
Miss U: Cunting hell, Senor Boldon*, you rang back! This is unexpected. What are we going to talk about? (uncomfortable silence) Oh dear God. Did I just call you by your brother's name?
Rochester: You did. That is VERY interesting.
Miss U: I'm half asleep still. Don't be daft.
Rochester: Hmmmm. Aye, but why would you do that?
Miss U: Listen, Rochester, never mind Dr Stir Fry, why have you spent the weekend in Wales? Have you got another woman? You have, haven't you? Some rosy-cheeked lass with corned-beef legs, stone-washed denim miniskirts and her own abattoir?
Rochester: What makes you think that?
Miss U: Why else would you go to Wales?
Rochester: You know what? It's a 60 minute drive away from Bristol. I go there when I've had enough with all the poncey Southern twats down here. It's like being back North. It's like Shields.
Miss U: So, are you saying there's no other woman then?
Rochester: Of course not. It's what I need mind. Now you've suggested it. Some under-educated, big arsed, big-titted, pool-playing girl from the valleys. Fucking hell. Nirvana. She'd sort me right out. I'm deeply serious. CUNTING HELL.
Miss U: How is the celibacy going? How long has it been?
Rochester: Too long. I am wanking three times per day. Thanks for asking flower. Your interest is appreciated. What are your plans for today?
Miss U: I'm half-way through a blog, I want to get that finished. I have some statistical analysis to do on SOHK results.
Rochester: I'm glad you mentioned the blog. You know what, it is beginning to piss me right off. At the start I was this charming, lovable rogue. Your co-dependent lesbian followers all ADORED me. There was swooning going on. Don't deny it. Plenty of swooning. WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED? These days it's all (adopting a simpering voice) 'Oh Miss Underscore, you're so lovely and pretty and he's such a shit, you're too good for the bounder'. 'Oh Miss Underscore, you could do SO MUCH better'. You are making me out to be an UTTER TWAT. Some of those comments, they're properly vitriolic. Howay flower. I'm not that bad.
Miss U: Are you saying it's factually inaccurate?
Rochester: Errr, well YES. And HOW MANY TIMES ARE YOU GOING TO MENTION YOUR BIRTHDAY? BIG FUCKING DEAL. I FORGOT YOUR BIRTHDAY. TWICE. It was my birthday last month, I didn't notice Harrods dropping off a hamper or owt from you.
Miss U: I don't know your address. I emailed you some pictures, didn't I? I don't think Mrs Rochester would have appreciated a delivery from Sunderland. Rochester, I've never known you to be so. . . . so sensitive, wounded.
Rochester: (huffily) Aye well. It's a bit hard to take, you know. And those male twats that read your blog are even worse than the lezzas. Puffs. Sort it out, will you?
Miss U: (soothingly) I still think you're a charming character, Rochester. I don't think I've changed how you're depicted. You're still 50% Mr Rochester, 50% Sid James. You can't deny that you're an unreliable, flaky bastard mind. (pause) Shall we meet up over the summer holidays? If, you know, you can fit me in between peg appointments, masturbation and being an utter twat. You can do something heroic, like carry a wounded lurcher up some rickety steps. I'll write about it. You'll regain some of your David Niven-esque charm then. What do you think?
* Senor Boldon: Rochester's elder brother. The first of the Brothers Grimm I had the pleasure of dating.
* Senor Boldon: Rochester's elder brother. The first of the Brothers Grimm I had the pleasure of dating.