0-60 in a matter of seconds

My husband and his family have been staunch followers of Formula 1 for as long as I can remember, and my sister-in-law has even gone as far as to dabble in the world of motorsport herself. As for me, I’m more of a footie fan, liking nothing more than to be able to settle down to a tense match where the action is ‘end to end’, the stakes are high and where the goal tally is (preferably) even higher!

However, whilst I have absolutely no interest in watching a series of emaciated looking cars (that don’t even have room for the weekly grocery shop, let alone the kids’ bikes) race relentlessly around a track, I will at least admit to being quietly impressed by the capabilities of the modern-day racing car. I gather, for example, that cars have been known to reach 0-60 mph in as little as 1.6 seconds, although I am reliably informed that 2.1-2.7 seconds would be a more typical range. Nonetheless, these are impressive figures – by any standards!

As tends to be the way with most things in life though, context is (of course) everything! After all, a child’s proclivity for achieving ‘naught to hangry’ (in the few short seconds that he or she has been made to wait for nourishment) doesn’t quite hold the same appeal, somehow.

And neither (frankly) did my own experience, just a few weeks ago…  

A group of children were gathered around a noticeboard upon which was written the names of the three school ‘houses’. A discussion was ensuing about the house leaders (all much-valued colleagues of mine) and the qualities that they each brought to their role. Words such as ‘competitive’, ‘funny’, and ‘encouraging’ all featured quite liberally and the inevitable analogies with Hogwarts were being made. As I deftly moved the children in the direction of their next lesson, I was inevitably asked about my own allegiances and, fully prepared for this eventuality, I did my best to exude an enviable mix of loyalty and diplomacy. So far, so good.

As we rounded the next corner though, the conversation moved seamlessly on to why two (out of the three house leaders) were members of the sports department, and the other was not. I explained that since many of the inter-house competitions were of a sporting nature, this was fairly standard in schools and that the ‘third’ member of staff was, in fact, a keen sportswoman herself, and that her infectious enthusiasm was more than compensation for any lack of specific sporting qualification. As a future member of the diplomatic corps, I was looking indomitable!

And that is when the conversation went from 0-awkward, in a matter of seconds.

In no time at all, I found myself fiercely defending the physique of the afore mentioned ‘keen sportswoman’, firmly pointing out that very few of us browbeaten teachers were any longer ‘in our prime’, and that what the teacher in question lacked in Jessica Ennis style muscle tone, she more than made up for in youthful exuberance.

Now, having spent a significant proportion of my adult life in sedentary jobs (and carrying a fair amount of excess weight) the response I received next was most unexpected…

Having been subjected to a cursory visual inspection from head to toe, I was then informed (rather candidly) that I was:

“in pretty good condition actually, Miss….”
(I felt myself stand just that little bit taller – the decision to start running in my mid-forties had clearly been one of my better ones.)

“…well, for your age, anyway!”
(Ouch! Children can be so cruel…)

After the gorillas

Anyone who works in a school will know that Christmas (out of necessity) comes incredibly early each year. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely rather Grinch-like in my approach to the festive season, and I really don’t enjoy being bombarded with (often rather alarming) statistics about the rapidly decreasing number of sleeps until a certain event! For me personally, Christmas begins once all of the end of term performances have been successfully completed, the parents have been reminded of the exceptional power of music to genuinely move them, and the children have experienced that tremendous sense of satisfaction gained from knowing that they have been part of something special.

Having entered the final stages of the Autumn Term once more, I found myself reminiscing about the run-up to Christmas some 17 years ago. 

I had just joined the staff as Director of Music, and I was ultimately keen to make my mark. I had put together an ambitious programme for the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols, organised a concert for our junior instrumentalists and (rather foolishly) decided that I could also fit in a performance of Herbert Chappell’s ‘The Christmas Jazz’ courtesy of our Year 3 pupils. Rookie error!

Well, the rehearsals had been something of a struggle (largely because I had grossly overestimated the ability of 7- and 8-year old children to commit large amounts of song lyrics to memory) and I found myself taking the dress rehearsal and genuinely wondering if we would make it safely from start to finish.

I had started by instructing the children that we needed to run through the whole work without stopping, and that they should be listening out for their cues, especially if they had a solo to perform. We had spoken (fairly exhaustively) about the need to learn their words (from the sheets which had been provided several weeks earlier) and to make sure that they knew where their part fitted in. Satisfied that we were all working to the same agenda, I took my place at the piano and looked up expectantly. Just as soon as most sets of eyes were looking in my direction (there’s always one, after all!) we began.

Everything started well. The young lady who was singing the opening solo did a fantastic job, and the rest of the year group joined in lustily for the first chorus. I began to relax. As we moved through some sizeable solos, all of the children seemed to have peaked at just the right time. I dared to hope that we were heading for chart topping success.

As we progressed through the performance, I sensed that we had company. Having furtively glanced behind me, I gleaned that the catering staff had emerged from the kitchens to listen and we had also been joined by the Headmaster. My desire for a smooth run instantly intensified.

With the cow, donkey, Mary and all three sheep having sailed through their respective solos it would soon all come down to the Wise Men. No less than 45 voices (potent in their sincerity) sang the ‘Gloria’ with gusto. And then… silence! Not a single Wise Man had sprung to his feet and, not for the first time that term, I began to wonder quite why I had entrusted such a crucial role to the three boys who (even now) seemed oblivious as to the reason why our dress rehearsal had spectacularly ground to a halt.  

Utterly incensed, I leapt to my feet. I glowered in the direction of the three boys and enquired (rather acerbically) as to why they weren’t singing their trio? With a look of absolute bewilderment, one of the boys responded: “Because it’s not our turn yet, Miss.” With a withering look, I asked when he thought it might be his turn – after all we were within a few bars of the grand finale…

He reached for his word sheet, referred to it quickly, and fixed me with a look of pure defiance:
“It says here that we sing after the gorillas, and they haven’t sung yet!” he stated. For once, I was speechless. Gorillas?? Certainly not a feature of any nativity scene that I had encountered!

As I summoned up the energy to point this out, the penny finally dropped… In actual fact, his word sheet bore the instruction that ‘the Wise Men sing immediately after the Gloria’ – with hindsight, possibly not the most helpful of directions for a 7-year old boy suffering from dyslexia! Feeling rather contrite, I went on to explain just where the misunderstanding had occurred (much to the amusement of the entire catering staff) and we tried that section again.

Thankfully, having cleared up any confusion, the performance later that week went well. However, when ‘Love Actually’ was released (just a couple of weeks later), I found myself chuckling about the much-coveted role of ‘1st lobster’ and thinking that a ‘Gorilla’ was perhaps not all that far-fetched after all!  

Is honesty always the best policy?

As a parent, I frequently find myself beseeching my children to be honest, but this is undeniably something that they still really struggle with. Despite my best efforts to reassure them that an honest account of what has taken place (rather than an elaborately woven web of deceit) is less likely to incur my wrath, limited progress has been made to date. In reality, they’ve simply transitioned from blatant ‘skin-saving’ lies, to an abject evasion of the facts!

Progress in the loosest possible sense then…

But as much as I wallow in feelings of inadequacy (and torment myself with the notion that I have obviously failed to earn their trust) I have seen ‘honesty’ from the other side too – and it does have its drawbacks.   

I had just started teaching, and so I was undoubtedly at the driven (i.e. utterly uncompromising) stage. Things were very much ‘black or white’ and (not yet having had to juggle kids, work, marriage etc) I expected 100% commitment from my pupils – and their parents!

The first concert of the academic year was looming, and all three choirs were to be involved. I had sent out letters (outlining the arrangements) and painstakingly worked out the seating positions for all concerned. Mindful of the fact that young children often require quite a lot of input (in terms of stage management), I had largely used the final rehearsal to (rather laboriously) practise filing on and off the ‘stage’ – to the point where even the most ‘distracted’ of characters knew exactly what was expected of them.

Having dismissed the children, I was just packing everything away when one little boy came hurtling back into the chapel, looking extremely agitated. (Such was the keenness of his discomfort, that I dispensed with the usual teacherly chastisements about running and / or remembering that we were in a place of worship!) Once he had caught his breath, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to make the concert, because his Mum had said that she wouldn’t be able to get him back to school in time. Well, to say that I was unimpressed would have been an understatement. All parents had had plenty of notice, after all, and what could be more pressing than hearing one’s son performing with his friends?

I fixed him with a Paddington-like stare and asked (rather acerbically) what his Mum would be doing instead. He promptly informed me that she was booked in to “have her bikini line waxed – at 4pm” and that he was “sorry“. Rather churlishly, and despite being momentarily wrong-footed, I grumbled that his Mum had chosen an unfortunate time to have this done. Not content to stop there, I also took it upon myself to point out that the concert didn’t start until 5.30pm and so it might still be possible for him to take part.

His response was priceless.

He looked at me (rather incredulously) and said, “Have you seen my Mum, Miss? It won’t be a quick thing. She’s got more hair than a Yak!”

I rest my case!