Lights Out Ladies!

Follow one woman's tales from the staffroom of a quaint, newly co-educational, English boarding school in deepest, darkest Dorset. (*all names have been changed.)

Summer term - Week 15

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Lights Out Ladies
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on Monday, 15 July 2013
The weather this week has been beyond fantastic and the whole school seems bathed in a warm glow. The honey-coloured stones turn from yellow to a deep orange as the sun sets and the staff sit sipping Pimms from mugs to ensure the pupils think that it is simply late tea.

Beyond the stone verandah outside the Headmaster's office the flower beds are bursting with a gorgeous clash of colour and the whole school seems sparkling, or is it just that we are waving off the last of the pupils today?

Next term I return in my new role as a House Ma'am (I know - I am going to get cards made up) but for now I can enjoy just sitting out the end of my first term as a humble History teacher.

I turn to the Second Master who has joined our small party and is sitting, eyes closing on a bench behind me.

"Any plans for the holiday?" I ask.

"I'm going to work on my book," he states.

I'm impressed until the Head's PA whispers to me that this is his stock answer for every holiday but no one has yet to see any glorious tome.

"You?" he enquires, one eye swivelled on me.

I'm flustered, "Ibiza," I shout, feeling that I have somewhat let the side down.

Fortunately at that moment a group of sixth formers come up to start shaking some of the staff by the hand. A lot of them are carrying mugs...

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Week 14 - School's Out!

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on Tuesday, 09 July 2013
The Summer Term is drawing to a close and the Headmaster has been seen pacing his office mouthing what we assume to be his Commemoration Speech to the portraits of our past glorious leaders in their frames. The gardeners have been working into the night to prep and preen the borders around "quad" and chase any wannabe croquet players off with a steely glare (and rumour has it a rather sharp pitching fork). The 1st Cricket XI are lined up for an Exhibition match against the Old Boys and everyone is in high spirits at the prospect of a leisurely month and a half off. One of my Removes attempted to greet me today with a high-five so it has been confirmed that morale is solid. Lights Out Ladies

There are also nerves about, the end of year apparently brings the customary end of year pranks by the school leavers and staff are second-guessing what treats they might be in store for this year. The Head of Religious Studies told me that last year Mr Taylor, the College organist, had been hospitalised for a week after a "minor myocardial infarction" on discovering the pupils had wrapped his organ in cling film and graffitied the outside of it. Everyone seems on tenter-hooks.

All of this was far from my mind as I raced down for a late breakfast in the Dining Room on the last day of term. Turning the corner sharply and reaching for a tray I looked up. I'd missed breakfast. The whole hall, practically two tennis courts in length and width, was empty. And not just of people and food but of tables and chairs. I checked my watch, panic rising that I was in fact late for Period 1. At the same moment I heard a babble of voices and, realising it was coming from outside in Quad walked to the double doors at the opposite side of the hall. It seemed the whole College had reconvened. Staff and pupils were talking through mouths of croissant as the dining staff looked on in bewilderment. Every table and chair had been placed outside in the exact same layout as inside.

Across the quad I could just make out Ian, the Head Gardener, standing stock still staring at the scene, a large pitch fork in his left hand and a menacing look in his eye...

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Summer term - Week 13

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on Monday, 01 July 2013
I have been reliably informed by most of the Staff Common Room that this week is the most important week of the year. I wrinkled my nose on hearing this for the third time. Lights Out Ladies

A levels are over, GCSE's are done and dusted. Are we being inspected?

Oh no. It is the annual election of the JSGB.

Every year the school waits with bated breath for the announcement of the new members of the JSGB - the Junior School Governing Body. Pupils have to apply, by hand, for a position on the governing body. They are then selected for interview with the Headmaster and Second Master. The shortlisted candidates for President of the JSGB (or the prospective 'PJSGB's') are then invited to write a speech to deliver to the other pupils. A vote is held, the Headmaster and Second Master confer and then the entire body of twelve pupils is announced and the PJSGB is crowned (literally - the school decided against a badge when they discovered a C15th pewter crown acting as a bookend in the Geography department).

This year the contest has been heavily contested and the staffroom have been split. Felix and Gerald - two excellent candidates, both classists and both on the Cricket 1st XI. Both complete chinless wonders in my opinion.

Gerald wins through the day after his Father's Rolls was seen outside the Headmaster's house. His position is confirmed in the same breath as the news that the school has finally found the money needed to resurface the astro pitch.

Felix is seen smashing out his frustration in the nets and Gerald spends the rest of the week bossing people about in a special striped waistcoat and telling them all that as PJSGB he can lie in on Saturdays, marry Matron and keep a goat on school grounds.

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Summer Term - Week 12

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on Monday, 24 June 2013
We've been making plans for our End of Term House Trip and the boys in the house are getting particularly excited by the prospect.

One of the pupils in the Removes has made a calendar counting down the days and says it will be "the greatest day of the year so far". He has currently not got many friends in the school but his Housemaster has told me that we need to work on this by ensuring "he stops being such a pathetic, snivelling little weasel". Pastoral care not being the central focus at my new school.

I have been instructed to arrange something on behalf of the Housemaster who claims he is too busy to organise things. He told me this whilst chalking his cue in preparation for a game of Billiards against the Head of House in the full size snooker table in his living room. Punting at Oxford

With some trepidation I've gone ahead and chosen to head to Oxford for the day for a picnic on the banks of the river followed by an afternoon of punting. Good, clean typically English fun for the youth of today! I've booked the coach, arranged the packed lunches and told the Housemaster who has announced it in House.

The boys seem reasonably keen although there was some confusion over what punting actually was and one of the dimmer Shell boys now thinks it is some kind of martial art.

The worst part of organising things is the inevitable Risk Assessment I knew I would have to complete. In my old London comp it was unthinkable to go anywhere off-site without every member of staff signing and carrying a 10 page document about the potential hazards with them at all time. So I approached my Housemaster and discussed this with him.

He looked perplexed, "Risk Assessment," he repeated. "Yes, have you got a school template I can adapt?"

He wrinkled his nose, "Risk Assessment. For a picnic."

"Well punting can be dangerous," I explained slowly, "All those wooden poles and water, there is the potential for drowning."

"Drowning in waist-high water," he dismissed. "Well this would probably only happen after being hit on the head with a pole but still we probably need to cover ourselves."

"What DO you think my boys will be getting up to?" He asked, face getting rather red.

"Well..." And as if to make my point Jonny Fenton in the top year appeared in the doorway wielding the billboards cue and looking left to right.

"Just searching for Richard Sir," he said brandishing the cue. The Housemaster looked up, "Righto."

Summer Term - Week 11

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on Sunday, 16 June 2013
I was summoned to an interview at the end of last week. Well, actually, I was just summoned. I wasn't aware it was an interview until I walked into the Headmaster's Office and found him sitting there, in the middle of a panel of the Senior Management team (or 'SMT') all staring at me. Well, actually, I wasn't aware even then that it was an interview. The clue came when the Headmaster stood up from the middle of the panel, beckoned me to a forbidding lone leather chair opposite them and stated, "Thank you for coming into interview."
Befuddled I sat quickly in the chair wondering what exactly I was being interviewed for, I was fairly sure I had a job. At the school. They'd employed me a little over two months ago. Had it all been a dream?

"Well Clare, you've made a positive start at the school and we have been vry vry impressed by you."

"Oh good," I said shifting in the leather seat so that an inelegant squeak echoed round the room. I coughed, feeling a blush creep up my neck, "Well it's a lovely school," I said.

The Head of Co-Curricular dabbed at his bald patch with a spotted handkerchief whilst nodding in agreement. The Second Master gave me a crooked smile, no teeth. I made the squeaking sound again.

"Well we wanted to get you in and talk to you about picking up the reins of our gals house next year," the Headmaster explained. Mesmerised by his choice of attire today (a twin striped red Oxford University tie coupled with a duck egg blue waistcoat - quite the combo) it was a moment before his words sunk in.

"Oh," I spluttered, "Yes this has been mentioned to me, but, well I'm not sure I have adequate experience running a gal, I mean a girl's, house," I said.
"Piffle," came his reply as he stood up, "You have 29 years of ample experience and we will support you all the way."

"Right well I, you see, the thing is..."

"So that's decided then," he smiled at me, holding out a large hand for me to take.

"Sor... Is it?" I said getting slowly to my feet and shaking the hand proferred automatically. He stepped around the panel, "Yes we thing you'd be very good. Marvellous, marvellous, well we best get on," he said opening his office door for me and calling to his PA, "Get the contracts put together will you Angela, Housemistress."

Without looking at the rest of the panel I stumbled towards the door and then I was out, standing mouthing at the air as Angela bustled about her office smiling at me sympathetically.

"You'll be fine," she said. She sounded so unsure.

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