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The last word

Last word

Forget about children - parents can say the darndest things, and no one is safe during the autumn round of prize giving events. Sometimes the best defence is to hide behind the cheese sticks.

This is the time of year for the inevitable round of prize givings - evening events filled with pride and joy for the parents of prize winners and a source of 'reciprocal spying' for invited colleague heads.

As my school is an 11-16 comprehensive for girls, many students move to the sixth forms of the city schools, giving me access to a range of prize givings. This autumn was no exception.

It's Friday night and I have a 'superior ticket' (ie eligible for refreshments later). Entering the hall, I set about looking for a seat in the appropriate colour coding. I notice an elderly gentleman waving to me, beckoning me to a seat next to him.

Being myopic and not wanting to cause offence, I duly take the indicated seat. He leans in and introduces himself as, "a chap who left this wonderful school 68 years ago". Mental maths suggests he is in his mid-80s.

He tells me his father was a previous head of this school and each year his family donates two special prizes for English - and what was my connection with the school? I begin to explain but he prefers to tell me more about his early school memories.

I look round to see if I recognise anyone with whom I might share this load. The old boy is asking if I knew his father, who was (as he had already said) a previous head of the school.

I am saved from answering as the official party enter the hall; we all stand while my escort sustains a commentary of previous masters I may have met (eh, no - I give up). We sing the school song and sit down. He continues to explain, in sotto voce with whistling accompaniment from his hearing aid, the philanthropic deeds of the school founder about whom we have just sung several verses.

The ceremony progresses, with a humorous address from the guest speaker and much clapping to celebrate some outstanding achievements. Then it's off for refreshments.

The old boy grabs my arm, "I wonder if you could help me get to the next stage," he says. Remembering my own elderly father, I walk with him slowly along the corridors where he stops at every photograph to explain some detail of uniform or building.

Once we hit the food, I leave him with one of his contemporaries, breath a sign of relief and look around.

A lady is making a straight line for me saying, "It's Anna's headmistress." Such words must strike dread in all heads who have no idea which child will become the topic of conversation.

I am told that the family are here to see Richard receive his prize (good for Richard - but who's his sister?). Holding the hand of a smaller child who is being pushed forward, mother tells me that little Milly will be coming to us next September. Good, I might know who you all are by then.

Another lady joins us saying that her daughter also attends my school. This is becoming uncomfortable, but more is to follow. Mother Two asks if my last week's shopping was suitable. I fumble as I try to recall what she is talking about. "You remember," she explains, "I sold you that very pretty bra in Marks and Spencers last Saturday."

I feel as red as the gown of one of the passing masters and wish for the parquet floor to swallow me up, as this lady explains shape, size and colour of my purchased underwear. I smile and do a quick chasse round the table for a cheese straw.

A solitary lady smiles at me. "Has your son left you as well? Mine just doesn't want to know me when he is with all his friends."

As I begin to explain that I don't have a son, I hear, "Ah, there you are." It's the old boy spraying me with crumbs. "I've been looking for you."

Taking hold of my arm, he steers me to the glasses of wine while he continues to tell me of all the snippets of conversation he has just exchanged. He asks me (again) if I knew his father and then where I spent my holiday.

At the mention of Venice, he is off recounting his youthful adventures motor biking round Italy ending up with war stories involving Gallipoli. The dates seems totally incongruous but I just smile.

I ask myself which is better, listening to his stories or having my M&S purchases described to the assembled throng. No contest. I turn to the old boy and pass him another glass.

Gill Pyatt is headteacher of Barnwood Park Arts College Gloucester.


The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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