At the Start of the Day
A teacher entertaining his pupils as well as entertaining others…
Whether asleep or awake, Mr Tempest Pearson dreamed of nothing but retirement. It couldn’t come a day too soon. How he hated work. His so-called vocation; more like his dereliction to duty. For the sins of his fathers, or at least, as the Great Book sayeth: ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children’. How he would love an Exodus right now. For the love of humanity. For the sake of his soul. Just five years to go…
When he arrived at the school that morning and brought his 12-year-old pupils down from their 1st floor classroom to their Year 7 weekly Tuesday morning assembly in the school Hall, it seemed a particularly normal school day. Mrs Heaven, the Headteacher, had reminded the pupils for the umpteenth time that it was important not to break the school rules. Mr Ferryman, the music teacher, had interrupted his piano playing of the morning assembly hymn, and angrily demanded that the pupils’ sing louder, claiming that his own voice was louder than all of theirs put together (which was quite true). And Mrs Strict had once again removed Ivor Stench (the new lad, who no other school would take) by the scruff of the neck, for letting off wind in perfect tune with the hymn after Mr Ferryman had restarted his piano playing. Yes, it seemed like a perfectly normal school day, but it certainly was not going to carry on being one—far from it!
Mrs Heaven, tall, regal and elegant, looking every inch a fairytale Queen, ended the assembly with her customary moral reading, which reached its usual impossible expectancy: ‘And so, always remember…never do anything to anyone else that you wouldn’t like done to yourself!’ She lifted her arm in a majestic fashion, like a swan opening a wing, and dismissed the classes one by one. Off they toddled like well-disciplined miniature soldiers, back to their classrooms for a further ten-minute registration.
Mr Pearson was the form teacher of class 7TP (where the ‘TP’ stood for his initials, and the ‘7’ was, of course, the Year the class was in). His class were last to leave the assembly hall, because they happened to be the first to have entered it, earlier. Up the purple carpeted mahogany spiral staircase the well-disciplined miniature soldiers transformed into a drunken disorderly long winding human caterpillar as 7TP made their way up to their 1st floor classroom.
By the time they had arrived in classroom Number 8, they had lost all semblance of a well-drilled army, and the morning’s message had long been forgotten, as exemplified by Nicola Yardley’s surreptitious sprinkling of ink on the back of Timothy Perkin’s new blazer.
Mr Pearson arrived in the classroom last and looked aghast at the sea of misbehaviour in front of his teacher’s desk.
‘Right!’ he thundered. ‘How many times have I told you children to sit on your chairs!’
‘But its cold, sir,’ moaned Amber Fragile, she was a tall girl for her age, but very delicate. She and three other girls were sitting at the back of the classroom on the huge central heating pipes that wound and twisted their way through almost every room in the Victorian built school.
‘It would be a lot warmer if you got off those pipes and let the rest of us feel their heat. Now, get to your chairs—now!’
The four pipe-sitting girls reluctantly lifted themselves one after the other, in a chorus of protesting ‘Eeeeeh’s, and plodded to their desks (Northumbrian folk often say the exclamation ‘Eh’ in an elongated way with the ‘E’ sound extended and the word rising and falling in both the pitch and volume; they also say it a hell of a lot).
‘You two boys?’ roared Mr Tempest. ‘What are you doing behind those curtains?’ Phillip Compton and Anil Guppta were on the large wide old wooden windowsills. They were hiding themselves behind the heavy, felt curtains.
‘Nothing, sir,’ smiled Anil, popping his head out between the curtains.
‘Get down from there and sit behind your desks!’ thundered Mr Tempest. ‘This isn’t a giant Punch and Judy show, you know—it’s supposed to be a classroom!’
The two boys clambered down like a couple of naughty monkeys and sat behind their desks.
‘You!’ shouted Mr Tempest.
There was no response.
Mr Tempest then lowered himself so that a number of pupils who were under their desks could see him. ‘You!’ he repeated.
‘Who, me, sir?’ said Karen Mariner meekly, her innocent eyes making a mockery of her outrageous behaviour.
‘Yes, you…and all you others sitting under your desks. Get up now! Get on your chairs!’ exploded Mr Tempest. He then straightened himself up and made a last effort to address the class as a whole. ‘All of you, sit on your chairs—now!’
The class didn’t seem to be listening, but nevertheless they all sluggishly made their way to their chairs so that Mr Tempest could take the class register.
After marking the class register, half the class went to the school library down the end of the hall to change their books, and a number of others left the classroom to see other teachers for various reasons. There were only six pupils left in the class. Though only five were at their desks.
‘Has anyone seen Aimee?’ said Mr Pearson, Aimee Pudding was sitting at her desk a minute ago. Now all he could see was the paperback book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the book about children who travel to a fantasy world called Narnia by entering a wardrobe) lying haphazardly on Aimee’s desk.
‘She’s in the book cupboard,’ shouted Louise Medley, in a matter of fact way, yet with a smile on her face. ‘She’s fick. She thinks it’s a wardrobe.’
‘One that goes to Narnia,’ added Nicola Yardley.
Mr Tempest gave a resigned sigh and murmured a prayer silently to the classroom’s decrepit yellowing large square ceiling tiles.
Sure enough, when Mr Pearson opened the door of the huge book cupboard located behind his desk and next to the windows over-looking the forecourt of the Canteen building, there was Aimee sitting on the bottom shelf. She looked up at Mr Pearson grinning from ear to ear.
‘Come on out of there and sit at your desk!’ commanded Mr Pearson. ‘Honestly, you children sometimes display a nadir of naughtiness.’
‘And you teachers,’ replied Aimee jabbing her finger accusingly, ‘sometimes don’t have a nadir what you’re talking about.’ She then collapsed in a heap of giggles at the cleverness of her silly joke—or perhaps at the silliness of her clever joke.
‘Do you really think you’ll get to Narnia through a school cupboard, you ridiculously naïve pupil?’
Aimee replied unconvincingly that she was looking for a book in the cupboard to do some ‘silent’ reading when Martin Harrow (who was now sitting at the back of the classroom attempting to put on an angelic look of pure innocence) had bundled her in—so she didn’t see why she should bother coming out.
‘Never mind all that explanatory nonsense. Go and sit down quietly and read your book.’
Aimee pulled a grumpy face and refused to move.
Mr Pearson was a teacher who did not wish to make a mountain out of a molehill; he only told pupils or classes off when it was necessary (which in his school was almost all of the time). He could have ripped into Aimee, and given her a detention even, but he knew children of her age were still half in a state of play during the morning registration. Especially when there were any confusions, as there often were during the registration period—what with: collecting monies for various things; getting the parent-signed pupil school rules letter reply slips checked off; letting some of his pupils go to change their library books; sending various pupils to various teachers for various reasons; giving permission for a pupil sent from Mr Snapper to take the school’s digital camera (which Mr Pearson was in charge of) to photograph the pretty lady visiting Year 5 from The Starving Kids Abroad organisation; checking that John Lazarus had done his homework for Mrs Bumblebottom (the new German teacher with an unfortunate name); and, oh, so many other things! And all happening in the space of ten minutes—who would be a teacher these days! Mr Tempest still had five years to go before retirement—if he could live that long!
So, instead of telling Aimee off, Mr Pearson simply pulled a silly face, a sort of a rigid grin like you might cut out on a pumpkin. Then he patted the book she had gripped in her hand saying in a voice that sounded like your granny telling you a bedtime story when you’d been feeling sick all day, ‘Ah. Nice little book. I want to be read by Aimee, little book.’ This caused Aimee to giggle, but also, more importantly, to leave the book cupboard and go to her desk and start reading her book, but not before she cast a strange look over to Mr Pearson, who was back at his desk wandering what he might have forgotten to do this registration period.
Mr Pearson came across as a man who clearly demonstrated that there is a thin line between a genius and a mad man. None of the staff or the pupils could be certain which he was. In fact, even Mr Pearson couldn’t decide. The only thing Mr Pearson was certain about was that he must have been mad to have become a teacher again having left the profession to take up a career as a singer. Unfortunately his career lasted as long as his singing voice—just two years.
He thought teaching was a horrible career now, with its extra tasks, meetings, courses and changes to the subjects (the curriculum) that the government kept fiddling about with. Just when you thought you had at least understood what was expected of you (even if you knew it couldn’t be done working every hour of the week and all through your holidays) the government would send in an advisor or an inspector to tell you how much better you could understand and do your job! They called it, a better emphasis—but teachers called it, moving the goalposts. There is a word that sums up a teacher’s job these days—‘impossible’. But someone had to do it. And unfortunately, Mr Tempest could do nothing else!
Then, just as Mr Pearson began to smile with relief that today was just another typical and very ordinary school day, a quite unexpected and extraordinary incident occurred…
Suddenly, Martin screamed out excitedly, ‘Look! Mr Pearson! Mr Pearson!’ And he was pointing out of the windows at a point in the sky above the canteen building.
Louise, Nicola, Amber and Phillip scrambled from their desks to join Martin at the window near the back of the classroom.
Aimee, the only other pupil in the room, did not bother leaving her chair near Mr Tempest’s desk because she was more interested in her magazine having put her cupboard book to one side. She was reading about her favourite pop star. Everyone knew that she thought he was gorgeous. No doubt she was experiencing one of her schoolgirl daydreams. Perhaps one in which her pop star came to the school and sang with Mr Ferryman—and sang so loudly that Mr Ferryman could hardly be heard.
‘Look! See them?’ cried Martin, and he became very animated. It was as if his body was trying to jump out of his school uniform. He was full of excitement and curiosity, as his eyes firmly locked onto something of great interest…
Mr Pearson eventually strolled over in an orderly calculated fashion to the huddled quintet of pupils. He was not a person who got easily excited by the unpredictable behaviours of pupils. He was however very interested to see what the commotion was all about.
‘Oh, I see what you mean,’ said Louise. ‘Er, what are they?’
Then Amber spotted them. ‘Oh!’ she simply exclaimed, and she knotted her eyebrows and narrowed her eyes.
Nicola, a Geordie from Blyth, was next to spot something out of the ordinary.
‘Eeeeeh!’ she exclaimed musically in her Blyth accent. Mr Pearson thought she sounded a bit like dentist’s drill.
Amber just stared through the window, open-mouthed in amazement.
‘What? Where?’ enquired Mr Pearson realising they must be seeing something in the air as they were either pointing or looking upwards.
‘Looka! There, man!’ chirped Nicola reverting to her Geordie slang.
She looked at Mr Pearson slightly apoplectically as she pointed her tiny finger out of the window. ‘Are you blind, man!’
Mr Tempest’s eyes followed the direction of the tiny finger…
They were greeted with a strange sight—and most certainly not an ordinary one! He sighed. A thought came into his head, Oh no! His hopes for an ordinary day had started to deteriorate.
Aimee joined them, as all the commotion had wrenched her from her pop idol (perhaps in her daydream they had ended up in a comfortable Gondola with the pop star singing her a beautiful love song as they drifted serenely under the romantic bridges of Venice).
Mr Tempest and his six remaining pupils stared out at the strange apparition.
It was definitely a spacecraft of some kind, and it certainly didn’t look as if humans had built it.
It flew chaotically. Like a living spacecraft suffering a mental breakdown. Mr Pearson wondered whether perhaps it was piloted by alien school children.
‘Sir, is it from another planet?’ asked Martin in an unusual display of scholarly attentiveness.
‘Erm…yes that’s probably correct. Well done, Martin…remind me to give you a house point after registration,’ said Mr Tempest, approvingly. But then he thought that surely there were more important things he should be saying.
Suddenly, the craft—a green shiny metal affair made of the weirdest of curves and about the size of a classroom—stabilised and hovered, then descended slowly down, in a perfectly controlled fashion, onto the canteen forecourt. Mr Pearson and his six pupils had a perfect view.
As they looked down at the craft, which sounded as if it was powering its motors down, Mr Tempest and the pupils grew curious, tense, and excited all at the same time.
Suddenly, a crack appeared on the hull of the craft and opened out into a slot. Out poured four creatures in shiny space suits which resembled a flexible green coloured glass. They had short stumpy legs, long thin arms and huge heads…they were certainly not human.
Between the four of them, the aliens began unravelling a large broad poster which they held down to their feet so its message could not be read until they flipped it up into the air…which they did…
The pupils gasped…
Mr Tempest gasped…
The poster read in huge block capital lettering:
Mr Tempest, you are our favourite teacher. We destroyed your singing voice to get you back in the classroom. You’re the talk of the galaxy, and we just want you to know!
The aliens then dropped their poster and started dancing and whooping with joy before running back into their craft. The craft then blasted off, up into the sky and disappeared.
‘Eeeeeeeeeh!’ exclaimed Nicola.
‘Yes “Eeeeeeeeeh” indeed,’ said Mr Tempest. ‘Now please get back to your chairs or I’ll have a breakdown…if I’m not experiencing one already.’
‘But, sir?’ protested Martin. ‘It’s not every day that happens. Shouldn’t we report it to the Headteacher?’
‘Mrs Heaven has enough problems running this school without being bothered by tales of alien visitors. Back to your chairs—now!’
‘But, sir!’ complained the pupils.
‘BACK TO YOUR CHAIRS…OR ELSE!’ warned Mr Tempest angrily.
‘Or else, what?’ asked Amber, her eyebrows crashing together like an on-line collision of two furry trains.
‘Or else I’ll tell my mum. Now hop it, back to your chairs.’
The pupils laughed…and at various places around the Galaxy so did a captive audience!