View from the Bridge: 31

by John Morrison


31: School Days

It's frosty in Milltown, on the morning that the government launches its Christmas crackdown on drink-drivers. It's a headache for the landlord of the Grievous Bodily Arms who thinks, sensibly enough, that if there's even the slightest chance of him being catapulted through the car windscreen, then he'd prefer not to be stone cold sober when it happens.

Parents are walking their children to school, before going off to work or back home to do the chores. But it's different for those parents who send their school to the Spooner School. They take their kids to school each morning... and then stay there.

In summer the parents sit on the school lawn; with their colourful pantaloons, imaginative hairstyles and animated chatter they seem like a flock of tropical birds. Now, at the onset of winter, the Spooner School parents gravitate towards the drying room. While their children are in class, training to be corn-dolly makers, they warm their backs on the central heating pipes and mull over the big questions. Like: whatever happened to the Bermuda Triangle? In the 1970s ships and planes were vanishing on a daily basis. And now it's disappeared. Without a warning. Wierd.

The school's reputation extends far beyond these valleys. People raise their eyebrows, tap their nose with a knowing forefinger and say "Oh yes, the Spooner School". In the same mildly exasperated tone of voice that you'd say "Oh yes, California", on hearing about some loon getting his goldfish psycho-analysed.

Parents gravitate from all over the country to send their children to the Spooner School in Milltown. Having conspicuously failed to make anything of their own lives, they are naturally keen to ensure that their children's ambitions are similarly curtailed.

The school's brief prospectus reads promisingly, though the fact that it is written in strange, curly letters on pink paper should give uncommitted parents pause for though. They will search in vain for an optimistic message from the head teacher; the Spooner School has no truck with such elitist nonsense. All decisions are taken democratically, with every member of staff having an equal say in how the school should be run.

So even the simplest of matters - such as changing a tap-washer - requires the teachers to question the school's idiosyncratic philosophy, their place within it and the sacred bond of trust that binds teacher and pupil in a perpetual circle of something or other. The vote usually recommends a lie-down in a darkened room and the forming of a working party to search inside themselves for an answer to the tap-washer problem. It's a nightmare.

Small wonder that, unlike the parents, the teachers find any excuse to stay away from school. In how many other occupations would "bad vibes" constitute a valid reason for taking a day off work?

So what else makes the Spooner School different from other establishments? Well, the children are encouraged to get in touch with their feelings. This means tears and tantrums, of course, though that's usually the teachers. Since there must be no winners and no losers, competitive games are out. Instead there's peace dancing, painting badly and the celebration of arcane seasonal festivals. The school has declared itself a nuclear-free zone, which ensures that we in Milltown sleep soundly in our beds. And the children have school trips - whenever there's enough acid to go round.

The school lurches from one self-inflicted crisis to another. So thank goodness for our excellent 'after-school clubs' - more commonly known as amusement arcades. Here the kids have the opportunity to cadge cigarettes from lonely, maladjusted old guys in a pleasantly informal atmosphere.

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