"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It's A Knock Out

The summer heat wave moves on apace here at the Knowledge College as the term draws to an end. My 16 year olds are long gone, having completed their exams and I find myself attached to a Year 10 form for the enrichment activities of the last week of term, their regular tutor being on maternity leave.

I arrive at registration to discover, to some surprise, that only ten of them have turned in but they seem keen and enthusiastic. Conscious of the health issues associated with being outside in such temperatures, I run through my air-stewardesque safety routine. I hold up my water bottle.

How many of you have water?

One hand goes up. Not a good start. I dig into the bag and hold up sunscreen. Two hands go up. This is not looking good. Hats and sunglasses elicit no responses at all and I note a lot of strappy tops: so much for the baggy T-shirt. It isn’t as if they’ve not been told – repeatedly.

“It’ll be alright.” They reassure me.

 I rue the fact that I am not young enough to know best.

We set off to the sports field and my lot leg it to the front leaving me, somewhat in the slipstream of their enthusiasm bringing up the rear of a column of some 250 sets of hormones. The halt, lame and lazy are at the back – I exclude myself, although it doesn’t take long for me to wish I hadn’t worn these old trainers: I can feel chaffing and suspect I may be developing blisters.


The slowest of the slow include two girls who could only care less and walk any slower with the aid of mogadon.

“I’m gonna be nice today” girl A says as she slaps girl B.

“That wasn’t nice.” (Slap).

“Well you run with scissors.” (Slap).

“Yeah? Well, you play with matches.” (Slap).

It’s going to be a long day.

As we arrive I am both intrigued and impressed by a vast array of brightly coloured, giant, inflatable obstacle-course type games. The day is being run by an organisation called We're A Knock Out,  based on a long running pan-European TV show from the 1970s. The basis of the game is team competition with lashings of humiliation. It was a bit like a rerun of World War Two with a more predictable outcome: Germany always won, France peaked early and Belgium always came last. We did the usual magnanimous-in-defeat British thing and pretended that it was the taking part that mattered.

The lead instructor, an Australian, divided each form group into two teams, A and B. Because my lot were so light on numbers they opted to be both A and B and do everything twice, which worried me slightly given the temperature and the lack of shade in the games area.

I particularly liked the heat where the kids were strapped into a huge table-football game, if only because a lot of the kids ended up facing the wrong way and their instructor wouldn’t let them change. They were still better than my lame attempts at table-football.

Wearying of watching after a while I sloped back to the waiting enclosure for a drink and a reapplication of sunscreen. Lucy is brought over to where I am sitting.

“AND DON’T MOVE!” her Form Tutor instructs. I assume he is talking to her. I look at her.

“I hate him.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Joanne splashed me with water, (the cow) so I splashed her back (the bitch). Then she poured a bottle of water over me, so I poured a bottle of water over her. Then she poured her juice in my hair, so I hit her with my bottle. Then she said I had a big bum, so I told her that her shorts were up her arse-crack. Then Sir came along.”

Some of mine wandered by for a snack. They were giddy with excitement.

“You should have seen Kelley! She’s soaked to the skin and she just kept whacking the boys out of the way.” I picture Kelley, elbows and knees sharpened for the fray, as she throws herself under netting and through huge inflatable obstacles. I’m glad she’s on my team.

At some point I realise that my blister is both sore and inflamed. I take myself to the designated first-aider, whine a bit and am rewarded with a plaster.

At lunch I find myself sitting with a gaggle of my Asian colleagues.

Where’s Derrinder today?

“He’s away. He got sunburnt on sports day.”

Are you serious?

“He’s got sensitive skin. It’s a good job he’s not a girl.”

There are blank looks from the non-Asians and smiles and sage nods from the Asians.

“It’s the Indian Tiger.” Ishvinder confides.

More blank looks.

“I mean the Indian mother. The Jewish mother has nothing on the Indian mother.” She adopts a heavy cameo Indian accent “Get out of the sun! You’ll go dark and then who will marry you? Do you want to be twenty-two and single?”

“You don’t have long to find a doctor.” Zibya takes up the challenge. “And if you don’t find one, we’ll have to settle with a dentist. Oh, the shame. Your grandmother will spin in her grave. A teacher? A TEACHER? Don’t be ridiculous!”

Not to be outdone, Kajol joins in. “When your grandmother was your age in Delhi she had thirty four children. Did she complain? What’s the matter with your cousin? He drives an Aston Martin! He’s a good catch. So what if he’s got one leg longer than the other? No-one’s perfect! What other men have paid you attention? You can’t afford to be choosy. You’re not exactly a looker yourself!”

I look at my friends, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh as they vie to outdo each other with stories of Tiger Mothers, Mothers-in-law, grandmothers, Aunts and Step-mothers, each more outrageous than the last, while the rest of us hoot with laughter. It puts me in mind of Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. What a joy.

All was going well until we hear the dulcet tones of one of our Senior Managers.

“Oh God, someone’s given her a microphone.”

We sit in horror as she announces that there will be a staff heat. I look around at my colleagues.

They have evaporated leaving me on my own.

Tumbleweed blows by.

I am doomed and before I can say Not Bloody Likely I am pressganged into a team. Sixteen members of staff who have so far managed to stay clean and dry and two hundred and fifty baying fans: the potential humiliation quota is through the roof.

Has there been a risk assessment? I enquire weakly. Some of us are over 40 and strangers to exercise.

No quarter is given and we are off, bouncing on space-hoppers, scrambling under a net, submerging in a pool of water looking for a ball of a specified colour, (You call that blue?) scrambling under more net and throwing the ball into a bucket.

I decide not to go first when all the attention is on the opening four. Opting to go last in my team, I rightly surmise that no one will notice me in the general scrum. This is good because I fail spectacularly on the space-hopper (I am too tall), get tangled in the net on both occasions “Go on Sir.” Manage to grab Mrs. Bakers dress in the pool, apologise profusely as she accuses me of cheating, nearly drown, retrieve a ball of indeterminate colour, discover my legs no longer work and fail to get the ball into the bucket. My legs seem to belong to someone else and I remember, as I stagger back to the start and my life flashes before my eyes, that I’m not actually 15.

(Mrs. Baker has been coy and skittish with me ever since.)

My next round pairs me against the Demon Headteacher: he is very competitive and leaves me standing. I wouldn’t have minded so much but he’s older than me.

At the end of the game not one of us has actually managed to get the ball (was about to say our balls, but decided against it) into the team bucket.

I feel I may have risked my life to no avail. Four teams have tied for last place.

“It’s like a swimming pool” one colleague complains. “There was a plaster at the shallow end.”

I look at my toe. Oops.

I officially smell like a pond. I have no spare clothes and will be leading Compline in the local church after school. Great!

Every child is throwing water at every other child. Lucy seems to be leading the charge, but it is good natured.

Rather surprisingly, my little lot won both A and B competitions. I am very proud, even though I’d largely forgotten about them as the day wore on, what with me having problems of my own. They had to be stretchered off, but they won!