“Can it wait, Layla? I need to get this register to the office.”
“But Mrs Jellywoman – we don’t have no chairs!”
I look at Layla over the top of my glasses. “That’s ‘we haven’t got any chairs’, Layla.”
Layla has younger brothers and so is accustomed to explaining things to the simple. She draws upon this skill now. “Well, you’ve got a chair, Mrs Jellywoman. You’re sitting on it. But we don’t have no chairs.”
Grammar and Norf London kids go together like a horse and chihuahua. A friend was teaching a particularly difficult lad in a particularly difficult school. The child – let’s call him Reggie in honour of his role model – was in something of a melt-down, a-kicking and a-screaming and a-generally laying waste to the classroom. “This am a crap school!” he yelled.
My friend looked at him in the eyes. “You shouldn’t say that, Reggie. What you mean is ‘this is a crap school’.” The ensuing confusion gave my friend enough time to send for help.
“Ah yes.” I put down my trusty red pen and notice Miss Sugarsprinkles sitting at the back of the carpet. I say to her solicitously, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable on a chair, Miss Sugarsprinkles?” Thirty hands shoot in to the air.
“I’m afraid I can’t, Mrs Jellywoman.”
“Yes you can, Miss Sugarsprinkles. You have my permission.” The thirty hands are now accompanied by frantic squeaks.
“Really I can’t, Mrs Jellywoman.”
“Why’s that, Miss Sugarsprinkles?” Some children are now on the point of dislocating their shoulders as they try to raise their hands even higher in the air.
“Well, we haven’t got any chairs, Mrs Jellywoman.”
“Did you say, we haven’t got any chairs?” I am shocked.
“That’s right, Mrs Jellywoman – we haven’t got any chairs.”
“I couldn’t have heard you right, Miss Sugarsprinkles. I do have old ears. Layla, what was it Miss Sugarsprinkles said?”
“She said ‘we haven’t got any chairs’,” replies Layla patiently. Yes! Thank you, I’m here all week.
I look around the classroom and spot that there are, indeed, no chairs. I am shocked. I gasp. I check inside the waste-bin next to me, up my sleeve, in George’s ear.
“Where have they gone?” I say in horror; then turn to the children. “Jelly Class, Mr Headteacher will be so cross when he finds out that we’ve lost the chairs. Help me look for them.”
For the next five minutes we all scour the room. We look under tables, in cupboards and drawers, in paint pots. Then we re-assemble on the carpet. Well, there’s nowhere else to sit.
“Do you think I’m going to have to tell Mr Headteacher?” I say to Miss Sugarsprinkles.
“Perhaps you could write him a letter,” she suggests.
The children agree that this is a good idea and together we compose an enormous letter explaining that we appear to be missing our chairs. Two volunteers deliver it and, as we wait for a response, we talk about what might have happened. Burglars? Particularly vigorous wood-worm? Alien intervention?
Eventually we hear the heavy pace of Mr Headteacher heading our way. He sits in my armchair while we explain our various theories. “Perhaps you could make posters asking if people have seen the chairs?” he suggests. “And, in the meantime, you could try and borrow some chairs.”
As he says that, a couple of children arrive from Mrs Acorn’s class next door asking if they can borrow some chairs.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves what is happening,” I say. We line up and traipse into Mrs Acorn’s classroom to see that her chairs have been stacked in the home corner with hazard tape around them. Her class are busy kneeling on the floor making posters warning everyone that the chairs are not safe.
Mrs Acorn shakes her head. “Mr SiteManager says we’re not to use the chairs,” she explains sadly. “Apparently they’re a health and safety risk.”
We traipse out again and head for Mrs Berry’s classroom. Her entire class are sitting silently, holding paper cups and looking at the ceiling.
“We can’t help, I’m afraid,” Mrs Berry tells us. “We are doing an important job for Mr SiteManager. He thinks there might be leaks in the roof and he’s going to pour water onto it. We need to try and catch any drips. So we can’t move from the chairs.”
We had just passed Mr SiteManager’s room where he was eating toast and reading the Sun but I don’t mention this.
We head back to the classroom to make our posters. On which we carefully put our names and the date, of course. April the first.