Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rewards Day

It was “Army Day” today: four coach-loads of youngsters from the Knowledge College headed for Catterick army base in North Yorkshire - together with four coach-loads from every other school in Yorkshire.

This was a rewards trip: only the best behaved youngsters in school were able to go.

It rained heavily all day.

“And this” my wife said as I left home “is a rewards trip for good behaviour? A day with the army in the pouring rain!”

It was an inauspicious start. The date coincided with a national science exam for Yr9 so my coach couldn’t leave until 10.30.

“You’ll just have enough time to get there and It’ll be time to come home.” Quipped our driver unhelpfully.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

Actually it took 70 minutes which was quite good. Most of the girls on my coach spent the entire journey applying make-up and doing their hair, seemingly oblivious to the true nature of the destination’s activities.

“It’s raining.” says the soldier who greets us, rather unnecessarily. (One wondered if he might be from the Intelligence Corps.) “Because of the rain the following activities are cancelled: zip wire, assault course, parachute display, motorcycle display etc. etc. Have a good day”

“Oh good.” I think “Not just wet teenagers but bored, disappointed wet teenagers.”

As we disembark from the coach in our wet-weather gear we are met by a stream of bedraggled youth in vest-tops and cut-off shorts heading through the marsh - laughingly referred to as the coach-park - towards their coaches. (Who in their right mind comes for a day out with the army in the rain in designer beachwear?)

That bodes well. Smile and keep saying “I am having a wonderful time.”

We enter the grounds negotiating groups of sullen hooded smokers. We agree the meeting point and time and the kids are off, scattered to the four winds. The teachers, on the other hand, are ushered into a large marquee where we are treated to the best of army field catering. Jagtar and I join the queue in some anticipation: a Christian and a Sikh on a day trip. He has the lasagne and I have the curry, which tickles my sense of the absurd.

Regular readers may remember that Jagtar and I are something of a school trip double-act: See Here

We sit there warm and dry and eat royally.

Every once in a while, like something out of a Victorian novel, a forlorn face appears at the marquee’s window, rain dripping from hair and nose into a soggy bag of chips, shivering and blue.

“It’s payback time” said a teacher from another school, a tad harshly, I thought.

“I know” said his colleague. “I feel guilty…. but if I concentrate it passes.”

“If you were a character from Dickens,” I ponder, “which one would you be?”

Our staff, on the other hand, are up and off as soon as we have finished eating. No hanging around in the warm dry like those wimps for us. No, we are going out in the rain to show solidarity with our kids.

“Are there any teachers here from Wakefield High School?” booms a policeman who has materialised in our midst. Not, it seems, that anyone is prepared to admit but we are all very keen to hear that back story.

Jagtar and I set off on a tour of the displays stopping every once in a while to take photos: Jagtar and a tank, me and a helicopter; Jagtar with a gun, me with a bigger gun.

(I was thinking I might put the photo of Jagtar on the staff noticeboard with the caption “Mr Lally at his first meeting of the behaviour working party.”)

Every once in a while we encounter one of our pupils. This isn’t hard as every one else seems to have given up and gone home. Our kids are made of sterner stuff. One boy in a vibrant pink hoodie done up tightly under the chin and his hands hidden up his sleeves points at some kids from another school.

“He called me a poof.” He jumps up and down indignantly, waving the pink flaps at the end of his arms. “He called me a poof.”

I notice it is raining slightly less.

Most of the army personnel look dejected. I engage one young squaddie in conversation. He jumps up and stands to attention to speak to me. Much impressed I look around. There is not one pupil in sight to witness the way a teacher should be addressed. They are, I later learn, too busy paintballing.

Jagtar and I wander into a careers guidance tent.

“Go on.” Says Jagtar “Ask someone.”

He is referring to the conversation about Army Chaplaincy we had been having where I was bemoaning the fact that I was too old for such a career change.

“There is no age limit.” The senior looking soldier I speak to says authoritatively. (I had been told it was 45) “It depends on fitness and qualifications…oh and…er…whether you are…er…religious and …er…..”

“Ordained?” I suggest

“That’s the one. You know I’ve never been asked that before.”

I feel strangely satisfied by that. Glad to be of help.

“Handing in your notice?” asks Jagtar.

“Don’t tempt me. One more set of reports to write and I might just.”

The journey home is uneventful. The kids have been great all day: no moans, excellent behaviour and lots of animated chat about what they did.

The coach steams up and there is a strong smell – rather like wet dog but with added hormones. I can’t help but note that the girls who had spent so much time doing their makeup and hair on the way up are liberally daubed with camouflage paint, have straw in their hair and that their trousers have soaked up water to the knee. They are all giddy with excitement.

“Are we nearly there yet?”