“We don’t want the Reception children to think that we are saying the F-Word,” Oliver tells me earnestly. “So when we get to the word ‘fox’, we’re going to say it like this…FOOOX. Very clearly.”
“Good thinking, Oliver. I’m quite sure that, um – Ylvis – would be horrified if anyone thought he was swearing. Off you go, then.”
And, for the second time that afternoon, a group of lads hurl themselves around the classroom, giving us a spirited display of air-guitar and singing along with Ylvis’s classic hit ‘What does the fox say?’ Very similar, in fact, to the first group of lads but with the added embellishment that they finish by throwing their jumpers in the air. One gets caught on a paper chain – a jumper, that is, not a boy – and has to be rescued with the long pole used for opening the top windows. The laughter that ensues might well tip the balance of votes for the Cool Foxes; the previous group – the Crazy Foxes – having had no clothing action.
We are auditioning for the Talent Show, scheduled for the following morning: the last day of term. There will be a secret ballot to choose which three acts represent our class. However, whatever the actual outcome of the vote, I have already decided that one of our acts is going to be Erin playing the piano.
Erin joined our school in Year Two, coming from another school which hadn’t worked out for her. She has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder: a bright and loving girl but rather awkward socially. For most of her first term, she wouldn’t sit with the other children on the carpet and became very anxious in assembly. Mrs Berry did wonders getting her settled her last year and now, you could easily overlook Erin’s difficulties. But she is still a little apart from the class: they don’t quite get her and she doesn’t quite get them. We have an odd number of children and when partners are chosen, she is often the one that I have to tack on to make a three.
Anyway, Mum has sent in the music from her Grade 2 piano exam so I track down a keyboard and she plays us a piece. Her fingers fly across the keys and the class are vastly impressed. We then turn around the keyboard so everyone can see her fingers and she plays another piece. Riotous applause. Grinning broadly, Erin bows several times and as she makes her way back to her chair, many children congratulate her with pats, which makes her grin even broader.
More acts for our consideration. Several ballet dancers reprise their exam pieces. There is body‑popping. Our class comic has brought along a stick-on moustache which he sports while telling jokes. Various children sing along to various records. One kid dances to Michael Jackson’s Billie-Jean – a song four times as old as he is.
Finally, Emma dances to All I want for Christmas is You. She’s a good little mover with definite stage presence and has obviously worked on her act. As she gets to the line “all I want for Christmas is…”, she starts eyeing up a row of squirming boys. When she reaches the word “you” she points directly at the Kingpin of the football crew. The class erupts. Kingpin buries his head in his hands and attempts to disappear under his table. Emma doesn’t miss a beat and at every time she gets to this line, repeats the move. The song ends with us all breathless with laughter and Kingpin curled up, foetus-like, under his chair.
In the end, I don’t have to rig the vote. Emma is the outright winner, with Erin a good second. The Cool Foxes take third place but respond to my suggestion by inviting the Crazy Foxes to join them as a backing band.
So the next morning, the first act from our class is a new super-group : The Cool, Crazy Foxes. Oliver need not have worried about his enunciation as the entire school – well, all the under twelves, anyway – know the words and sing along. Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow! Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho! Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff! What the fox say?
They are followed by a dozen miniscule Reception joke tellers. Traditionally, this is a high point of the talent show: jokes from four year olds having a unique surreal quality. Past classics include: When is a door not a door? When it’s a jug. Encouraged by the wave of laughter, this was swiftly followed up by: When is a jug not a jug? When it’s a door.
After Mr Head-teacher has reminded the rest of the school that these are genuinely hilarious jokes at which they will laugh, the comics kick off with a couple of knock-knock jokes. These go down reasonably well. Then a tiny girl offers us: Where does a fish keep his money? In the river bank. More polite laughter. The next joker looks confident, having now figured out the winning formula. Knock knock. Who’s there? In the river bank. It works for me.
Why did the donkey ride on the camel? We don’t know. To get to Scotland. Why didn’t the duck eat the bread? We don’t know. He wanted some … some…. duck biscuits. A much better answer than ‘cream quackers’.
A break is needed from the side splitting hilarity and, while the children are running out their wriggles, Mrs Auld-Syne trains a web-cam onto the piano keyboard.
So the opening act of the second half is Erin, playing yet another piano piece with equal verve and agility. We can’t see her behind the piano but her little fingers dance across the big screen. She finishes to enthusiastic applause; then bows continually as she makes her way back to her place. She looks pleased with herself but this is nothing to her grin when it is finally announced that she has come second in the contest. It is a popular decision. She bows a dozen times as she is cheered, most of all by our class. She gets a prize and Mrs Castle and I get bear-hugs.
That afternoon, we pair up to walk to church. This time, Erin has her choice of partners. I walk up with Kingpin.