Ah November. Cradle of the falling leaves. Ye countdown to Christmas with your thermostat swivelling, present squirreling, daytime dwindling…and mocks. Year 11 mocks. That time of the year when schools frighten their fifth year cohort by giving them a glimpse of what is to come. Mock GCSE exam preparation for them, and for us teachers it is invigilation. Administration. Exasperation.
When our charges are in exams, we become facilitators for the exams, and stand vigilant. Ready with pens, paper and wedges of card to prop up wonky desk legs. A smile of support for the paler faces in that sea of regimentation, and a (mock) stern glare for the rebels, champing at the bit to make a scene, with the whole year group present to witness their antics. Oh, how I understand the rebels. You see, put me in a situation in which I have to be silent, behave formally and conduct myself like an automaton, and I will immediately feel like Withnail. I dream up outrageously obscene insults that I could fire in to the silence. I fantasise about Cossack dancing along the exam rows, my bounces punctuated by staccato farts and hysterical laughter as I go. I want to scream out loud. I never submit to the temptation, but every time I go in to the exam hall, it gets harder to resist.
Today did not help.
I was doing so, so well. Then I had to collect in exam papers. Seriously. My learned colleagues had named their classes after dinosaurs (my son’s current obsession). This raised naught but a wry grin from me, but when the head honcho asked ‘Raise your hand if you are a T-rex’, my torture began. Immediately I imagined 30 stunted, wrist-cocked arms clawing the air, T-Rex style, but to my utter disappointment, not a single student did! I felt outraged,and subdued, but then the hilarity rose. Pterodactyl group were asked to hold out their scripts, exactly when a gangril-limbed chap yawned and stretched impossibly long wings (I mean arms), reaching perillously close to the grim-faced Stegosaurus row. I was sweating with the effort of not laughing.
I had a brief respite, but then Diplodocus were asked to hold up their papers. Good old, dependable Diplodocus. Never the most agile or nimble of dinosaurs, and three of them were asleep. Profoundly asleep. I had to fake a sneeze to mask my laugh. Now things were getting desperate. We had to give out new papers. I got confused. I had to consult the exam maestro and heard myself ask ‘are Stegosaurus the same as T-Rex?’ (all the time thinking No Way! A T-Rex would totally destroy a Stegosaurus)! It was too much. I had to go and stand at the back of the hall. I needed to distract myself. So I did, by reading the examination fossil record. Remnants of exams long passed. Exam desk graffiti! In the far corner stood mahogony desks from the Paleolithic age. Antique, varnished and complete with ink wells. I would be safe here, I thought.
What a monumental mistake. Here was a smorgasbord of smut. A galimaufry of obscenity. All examination experience was here, from the stalward inverted T shape with bulbous ends and a bifurcated tip (aka A cock) to the ever so poignant ‘Help. Please help’. I traced my fingers over the desperate ‘Mock’s are pointless’ (noting the misplaced apostrophe), glanced at the old faithful ‘if you are reading this then you smell’, and alighted on the rather splendid ‘JMD sucks balls’. I had silent tears of caged laughter. Still, I retained my professionalism. Not a titter passed my lips. Until I spotted the straw that broke the camel’s back. A neater, more precise scrawl on an ageing label. 10/11/14- TFI. I recognised it. With a strange sense of deja-vu I realised it was my own penmanship, incised almost exactly a year ago. I felt a mixture of pride and the uncanny feeling of not remembering writing it. Not humming the tune from The Twilight Zone was exceptionally hard to pull off.
I wonder what tomorrow’s exam experience will be?