“With my remaining budget I would like some AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I can do my job” I said. It was 1st May.

“Ok” said my line manager.

“I’ll order them” said the finance officer.

In June my batteries hadn’t arrived.

“I need AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I can do my job” I said.

“Ok” said my line manager.

“Your budget has been requisitioned to pay for photocopying over spends in other departments” said the finance officer.

“Can you teach a club in the summer holidays” asked another teacher.

“If you can get me some AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I can do my job” I said.

“Ok” she said.

“I’ll order them” said the finance officer.

In August my batteries hadn’t arrived.

“They appear to be held back till September” said the finance officer.

“Ok” I said “but I do need some AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I can do my job”.

In September a big box came from the company that was going to supply the AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I can do my job. Inside were some glue sticks and a note which said: “we are unable to supply the AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so that you can do your job.”

“Ok” I said and went to the big Sainsbury’s on my way home to pay for them with my own money.

The big Sainsbury’s on my way home didn’t have any AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I could do my job.

“Sorry” said the lady on the help desk.

“Ok” I said and went to the bigger Asda on my way home.

The bigger Asda didn’t have any AA rechargeable batteries for the set of small compact digital cameras to work so I could do my job.

“Ok” I said and went to the small Sainsbury’s near my home.

They had AA batteries.

“Thank fuck for that” I said.

I am in Asda doing the weekly shop.

As the GrapeFruit puts the food onto the conveyor belt three bottles of locally brewed ale reach the checkout and the awkward pimply till worker asks hesitantly:

“Now for the embarrassing part. Do you have any ID?”

I smile and produce my wallet. Looking at him a little incredulously I produce my driving licence.

“I’m 31” I point out but I am thinking: you may notice I have grown a beard and developed some white hairs since this photo was taken.

The till worker looks imploringly at the (27-year-old) GrapeFruit.

“I haven’t got my purse with me” she says.

“I’m sorry” says the till worker but it’s a group policy, I can’t serve you the alcohol.

“She’s not buying it” I point out. “I am.”

“I can’t – it’s the policy.” He says.

Realising it will be pointless to reason with him I tell him “Get me your supervisor.”

A middle-aged woman with grey hair arrives accompanied by a hunched silent younger woman with lank dark hair.

“What seems to be the problem?” She asks.

I recall the discussion to date and point out that I am demonstrably old enough to have a teenage child of my own. “You serve parents with their children who are clearly bellow 18 but you won’t serve someone with their partner who is clearly over 18.”

“The policy is Challenge 25” the supervisor tells me.

“Yes” I say, “to ensure those under the age of 18 are not buying cheap cider to drink in public places and cause a nuisance. Look at what I am wanting to buy: three weak locally brewed pale ales. The whole point is to ensure compliance with the law, which is that you need to be over 18 to buy alcohol.”

“But if he [the supervisor gestures towards the pimply till worker] sold you the alcohol and she [the supervisor gestures towards the GrapeFruit] is under 18 then he would be liable for a fine”. The supervisor counters.

“No!” I tell her. “If he sold me the alcohol, a 31-year-old with proof of age, and I were to pass it directly to someone under the age of 18 then I would be liable for the fine.” I unleash the devastating logic of my position: “One. If I wanted to purchase alcohol for a teenager I wouldn’t bring them with me to the till would I? Two. If I had left my girlfriend in the car we would not be having this discussion. Three. If I wasn’t making a fuss and had meekly returned my ales I could quite simply take them to another checkout whilst my girlfriend packs the car and purchase them unimpeded.” And then to crown my reasonable argument I tell them: “Four. As a teacher you are essentially accusing me of having relations with someone youthful enough to be one of my own students. You are suggesting that I am a paedophile.”

“I’m sorry” says the grey haired supervisor “but I have to support my colleagues decision.”

“Get the store manager” I tell her.

We await the arrival of the store manager. The supervisor suggests to the till worker to complete the scanning of the rest of our shopping. I am thinking about the prejudice the GrapeFruit constantly encounters. She is young-looking and does a professional job. Until they get to know her, people often underestimate or patronise her. What is really annoying me though is the failure of the supervisor to see reason.

“What school do you work at?” The till-worker tries to make small talk.

I tell him but I don’t want to speak to him. The GrapeFruit makes to put the bags in the trolley but I stay her hand and leave them packed at the end of the till. There is a lot of food, this has been a big shop.

The woman with lank dark hair shifts nervously. We wait.

When the store manager arrives I explain the situation as articulately as possible though I know that by now I am becoming annoyed.

The store manager nods, smiles and says things like “I understand your point of view” and “yes that’s quite true…”

Perhaps logic will prevail I wonder.

“…but I must uphold the decision of my colleagues.”

“Even though it’s clearly wrong?” I ask.

“I must uphold the decision of my colleagues” she repeats.

“Then you can keep this” I tell her and with a flourish I pick up each bag by it’s base and theatrically tip out the contents into a mound onto the counter.

The store manager looks surprised. “Are you angry?” She asks.

“I am furious!” I snap and walk off with the trolley to get my pound back, incensed but also somehow delighted.

 

The year 11’s are leaving today.

“Did you hear about ‘NearbySchool’?” another teacher asks me.

“No” I say.

“They set off the fire alarms and then pelted the teachers with eggs when they did the fire drill.”

I agree that this is shocking news.

“The police were called” the other teacher tells me.

I have double year 11 in the morning. These are going to be the last lessons of their life at school, should I be more nervous I wonder? Everyone has a story about when they left school. Some teachers buy cake but this year I figure they owe me cake for troubleshooting them a GCSE in two terms. Instead they come in high spirits with their shirts covered in autographs. Some of the girls are wearing obscenely short skirts. Soon I am inundated with requests to fill in leaving books and sign clothing. I make a mental note to hide my board pens next year.

“Can you sign my blouse?” Asks one sixteen year old girl coyly, wearing bright red lipstick, a moustache drawn in black board pen and suspender elastic clipped between her skirt and thigh high stockings. As I write my name on her shoulder she adds: “and I want a kiss”. I duly write an ‘X’ after my name and instantly worry that this was inappropriate.

Meanwhile the class want group photos so I set up a mini studio using a paper roll backdrop and studio flash lights.

“If you’re going to have group photos you’re going to have well-lit group photos” I tell them.

They want me to join them and I stand deadpan feeling awkward before pouting outrageously just as the image is taken, which gets a laugh. They carry on shooting and I sit and observe the new generation about to enter adulthood. Many of them have phalluses drawn on their shirts. Phalluses and swastikas. As I watch a boy walks into the classroom wearing a homemade swastika armband feeling pleased with himself. Very quietly and politely I tell him to take it off. My class stop their chatter, the students are still and the boy meekly obeys.

“What’s wrong?” asks one of my students.

“You don’t get it do you.” I say. “Cover them up” I order, and they put on school blazers. There is the atmosphere of a joke gone wrong. They shift about guiltily.

Slowly they begin to talk again amongst themselves. The head-teacher arrives with some project marks for me and is swamped by students asking her to sign their shirts. As she edges closer to the door she tells a particularly troublesome student: “out of everybody I think you’ve come the furthest.”

The student looks sceptical.

“I mean it, you’ve really grown and developed since you’ve been with us.”

“Really?” She asks

“Really” the head replies and writes on her shirt “you’re a star”

The student looks elated and the head draws a six point motif of interlocking triangles.

‘When I worked for Jessops camera shops at the time of the digital revolution I replaced a man who had developed such a severe tick he was rubbing himself through the shoulders of his shirts at a rate of one a fortnight. Eventually he locked himself in the toilet and wouldn’t come out. Weak, I thought; feeble-minded.’ I am sat down at the Maths table in the staff room and the conversation has turned to the topic of ‘stress’. ‘But now I have term time eczema’ I confide, expecting my colleagues to share my less empathetic youthful mindset.

They don’t, instead there is a hubbub of understanding. It would appear many teachers have stress related illnesses.

I have had mild eczema once before, and to begin with this time round I thought it was just a case of not washing the shampoo soap off from around my ankles after a shower. The eczema vanished two or three days into the holidays and I thought nothing much of it, until within 24 hours of being back at school my skin was itching again. This has been the pattern ever since. I don’t feel feeble-minded. Why does this happen?

Conventional wisdom has it that a stressful job is one characterised by a high degree of pressure and responsibility, but research shows that this is incorrect. Stress at work more closely corresponds to an imbalance between ‘the psychological demands of work on the one hand and the degree of control over work on the other… It is the combination of high demand and low control.’ This way of conceptualising work stress was first developed by Robert Karasek and Töres Theorell, and is referred to either as the Karasek model or the demand- control model.

In teaching we are routinely in possession of the most treasured thing a person has ever had – their child. The government think that by teachers getting children GCSE’s at A*-C grades then the children will be better prepared for work and adulthood. The government pressures the heads and the heads pressure the department heads and so-on down the chain until the most able pupils who are most sensitive to pressure turn anorexic. The demands on art teachers are high enough that, even going beyond the micromanagement of ‘creativity’ where the teacher will direct word for word & brush stroke by brush stroke (literally) the activity of their incapable scholars, I have heard more than one story of the master making the work for their pupils on Personal Development days or in holidays! If you are of the caring disposition and want the very best for your pupils regardless of any work-life balance, or if you are a competitive person who just wants to do better than the next person, then the self demands can be even higher than the external demands.

‘Control’ is a more complex business. A good teacher will always have good class control, but even the best teacher cannot control the dispositions of all their pupils. By dispositions I mean the desire to learn, the independence to drive an idea, the willingness to respond to feedback. You can enthuse some, but you can never enthuse them all. This is compounded in Art in all it’s endorsements because at A2 level the mark criteria demands students produce ‘purposeful ideas independently with perseverance and enthusiasm’ for even a low C grade. You don’t teach that- you engender it over a prolonged period from a young age. If you are doing A level and cannot pursue an idea, even with clear direction and guidance, because you are too lazy to do any work then it is too late for the teacher to teach that. You learn those skills in year 7 by doing your homework to the best of your ability and handing it in on time every week. So with the best subject knowledge and people management skills in the world a teacher has no control over their student’s independence, otherwise it wouldn’t be independence would it?

Researchers suggest that ‘crucial to all social relationships is a sense of reciprocity. One- way relationships are likely to be a source of stress.’ It is a combination of high effort without appropriate reward that is stressful. High effort by itself is not stressful. Whilst teaching Art I have found students who receive feedback, direction and instruction and make little or no effort to respond to it to be the most infuriating thing in the world. Even more infuriating than the ongoing genocide in south Sudan – which shows how utterly without perspective I am. The utter frustration of a perfectly capable person repeatedly ignoring your work to improve their own grade is the source of most of my bile.

It is the next morning and as I furiously scratch my shins whilst putting on my socks, I think back to when I had eczema in the past and realise it was when I did my own A level exams.

‘This is how people lose their jobs’ I tell my year 13’s. Oddly Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ expulsion from Eton is in the back of my mind.

‘Oh Sir!’ They protest. ‘It’ll only be a little explosion. Please!’ They plead.

‘Oh go on then – I never liked this job anyway.’ I acquiesce wearily. ‘But get some safety goggles from science- I don’t want anyone blinded by debris, and you have to clean it up. All of it.’ I add.

Minutes later my upper sixth boys are set up in the darkroom: a studio flash unit is connected to a sound trigger. Both the microphone and the light are pointing at an apple with the hole bored out of it filled with a Belgian cracker. A camera sits on a tripod.

‘Use the honey comb on the light and a reflector on the other side,’ I suggest ‘and make sure you shut the doors first.’

I blame myself. A science co-project with one of my art students which involved building and exploding home-made explosives to expel plaster from a baseboard has put pyrotechnics at the underdeveloped-risk-assessment-frontal-lobes of my teenage boys imaginations.

I am part way through a tutorial when there is an almighty BANG that rattles all the windows. I put my head around the door.

‘That was a test to see how long the fuse was’ they tell me. There is a piece of smoldering paper on the floor with a hole blown out the middle of it.

‘Ok’ I say ‘perhaps you could give us a bit more warning before the next one’. They show me the image. ‘Loose the paper background’ I tell them, ‘it looks too messy’.

I resume my tutorial when five minutes later a shout of ‘fire in the hole!’ is followed by another almighty BANG and the sounds of teenage boys giggling ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’I stick my head around the door.

‘The apple just disintegrated!’ They tell me.

‘Did you get the shot?’ I ask.

‘Yeah! It looks awesome!’

And to be fair it does look awesome.

‘Lets blow up a banana!’ someone suggests.

‘I’m not having banana mulch all over my darkroom’ I tell them.

‘We should have bought a melon!’

Instead they try a couple more apples with great success and then it is break time and they still need to pack away. I give them dish-cloths.

‘Done it!’ They tell me a minute later trying to escape.

‘I doubt it’ I say ushering them back into the darkroom where chunks of apple still lie in the corners and behind the enlarger timers.

I am enjoying Umberto Eco’s book ‘On Ugliness’ at the moment with much the same perverse fascination as a sixteenth century lynch mob at a murder trial but without the hysteria and body odour. If the patronage of postwar femininity seems faintly comical to modern sensibilities then the misogyny of the anti-woman tradition found in the writings of Rustico di Filippo, Burchiello and Giovanni Boccaccio in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries feels genuinely shocking. This misogyny, the demonisation (literally) of one’s enemies which took place following the reformation and the fascination of James I with witchcraft (during his late years in Scotland and early reign in England) served to inform my understanding of the English Touring Theatre’s excellent production of Howard Brenton’s ‘Anne Boleyn’.

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In this production all power rests with the King and the source of Anne’s authority stems solely from her ability to influence Henry with ‘the charms of her sex’ (Steele). However the play is more interested in Boleyn’s religion than her sexuality and refers to the public perception found in Sanders allegation of six fingers and the accusations that linked her miscarriages to witchcraft. Witchcraft, it occurred to me, is an indictment so exclusively leveled at women that the word itself precludes male consideration. To this day ‘warlock’ seems an uncommon term for an eccentric character in a Harry Potter book whilst the female equivalent maintains it’s connotations of the diabolical.

When Margaret Thatcher died her most vitriolic opponents chose ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ as their ditty. Whatever your opinions of Thatcher’s politics this is a particularly anti-female choice of song I think as I put on a pair of bright pink socks.

Having had a birthday recently I am currently well stocked with brightly coloured socks which instantly reveal my mood to colleagues (blue and grey for Mondays, yellow and pink for Fridays). As it is a midweek day I am choosing which colour to opt for, and knowing I will probably be called to account for my decision, my thoughts drift to the topic of ‘banter’.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary ‘banter’ is a word derived from London street slang in the 1670’s. Historically ‘banter’ had to do with the edifying effects of gentle joshing and in-jokes. Good banter keeps the mighty humble whilst signaling the intimacy of friendship. However in recent times ‘banter’ has come to be used as a euphemism for hurtfully taking-the-piss and the comedic cat fighting of panelists on quiz shows.

For banter to work between a student and a teacher there has to be mutual respect. Recently the habitual deadpan eating of fruit outside the classroom door by one of my more able students as he awaits the start of lessons has turned into an ongoing joke also mocking the conventions of YBA video art (‘Ben Eating a Banana, 4 minutes 32 seconds’). It has also generated a series of enigmatic installations left suspended around the classroom for me to find with the remnant cores or skins and an oblique handwritten message loosely ‘inspired’ by Alexandra Bircken’s ‘Unit 3’.

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As it happens I have an ongoing research interest in the remnants of fruit and the creative mediation of local environments and am accordingly delighted. Mocking the pretentiousness in modes of art has ironically generated it’s own content.

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I pick up a green pair of socks.

We arrive and pull up outside the front entrance.

‘Where’s the car park?’ I ask the doorman.

‘It’s valet parking’ he says.

‘Sure’ I reply.

‘It’s twenty-six pounds a night?’ He states inquiringly.

‘That’s fine’ I say with faux insouciance.

We start to unload and I work out the car resale value is only worth about three weeks parking. At this point I wish that all my stuff was in one easy to manage bag and not four bags, a suit carrier, a loose pair of boots and a coat.

‘You can leave that in the car’ I say gesturing at the suit carrier.

‘Are you sure?’ asks the porter raising an eyebrow.

‘Sure’ I say.

Another porter comes to take the car away. ‘I bet you’ve driven better’ I say, embarrassed enough by my car to pre-empt his judgement.

‘I’ve driven all sorts in my time’ says the porter, judging me for feeling as if he would judge me by my car.

At the reception desk the lady speaks quickly.

‘Would you like to upgrade to one of the sea view rooms for twenty-five pounds?’ She asks.

‘No’ I answer – the parking still fresh in my mind. I can feel the grape fruit pause behind me.

We get our key to room 501. There are tables for dinner free before 8 o’clock- I think.

‘Will you be spending any money with us whilst you’re here?’ She asks.

‘Probably.’ I reply, thinking of Thénardier from Les Miserables.

hotel mirrors pay per view

‘I’m going to need a deposit from a credit or debit card of fifty pounds’ she tells me, ignoring any traces of sarcasm. ‘Anything you don’t spend will be refunded when you book out. Would you like a morning paper?’

‘Sure’ I say ‘a ‘Guardian’ would be nice’.

I sign for my key and she waves us in the direction of the lifts.

The lifts are remarkably well camouflaged and I walk straight past them before looking about in a slightly befuddled manner. To my relief the grape fruit has already spotted them. Inside the lift I realise I have no idea what floor our room is.

‘Fifth floor’ says the grape fruit patiently as my hand hovers over the buttons.

We reach our room which is very spacious and overlooks the hotel’s back side.

‘I’m wishing we had upgraded’ says the grape fruit looking out of the window.

‘We’re off first thing tomorrow, so you wouldn’t get a chance to see out of it anyway’ I say as she draws the curtains.

‘Fair point’ she agrees. ‘It’s nice.’ She reassures me whilst surveying the room itself.

I think she means ‘massive’. I’m also looking around the room. It is nice enough but there is nothing elegant about it. The corners seem to be chipped off all the furniture which is boxy and solid and there is a big can of shellac on the dressing room table. The carpet is made up of two pieces and is discoloured at the join which runs though the middle of the room. The bed is enormous but turns out to have been made by putting two single mattresses together.

‘You’re splashing it.’ Says the grapefruit.

‘What makes you say that?’ I ask

‘Buying a paper’

‘I thought it was free. Lets get dressed for dinner.’

‘Table’s aren’t available till 8.’

‘I thought it was before 8.’

‘No dear’

‘Oh ok’

‘Where’s my dress?’

‘In the suit carrier.’

The grape fruit frowns. ‘Come on, let’s go for a walk’ she suggests.

There is a great pleasure to be found in deciphering the contextual links that inform creativity; when a writer makes an implicit cultural allusion and the twin points of connectivity are momentarily visibly bound, golden and clear like the thread of a spider’s web glinting between the twigs. In the lexicon  of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter for instance, there is firstly the cryptic language which rewards us this way, such as when we realise that ‘Diagon Alley’ is simply ‘diagonally’ divided. Then there are the names which are so obviously Dickensian in their synaesthetic qualities. Names borrowed from places: ‘Dudley’, ‘Chudleigh’, ‘Dursley’, ‘Flitwick’, ‘Snape’. Names borrowed from informal english: The bus driver ‘Ernie Prang’ (from the 1940‘s RAF slang for crash), Argus Filch (from the old english verb to steal). Names borrowed from language itself: The ugly thug ‘Goyle’ (from gargoyle), The Nimbus 2000 (from the Latin for ‘dark clouds’) And names borrowed from literary history: Padma & Parvati Patil (from Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnights Children’.)

Rowlings’ is a particularly magpie form of creativity. The boarding school book is a well established, if archaic, genre of British children’s fiction. Neither are schools of magic her invention- Jill Murphy’s ‘The Worst Witch’ series, in which a trio of friends conduct a rivalry with their ‘high born, snobbish and vindictive classmate’, have sold over 4 million copies since 1974. There are very few invented creatures in the Harry Potter series- phoenix’s, unicorns, elves, centaurs, basilisks, giants, goblins, banshies, pixies, gnomes, trolls, hippogriffs, dragons, mer people, werwolves, veelas (vila), banshees, vampires, boggarts and kelpie all are all creatures of folklore and legend. However all have been researched and processed through the filter of Rowlings’ own imagination, emerging transformed in the process. Giant spiders are surely derived from JRR Tolkien as are the  Dementors based on the Wraith. Whilst winged horses are a staple of Greek myth, Thestrals may relate to the story of ‘N’oun Doare’ (found in ‘Celtic Myths and Legends’ by Peter Berresford Ellis), in which a skeletal horse (‘The Mare of Doom’) magically transports its rider. Literature and pop culture informs many other aspects of the books too: the descriptions of sweets are clearly influenced by Roald Dahl (how could they not be) whilst the ‘Cockroach Clusters’ and the ‘Chocolate Frogs’ are supposedly derived from Monty Python. Hermione Granger must owe something to Rowling’s favourite Simpson: Lisa, and Rowling has herself alluded to ‘Brewster’s dictionary of Phrase & Fable’ and Culpeper’s ‘Complete Herbal and English Physician’ as sources of reference.

I would like to suggest one further, and hitherto unmentioned, source of inspiration to Rowlings’ oeuvre. It was as I read ‘Picadilly Jim’ by that most British of authors, PG Wodehouse that there began to grow in me a gnawing belief: here was the source for Alastair ‘Mad Eye’ Moody. The novels of PG Wodehouse in themselves have surely been highly influential to the Harry Potter series with their tight interconnected plotting, comical characterisation, the frequent assuming of different identities and oft misunderstandings. The Gryffindor common room with its roaring fire, easy chairs and studious atmosphere breaking out into anarchy must owe something to the Drones Club.

In ‘Picadilly Jim’ Miss Trimble is a private investigator, ju-jitsu master, one time vaudeville strong woman and an expert revolver shot. When she is hired by Mrs Pett, the autocratic aunt matriarch of the title character, we finally meet her:

‘She was a stumpy, square-shouldered person… she had thick eyebrows, from beneath which small glittering eyes looked out like dangerous beasts in undergrowth. And the impressive effect of these was accentuated by the fact, that while the left eye looked straight out at it’s object the right eye had a sort of roving commission and now was, while its colleague fixed Mrs Pett with a gimlet stare, examining the ceiling… her nose was stubby and aggressive and her mouth had the coldly forbidding look of the closed door of the subway express when you have just missed the train… a female of the species so much deadlier than any male whom she had ever encountered.’

by zipadeedoodle

It transpires that this eye has a spry life of its own, actively surveying the room whilst she conducts her interviews. Her personality, complete with regional accent, is brusque and unsentimental. As I read on I grew more and more convinced, the golden spiders web was glimmering, and then at the dénouement Miss Trimble’s ‘left eye was now like the left eye of a basilisk’ and I was certain I could perceive that thin silken strand linking from one character to the other through history.

‘Sir. I have a pheasant.’

A sixth former is stood at the door of my year 7 PSHEEEEE class looking pleased with himself. My class are totally silent, listening in.

‘Where?’ I ask

‘In this bag.’ He gestures towards a large plush paper shopping bag with a glamourous black and white photograph of pouting models printed on the sides from which protrude the scaly feet of a male game bird and a large brown stripey feather.

‘Epic!’ I exclaim. Behind me I can hear my class giggle. ‘Did you buy it?’

‘No my Dad found it actually, it’s been hit by a car but it’s totally unmarked.’

I agree to help him photograph it during the next period (one of my three non-contact hours a week to do all my marking and planning in) and turn back to my twelve-year olds.

‘What was funny?’ I ask

‘You said ‘epic’!’ They tell me.

‘What’s wrong with the adjective ‘epic’?’ I ask.

A boy puts his hand up. ‘Only chavs say ‘epic!’’ he tells me.

‘Are you saying I’m a chav!’ I ask in mock confrontational annoyance.

‘Oooooohhhh’ Say the class to emphasis the point.

I laugh.

Period two we set up the photo shoot with the pheasant on some paper and clear acrylic balanced between two tables (which allows us to put a studio flash unit underneath and light it from below as if on a giant light-box). Above it, like a Spielberg spaceship, hovers a large soft-box filling in the detail.

‘Look at the colours there!’ I say pointing to the oil blues and greens shimmering on the breast feathers.

‘Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it? Beautiful plumage!’ Says my sixth former.

‘What are you going to do with it after?’ I ask. ‘Eat it?’

‘Don’t really know?’ He says ‘I have double science next and I don’t really want to have to carry it around with me.’

‘I would offer to put it in the fridge in the staffroom’ I tell him ‘except that there’s probably a highly strung vegan teacher somewhere who’ll go to get their low-fat soya milk out and object.’

‘I don’t have any moral objection to eating it’ he says, ‘but I don’t really want it.’

‘I tell you what’ I say ‘leave it with me.’

By now the bell has gone and we are rushing to finish packing away. I add the bag with the Pheasant in to my luggage and scurry over to the lower school to teach year 7 art.

My year 7 art class are languishing outside the door when I arrive.

‘What’s in the bag?’ They ask as soon as they have entered quietly and sat down.

I have put three bags on the desk.

‘That one’s where I keep my pens and pencils’ I say pointing to a satchel ‘and that one’s where I keep my detention essays’ I say pointing to a boxy over-night bag.

‘Nooooo – the other one!’ Beg the class.

‘This one?’ I say obtusely pointing to a nearby PE bag that hasn’t been put away properly.

‘Nooooo – the other one!’ they agonise.

‘Like the reason for Michael Gove’s ongoing employment-’ I tell them ‘-it is a mystery. Have  a guess.’

Hands shoot up like fourteen year olds on a growth spurt. ‘Is it chocolate?’

‘Do I look like Willy Wonka?’

‘Is it a camera?’

‘No. I’ll give you a clue. It’s to do with this terms project.’

‘Is it a quince?’

‘I like your thinking, but no.’

‘Is it a lobster?’

‘Close but no Chardin. It’s a Pheasant.’ I cut short their enquiries and extract the dead bird from it’s mobile coop as if it were a rabbit in a top hat.

They gather round the middle table and we look at it together. They want to know how it died and can they touch it? I point out to them the spurs it uses for fighting. We look at the different sorts of feathers, their patterns ‘like pinecones’ and colours ‘like petrol in puddles’. Then, those that want to, queue up to touch it and wash their hands whilst those that don’t move the tables into two large groups. In the middle of one is the Pheasant and on the other a multi layered array of kettles and bottles. The class divides itself organically into half depending on what they want to draw and we discuss how to start, using charcoal and chalk.

Lunchtime back in the art department office TheFutureA2A* knocks on the door.

‘Sir… are you going to want the pheasant… or can I use it?’

‘Depends what you want it for?’ I answer. ‘I might want to eat it.’ (Plus I have half an eye on the feathers.)

‘Skin it, cut out the breast and throw the rest away’ advises a nearby colleague .

‘I want to freeze it in a huge block of ice’ says TheFutureA2A*. ‘I’ve been experimenting with different sorts of water to see how clear it goes.’

‘Your poor mother’ I tell him.