It was fast becoming one of Thomas King’s most firmly held beliefs that, should anything be likely to be submerged by a flood of activity, it was the more meaningful and important actions that would be the first to be lost. He had begun to be aware of this tendency at quite an early age but now, in his third year of teaching, it was revealing itself as an immutable universal law. So it came as no surprise to Tom when a meeting in the Staffroom at lunchtime was announced via memo later that morning. Amongst the myriad of tasks he subsequently attempted to complete in the ten minutes between the children leaving and the meeting’s commencement, he managed to eat lunch, set out the afternoons work and check the homework tray. Unfortunately, the one item most on his mind – his chat with Patrick Thompson – was cancelled.
As the staff gathered, the outcomes of countless whispered classroom and corridor ruminations began to coalesce into a monolithic whole. OFSTED. It had to be. What other events, previously unheard on the great school community radar of St. Annes, could prompt such an event? Tom detected a slightly nervous tinge to the conversations as he tackled the Kitchen cupboards in the hope of manufacturing a warm cup of coffee. He ghosted the two-step with the school’s SENCo, Margaret Phillips and Mrs Smith the Midday Meal Supervisor.
“Sorry, did I tread on your toes?”
“Can I just get to..?” As he danced forward and back, side to side, with a growing kit of cup, then milk, then sugar and finally coffee and hot water, it crossed Tom’s mind that Mrs Smith had been brought in to supervise the staff, in case the announcement made them too excitable. At least, Tom felt, should the mighty weight of a government inspection be announced, it would be a welcome sign that perhaps one universal rule would be bending slightly, and he wouldn’t feel too bad about not getting time to talk to young Patrick.
With a fine sense of dramatic timing Ms Prove (pronounced ‘Prove –ey’) made a late entrance. Slightly flushed and holding a piece of typed paper in her hand, she stepped confidently into the room and affected a slight look of surprise.
“Are we all here? Well done!”
Sitting beside him, his colleague from Year two, Heather , directed Tom’s eye to the paper in Ms Prove’s hand.
“What’s this then? Peace in our time?”
Half an hour later the bell rang for the end of lunch. The corridor seemed to hold its breath before the staffroom door opened and the teachers began to exit. As always, Thomas King resisted the urge to shout ‘Go! Go! Go!’ as the filing teachers brought newsreel images of paratroopers leaving their planes to face the enemy below wafting across his mind. He turned to the left, crossed the reception area and made his way to his room. Heather, heaving a large sigh, had elected to gather both classes so that she could get some ‘fresh air.’
As he looked out of the classroom window to the playground Tom’s eye was drawn away by a movement in the car park to his right. A large white van with the words ‘Rogers and Sons, Building Contractors’ written in large blue letters across its sides, was pulling into a space. Using minimal care, as far as Tom could see, the van squeezed itself quickly between the unlikely form of Heather’s Porsche and a purple Ford Ka. So it had begun already. The massacre of the innocents; or rather, the potential mutilation of Key Stage One.
Given the emphasis placed on the need for vigilance and safety during Ms Prove’s lunchtime announcement that emergency building work was about to begin on the Key Stage One buildings, Tom half expected angle-grinding hooligans to leap from the back of the van and immediately begin slicing through the green wired fence. Instead, a rather portly and balding builder and what could only be his slightly less portly and balding son, climbed out of the van and made their way to the main reception area. They paused and waited patiently for the year two classes to pass in front of them as Heather led the children inside. Waiting for the class Tom allowed himself the luxury of continuing his fantasy for a few more moments with a series of vignettes:
A burly builder calling to children through the orange plastic of a safety fence –“Psst! Hey, fancy a fag little ‘un?” A year six teacher being harangued in the playground by the head, while behind her, the class continued swinging from scaffolding and jumping across uneven planks. “No, no, Miss Franklyn, you may not use the scaffolding as extra P.E. equipment!” A group of smaller children huddled around a pile of precious objects on the floor in a swapping circle. “I’ll swop you three nails for that Stanley knife blade.” The confused supply teacher, leading his class to assembly across the building site. “No-one is to touch the oil burners! Joshua! Come out ofthat cement mixer, we’ll be late for assembly!”
Fortunately, due to the impressive foresight of Ms Prove’s Health and Safety policy it was unlikely that any of these scenes would shift into reality. Indeed, it could be argued, Tom mused, as he heard the first footfalls of his class break into the corridor, that it was unlikely that the children would even be able to see a builder – unless they had 20:20 vision and a clear line of sight. Before Tom King could consider the tone heeded to relay the important information to the children, without instilling a pathological fear of scaffolding, an all too familiar sound began to cut through the cloakroom hubbub and banter. Someone was crying. A whisper of inevitability passed across Tom’s mind as he went out to see who it was.
Patrick Thompson was surrounded by three other children. One had their arm cast about his left shoulder while the other two stood, hands in pockets, staring at him, bending their heads forward so that they could see Patrick Thompson’s downturned face. Tears were spotting on the grey-flecked lino and Pat’s shoulders were rising and falling with his shuddering breaths.
“O.k. folks, in you go.” Mr King placed a guiding hand on the two onlooker’s heads and sent them in the direction of the classroom door. He listened for a moment to George Storrington’s garbled account of what had happened to Pat before assuring him that he, Mr King, would talk to Pat now. He thanked George for being a good friend. While George reluctantly unwound his arm from Pat’s shoulder he gave him a very mature look of concern and said
“Don’t worry Pat. We’ll get you sorted out.”
“See Mrs Moore George, will you? Tell her I’ll be in in a minute.” It was a constant source of gratitude within Tom that he had been placed, by some heavenly direction, with the ultimate in Teaching assistants, Mrs Joy Moore. At least he could take time now to speak with Pat and know that his class would, for the most part, be engaged in meaningful activity while he got to the bottom of this latest chapter in Patrick Thompson’s sometimes awkward wrestle with the realities of life.
“So Pat, tell me what happened.”
“It was…it was Thomas and Joshua. They…they…” The thought of what Thomas and Joshua had done proved too much and Patrick gave himself over to loud sobs again. Placing himself in the firing line of the now projectile teardrops, Tom crouched on the floor and looked up into Pat’s red face. “They didn’t believe me, Mr King. “
“Didn’t believe you about what, Pat?” Asked Tom, although the whisper of inevitability had become a more opaque sense of dread that now pulled up a chair in his mind and began shouting the answer across to him.
“They…they said. They said if I was the son of god…then…then god…must be stupid.”
“Oh Pat.” Tom’s arm seemed to raise up all by itself and, against all protocol, placed itself warmly on Pat’s still shuddering shoulder. Just as Tom was reviewing the first line of what should have been their lunchtime conversation, Patrick continued with something that even Tom’s sense of dread hadn’t seen coming. It sat up and took more notice as Patrick recalled –
“They…they said I had to prove it. I had to…do something.”
“O.k. What did they ask you to do?” Asked Tom, with an inward wince.
“They said I had to jump off something high. Something tall like the top of the Big Climbing Frame.”
“And you did?”
“Yes. I hurt my knee and they…they all started laughing at me.”
“But Pat, you know you’re not allowed on the Key Stage two equipment.” Tom knew he was stalling, doing the teacher-speak, preoccupied with rotas and permissions, but it was giving him a chance to consider how he was actually going to handle this. First, Pat ought to be checked for any permanent damage. He must check who was on duty and find out what they saw or had been told. Next, any eye witnesses would need to be questioned carefully so he could ascertain exactly what had happened. Then, to ‘have a chat’ with Thomas T and Joshua G from Class 3. It was Tom and Gerry, as they were known in the Staffroom, no doubt. It sounded like just their style. Ridicule and teasing coupled with self–abasement on the part of their victims. And finally, the ‘phone call to Mr and Mrs Thompson, and probably a long and exhausting discussion over all that had happened so far. Well, that was the end of any afternoon break for Tom. He would probably have to ask the wonderful Mrs Moore to take story time too.
“Pat, you know…” Just in time, Tom managed to pull up from telling Pat that Jesus had been challenged in the same way, although admittedly using a building higher than the Year Six ‘activity center’, on the grounds that it might encourage comparisons. “You know, um, some people don’t like hearing things that they don’t understand.” Tom mollified. He began to think that he could see a way to steer his comments towards the need for tolerance on both sides of a situation when his ears picked out another familiar sound. The tripping of a certain pair of heels coming closer along the corridor behind him. Ms Prove.
“Ah, Tom, ah, Mr King. I see you are with Patrick already. Good. Now, come with me Pat. That’s it, wipe your nose. Thank you. Now, Mr King is going to go back to class and you can tell me all about it. Perhaps I will see you at break Mr King?”
“Uh, yes. Yes of course. O.k. Pat. Off you go.”
Tom held the smile on his face as he turned to his room but took a moment before stepping back through the door. There could be no doubt. The words ‘you can tell me all about it’ had been accompanied by a very definite look. A look aimed straight at Tom. Thomas King had, admittedly, had relatively little to do directly with Ms Prove since his arrival at St. Annes. But he was aware of that look. It had not been a friendly glance – it had been a Prove special, reserved for only the most wayward of staff.
“Oh boy,” he thought. “This could get messy.