Saturday, 27 September 2008
I don't mind admitting that I was nervous on Thursday morning. I left full-time teaching in the summer of 2007, and my occasional forays back into teaching, at the insistence of Barclays Bank Plc, only ever involved going back to my old school to teach. As such, I was never the 'new teacher' or even more disturbingly, 'the student teacher'. This was different. I was going to a strange school as the lowest of the low, the agency-provided, faceless, nameless, paid-daily, kid-fodder, that was a short term supply teacher. What could I expect? After all, my old school was attended by pupils who hid behind the full-range of new-age, empowering, non-judgemental, alphabet excuses, namely:
EBD - Educational and Behavioural Difficulties
In the unenlightened period I was educated in, these children were wrongly split into two groups, both of which were negatively labelled.
Children with Educational Difficulties were known as Thickies, Remedials (and the derivatives 'Rems' and immediately following the film 'First Blood', 'Rembos'). They were largely unaware of these monikers as they were kept in a separate wing of the school and supervised by a retired PE teacher. They were occasionally seen and verbally assaulted by non-thickies, usually when 'helping Sir'. This entailed picking chewing gum off the underside of desks, putting old chairs in the school skip, or gathering food for the Rembo Room's Rabbit, which they had imaginatively named, 'Rabbit'.
Children with Behavioural Difficulties were known as Bad Kids. The Bad Kids were usually placated by being given free-rein in the workshop area and were rarely insulted by other pupils as, almost invariably, the top five hardest kids in the school were in the Bad Kid class. They deliberately misbehaved during the lessons that they decided to attend, although they seldom received the beatings other children, displaying similar, but uncharacteristic, behaviour, received.
ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder
ADHD is a term, I suspect, invented by the makers of the drug Ritalin. Prior to the advent of Ritalin, children exhibiting identical behaviour to ADHD were known as Mad Kids. Mad Kids were extensively provided for in the 1980's, with large Schools for Mad Kids (SMKs) appearing around the country. This was good and bad. The children in question may have had a more sympathetic education at an SMK, but it was always a great shame to see the departure of a favourite Mad Kid whose antics had just overstepped the SMK threshold. There was a fine line in those days between amusing an entire year, who had entreated one to show how strong one was by standing inside a kit bag and trying to lift oneself off the ground, and the arrival of the white van, after one had started whacking off enthusiastically in science, whilst singing 'This is the Yum Yum'.
Ritalin the Wonder Drug has enabled the government to save vast sums of money by closing SMKs and 'educating' Mad/ADHD kids in mainstream schools. The process is a simple one. The Mad/ADHD child is given a tablet by a teaching assistant during morning registration, and by about 10am they are a shuffling, mumbling wreck. By around 11am they have usually been suffocted with a pillow by a large North American child, who subsequently leaves the school after throwing a sink through a toilet window.
As well as the Alphabet cases there are the Dyslexic cases and the less well known Dyspraxic and Dyscalcula cases. These are as a direct result of nothing being anyone's fault any more. In a nutshell, if you can't spell or read you are Dyslexic; if you can't catch or hit a ball you are Dyspraxic; and if you can't do sums, you suffer from Dyscalcula. It is hoped that, in spite of the Credit Crunch, International Terrorism, Unchecked Immigration and Global Climate Change (or 'Global Warming' as it was known before or summers turned freezing cold and soaking wet), there will shortly be a legitimate reason for every type of thickness, none of which will be down to a child's innate stupidity, lack of application or disasterous genetic history. This 'Excuse Olympiad' should be in place by the time of the London Olympics in 2012. Like every other 'Pointless Olympic Reference' directive in Britain.
Anyway, like I was saying, I was nervous. Now I'm sorry Jim, Craig and possibly, Al, but I have to go to my wife's 30th birthday party. Details of it, my latest brush with Beelzebub and my two days at School X will be posted tomorrow. For now though, farewell.
Right I'm back. Well I turned up at the school in the Micra, and parked near a window, because as I mentioned previously, the door can no longer be locked. I asked a trustworthy looking child where the main office was. You may be thinking that one cannot judge a book by the cover. You would be quite wrong. In my experience, if you were to line up a hundred people I could tell you each person's approximate IQ, level of honesty, criminal background, or lack of it and suitability to reproduce instantaneously, with about 99% accuracy. It's simply a matter of evolution. Dodgy people invariably look dodgy. There is doubtlessly a ne'er-do-well gene that will be discovered in the near future, assuming that it hasn't already been discovered. For instance, have you ever seen a photograph of a sex-offender who didn't look like one? Exactly. Anyway, I digress. I found the office and it was staffed by a jolly secretary who, looking straight past me and a small child, exclaimed to a 'normal' teacher,
'Here we go again, another supply!' Suitably crushed, I smiled, and waited for her to hand me a timetable. 'You're Supply Number 2' she informed me as she passed me the sheet of paper. I told her that I preferred Mr Supply Number 2 in front of the pupils. She smiled, vacantly.
Registration was short, as their was an assembly. It was, as required by UK law, a religious assembly. A woman in authority, a deputy head I would assume, spent 15 minutes explaining how the first written gospel, the Gospel of Matthew was recorded by the disciple Matthew about the life of his friend Jesus. She made some lovely parallels as to how the children, in turn, should treat their friends. Notwithstanding the arguments that the Gospel of Mark was written first (itself based on the lost 'Q' Gospel), and that Matthew was based on Mark and written many years after Jesus had died by a scribe who never knew Him, it was an uplifting start to the day.
The teaching day consisted of five lessons, two rugby lessons and three football lessons. As always there was a marked difference in the attitude and behaviour of the children depending on which game they were playing. In brief, during the rugby lessons there was a degree of rough and tumble and some banter with me, but I could sense an underlying respect for each other and for me. Conversely during football lessons every other word shouted was Anglo-Saxon in origin, and there was a lot of spitting. And the pupils were no angels either. Seriously though, the change was staggering. I'm not saying that football turns every player into a lower life-form, but lower life-forms do tend to gravitate towards football. Ask yourself whether Princess Diana would have had an affair with Lee Bowyer (or Wayne Rooney, were she alive today)? I proposed this hypothesis to a football fan once, over a quiet beer. He considered it for a nano-second, before causing me to question my theory, with the rapier-witted retort, 'F*ck off you posh c*nt!' I believe that, in football parlance, that is referred to as an 'own goal'.
I locked myself in the PE Office for break and lunch, thereby avoiding the awkwardness of pretending to complete a Sudoku puzzle, or reading a week-old copy of the Times Educational Supplement, while people poked each other, pointed and whispered. The classroom can be an intimidating place for a supply teacher, but nowhere near as threatening as a staff room.
During the final lesson of the day I managed to tear my trousers from the waistband to the bottom of the gussett, whilst demonstrating the technique for tackling an opposing player in rugby. If you have never ended up on the floor, surrounded by hysterical eleven year old boys, with your underpants showing through the split crotch of your tracksuit, you have never;
a. Heard laughter like it, or
b. Been more embarrassed
At the end of the day I made the way to the office to have my time sheet faxed through to Supply HQ. The jolly secretary greeted me with a 'you must be mad doing supply!' I explained that I was just doing it for money until a photocopying and door-buzzer answering job became available. Once again her eyes misted over as she smiled.
As I got to the car and pretended to unlock it, I came to the conclusion that every car in the car-park was better than mine. I decided to start keeping a count of how many cars I see every day that are worse than mine. Currently, I am on zero.
I got to my wife's school and parked outside to pick her up. Two sixteen year old girls I used to teach stopped to chat. Having issues with the window, I opened the door to speak to them. After a few awkward pleasantries they headed home. As my wife got in the car a couple of minutes later she exclaimed 'My God, what happened to your trousers?' Horrified I realised that I had just opened the door to talk to two female ex-pupils, whilst wearing, essentially, crotchless leg-wear, with my knees, due to the cramped nature of the Micra, as far apart as possible.
In the evening I sat on the left hand side of the big sofa, watched TV and thought about death.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Ever since I was small child, I have harboured within me a desire to belong. One of my very earliest memories of this primal urge was my joy, at six years of age, at being accepted into the Duffed-In Dolly's Head Gang* by the leader of the gang, Christian Barker. I had wanted to be in his gang for weeks, but he kept me waiting. Not, I should point out, for the same reason that Gary Glitter might have kept a six-year old boy waiting for weeks to be in his gang. His gang. His gang, etc. It would, after all, be a very disturbed eight year old indeed who would keep me waiting as some form of perverse foreplay. He just had to be sure that I had the 'Right Stuff', which in the case of the DDH was a willingness to wee on the grass dens made by the Tordoff Way Gang. (Typically, hastily constructed by the TWG in the days following the council mowing the grass in the field at the end of the street.) He'd doubtless heard of my gung-ho spirit from other gang members, who had seen me throwing KP crisp packets, full of urine, over the wall of the Gladstone Infants School's outside toilets, to land, indiscriminately, in the Enemy/Girls' playground. (In many ways this was a late 1970's pre-cursor of the United States Air Force's 'Shock & Awe' tactics.) But here was the rub. I didn't like anyone else in the gang. I wasn't even particularly keen on Christian Barker; he sweated a lot and lived in one of 'those' houses. But I was desperate to belong; to be in the gang. The years rolled by and the cycle repeated, to summarise,
1980-1985 Somerset Road Gang - The SRG hung around the lamp-post outside Sharon Williams' house. Gang activities included hanging around the lamp-post outside Sharon Williams' house and water fights, which I always took too seriously. Consequently, everyone in the gang hated me. But not as much as I hated them.
1986- Dungeons and Dragons Gang - The DDG met in Stuart Beasley's house and 'played' Dungeons and Dragons. Even at 14 years of age I was astounded by the banality of rolling a big dice and 'fighting' other 'players' who, I was convinced, would always be 'virgins', unless, of course, they became 'homosexuals'.
1986-2006 Any Rugby Team I've Ever Played For Gang - The ARTIEPFG was my longest gang affiliation. I loved playing rugby and being part of a team. However, if those teams had comprised solely of me, I would have loved it even more.
The current gang I belong to is the Motorcycle Gang. I started riding a motorcycle when I stopped playing rugby. I had a romanticized vision of hanging around with cool friends, and riding my bike like a mad-man. As usual, my desire to belong blinded me to the facts.
1. I have met precisely no cool bikers. They are either ne-er-do-well mute dwarfs in one-piece racing leathers, 'adrenalin junky', aka, 'tedious' chartered accountants, who regale me with anecdotes relating to the loopholes in speed camera prosecutions, or fat, bearded waistcoat wearing men, with fat, bearded, waistcoat wearing wives.
2. I ride a bike like a imagine a haemophiliac would. I recently caused a four car tailback on the sweeping bend that skirts Cardiff/Wales Airport. The car immediately behind was a Renault 5 Campus Prima 1.0 driven by an elderly lady. I am so frightened of falling off, that I constantly talk aloud to myself whilst riding, reassuring myself that 'any idiot can ride a bike fast, Mike'.
Despite this I remain in the gang, and yesterday I rode (slowly) to Bridgend to have the first 600 mile service on my bike. Prioritising poorly, I had bought the bike new, at precisely the same time that I had started to buy sausages instead of real meat to save money. This was because I'd earned the sum total of £60 during the months of July and August. Until the 600 mile service is completed, a new bike's revs have to be kept low, resulting in a top speed, in the case of my bike, of around 65 mph. After the service I was assured by a grinning mechanic that I could now 'open her up' on the way home. I didn't. And I probably never will.
On the way back from Bridgend I called at my friend Lee's house. He has been converting his loft for the past few months, helped by several other friends. Co-incidentally, they have all been covered in chipboard dust and insulation fibres for exactly the same length of time that I have had a flare up of my 'bad back', which has precluded me from helping them. My coffee drinking abilities have been unaffected though, as has my ability to talk with authority, like a real man should, about a subject of which I know literally nothing about. I have found that if you use enough swear words, you can slot fairly seamlessly into any discussion about manual, manly, undertakings.
When I finally arrived home I did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, before attendng to the pressing issue of sorting my T-Shirts into 'work-outs' (one would be more than enough), 'lounging', 'going out' and 'DIY'. I currently have two pairs of jeans, three pairs of shorts, six T-Shirts, one fleece, one boiler suit (blue with full length Velcro opening) and two pairs of trainers that I keep for 'DIY' purposes. Since August of 2007, my 'DIY' has extended to replacing a couple of light bulbs and repeatedly ignored one flickering fluorescent tube in the kitchen. But you never know.
In the evening I headed out in the Micra to a gig in Swansea. It was in an upstairs room at a pub and I was told that, whilst not being a big money gig, it would be good for my career, as the room would be full of journalists and media types, which, I'm not afraid to say, excited me. This, however, would have been a more accurate description were the room in question the size of my bathroom. As it was the more traditional 'pub room-sized' room in a pub, the 'full' description was a little optimistic, and all nine audience members looked to have no concerns ,whatsoever, of a claustrophobic nature. I also had a chance to try my new unplugged style as there was no microphone, though to be fair, the back row were sitting less than five feet from where I was standing. To give the nine their due, they were a very appreciative bunch and I thanked them all individually after. It didn't take very long.
I eventually got back to Cardiff at around midnight, and had to prepare my PE kit for the following day. The vast income generated by my comedy career was now forcing me, once more, into the purgatory of supply teaching. After that I took my jeans off, sat on the left side of the big sofa, turned the TV on and thought about death.
* The 'Duffed-In Dolly's Head Gang', were named after the gang's mascot, a dolly's head that had been found by Christian Barker. The head of the dolly had quite clearly been duffed-in at some point.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
My day was, by my own low standards, pretty full yesterday. In the morning I had a phone call from the County Council HR department. They wanted to know that why, as a registered teacher, I was no longer on the teaching register. I explained that I didn't know that I wasn't on the register, and in actual fact I would quite like to be on the register, as I could then do supply teaching on days that I have writers block, which is typically every day except Wednesdays. I don't know why I feel creative on a Wednesday, I just do. She gave me the number of another Council officer to speak to about going back on the register. I called the number and was disappointed, if not surprised, by this officer's lack of what we call, in teaching circles, 'subject knowledge'. She seemed quite proud of the fact that;
a. She had only been in the job since August 1st, and
b. She didn't have the slightest clue about what she was doing.
She asked me who she needed to speak to at schools, how the supply system worked, and what I wanted her to do for me, and how she should go about doing whatever it was she was supposed to go about doing. After helping as much as I could, I pointed out that she was there to answer teachers' questions, not vice versa. This was not well received. She then asked why I had left a perfectly good, full-time, relatively well paid teaching job. I told her that I was pursuing my dream of being a comedian, to which she replied, 'Well you're not making me laugh'. I evidently need to hone the routine I'm working on, in which I describe the process of contacting school bursars, the possible implications of the application of the emergency tax code and the various means by which cover teaching is provided in the County. Luckily she pointed out the shortcomings in my material before I debuted it at my next gig.
Co-incidentally, after that call I was contacted by a supply agency, who were keen to offer me an interview that evening, which I accepted. This was, in no small part, due to the fact that I was about to head to the bank to play bank account musical chairs. This is where one takes money out of one overdrawn account to deposit it in a much more overdrawn account, in time to avoid legal proceedings. Granted there is neither a soundtrack nor chairs, but it is still quite exciting, if rather depressing. More of my interview later.
The rest of the late morning and early afternoon was spent writing, interspersed with washing the dishes twice (the second time consisted of cleaning one knife used to spread peanut butter), organising my document box, and doing two lots of laundry. I also observed Beelzebub twice from my study window and recorded the times
In the late afternoon I received two texts from the good people at Barclaycard telling me that I was not to use my card, as it had been suspended. The fact that the last time I used my Barclaycard, before I cut it up, was two years ago, made me smile. I could expand on how much interest I've paid to these modern-day medieval money-lenders over the years, but it would be as boring to read as it would be soul destroying to write about. Needless to say, when the revolution comes and I am made World Justice Minister, as Derek Acora has promised me, I have a particularly nasty fate planned for the Fuhrer of the Barclaycard Operation. He will be sentenced to ten years hard time, which will consist of writing apology letters, by hand, to the millions of students he trapped into a life of indentured labour with his offers of free juggling balls at University Freshers' Weeks throughout the UK in the 1990's. However, at the end of each year he will have another 27% (variable) of time added to his sentence, until he dies of old age, still owing 143 years in unpaid sentence, at some time in the indeterminably distant future.
In the early evening my wife arrived home to inform me that the front door of our one remaining car (I have been so successful in my comedy career that I have been forced to sell my car) can no longer be locked. This would be no bad thing if some ne'er-do-well was to steal it. But as it is a T-Reg Micra, which looks like a less-cool version of a disabled persons' vehicle, but with a much smaller engine, this is only a theoretical possibility. This car has been a great servant, once transporting combined weight of 980 lbs of passengers (3 x comedians, 1x wife of comedian), but it is suffering now. The suspension isn't great, it doesn't start in the wet, the brakes don't appear to actually slow the vehicle, the de-misters don't de-mist and there is an undiagnosed rattle when if finally does pull away. If that wasn't embarrassing enough to drive, the car's legal keeper, ie. Mrs Bubbins, added a Little Miss Naughty steering wheel cover and a dashboard Bagpuss. Indeed, despite a large stain on the back seat caused by grease, I can verify that the Micra is not automatic or hydromatic, and it is most definitely not a real pussy wagon.
In the late evening was my interview with the supply agency. It was quite formal and I find those situations the most difficult to behave normally in, as I imagine a Tourettes sufferer would; except that I don't feel the need to resort to bad language. (Strange how these individuals always blurt our swear words, not words like 'lovely!' or 'hair!' Similarly, pregnant women always 'crave' chocolate and chips, never a banana and a small salad...hmm). I held it together well, until the frankly ridiculous Q&A section at the end. During this, the interviewer asks the questions, but is at pains to point out that only she is allowed to write down my answers. I ascertained that there is no reason for this, other than that 'those are the rules'. I suppressed a grin, and hoped that there wouldn't be a question like Number Three.
3. 'For many years it has been unacceptable to use physical contact in dealing with children, except when absolutely necessary. What is your understanding of this?'
I had an out-of-body experience, and before I could intervene from the Astral Plane, I saw myself utter the words 'You can look, but don't touch.' The agency will call me, apparently.
In the night, I sat on the left side of the big sofa in my underpants, watched TV and thought about death, until the police arrived.
Monday, 22 September 2008
As I have spent the last eight months breaking into the cut-throat world of stand-up comedy, I decided that I should start to record my experiences of it, and my life in general, on a daily basis. This will not be for anything as noble as catharsis, more as a means by which I can look back over the events of the previous months and in so doing, hopefully glean something of comedic value from my ramblings. This may form the basis of future routines. These may make people laugh. This, in turn, may make promoters happy. Consequently, they may feel obliged to offer me more than my current going rate of a free bottle of Carlsberg per twenty minutes of performance. (As a lot of my current work involves sets of ten minutes, I often have to drink-share (0.5), with other struggling comics.)
On Wednesday I gigged at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. I did a 20 minute set, during which I ruminated on, among other things, The Royal Welsh Show and the Parallympics. Specifically the former's policy of rewarding people for having the most shaggable livestock, and the latter's bizarre rules and regulations. I do occasionally worry that my rants will be misconstrued and that, for example, people hear the word 'wheelchair' at a comedy night and immediately see me as a reincarnation of Bernard Manning. This is certainly not the case. I even partook in a charity wheelchair basketball game in the 'Eighties. I did, however, take every opportunity to regularly stand up and 'stretch my legs' during the game, in case any of the 17 year old girls going to Dance Club at Barry Leisure Centre mistook me for an actual 'Wheelie' whilst walking past the basketball court on their way to the Dance Studio. I am all for raising money for a good cause, but, at the end of the day, I had only had sex with one girl at the time and I was keen to 'push on' from there. Remember that this was the 'Eighties, before Tanni Grey and Stephen Hawking. Wheelchairs were not sporty or geeky, just rubbish.
Thursday I took a similar set to the Coyote Bar in Swansea. The Coyote, home of Mad Dog Comedy is a very welcoming venue, run by the lovely Caro and Gregg and I once again enjoyed performing there. My wife's aunt made a comment after the show about the Parallympics that highlighted the refreshing honesty of a generation that matured before Political Correctness was inflicted upon us all. She said that she felt sorry for the Parallympians. I explained that they did not want her sympathy. She was a little distressed by this and at pains to point out that it was only certain events that she found upsetting, and that 'usually I laugh at them as much as the next person'. On second thoughts, maybe some Political Correctness is a good thing.
Friday was interesting. I compered the opening night of comedy at a new venue in Hay-on-Wye. The alarm bells went off when, before a bit I did on The Green Man Festival, at which I'd peformed in the summer, I asked the audience to raise their hands if they were vegetarian. I was expecting the usual groan of effort as one or two pasty arms were lifted. However, I was stunned and appalled, in equal measure, as approximately two thirds of the people present lifted one sixth of the total number of arms present. Undeterred I ploughed on, but the opening gambit covering eating lamb and the Canadian seal cull, fell on stony ground. Luckily, as I was compering, I knew that I would have two more chances to redeem myself that night. Unluckily, my habit of doing a new routine three times to see which lines work best before I edit it, meant that the lovely liberal, countryside-loving, people of Hay-on-Wye were next treated to amputation-based humour, before I attempted to gain the freedom of the town by basically claiming that farmers, several of whom were in attendance, were sexually attracted to animals. And their own sisters. Ho hum.
Saturday I spent the day 'writing' and avoiding my neighbour, Beelzebub*. 'Writing' increasingly means tidying the house so that I can clear my mind of everything other than the writing process, which is about to begin. As such I have the cleanest house in Cardiff, and have written in the region of 200 words in the last four months. At least in my mid-thirties I own a property and have a rapidly decreasing sex-drive. In my younger days, when I shared a house in University for example, I wasn't so fortunate. With no house to clean and a raging libido, putting off writing papers was accomplished almost solely by masturbation. By three in the morning I would be ejaculating compressed air from a penis which resembled that of a burns victim, or at least what I imagine a burns victim's penis would look like, (not that I ever have imagined that, until just now) before finally settling down to write solidly, sometimes until 3:15am.
On Sunday I performed at the Hawaiian. It was a good gig, which I shared with two of my favourite comedy chums, the diminutive Elis James and the Shipman-esque Ben Partridge. Elis and Ben never fail to amuse me, and in some ways I look upon them as the sons that I would be quite disappointed with on the physical level, but proud of mentally. The money they would cost me in music lessons, glasses and braces, would be offset by the tremendous savings I would make by not having to pay for rugby boots, judo fees and adult-sized clothes, which routinely have VAT at 17% added. As usual their comedy was out of the top drawer, and as I was on first it was nice to be able to sit back, have a beer and be entertained. When I am on at, or near, the end of the night it is difficult to relax. It is getting better though. At first I would be fairly insufferable for most of the day if I was performing in the night. Nowadays I am just a bit of an arse for about an hour before I go on. I should clarify that and say that nowadays I am just a bit more of an arse than I usually am, for about an hour before I go on.
Anyway, I'd better go and write some comedy. Those dishes aren't going to clean themselves.
* I will expand upon the mysterious Beelzebub in the near future, assuming that he doesn't incapacitate me in some diabolical way in the meantime.