Submission Details

Bloody Music! (A Sonata for the Creatively Misunderstood in the Modern World!)
Bloody Music! (A Sonata for the Creatively Misunderstood in the Modern World!)
Nicolas John
Yes - full manuscript is available

Bloody Music - Synopsis Bloody Music is a novel (literary fiction) reflecting the values of creativity in education, and a ‘tongue in cheek’ look at the need of how to get the best out of children; the difficulties faced by those involved, and the wider picture of ‘core’ modern education and the restrictions it causes. The ideas are conveyed through the family vehicle of Frank, Debbie, their kids, and their work places. Frank is a harried brow beaten Head of Music in an excellent independent school. He battles against the increasing politics of modern education, the demands of an arrogant statistics driven senior manager, the challenges of having his own growing teenage children in his own school, and the temptation of a new inspirational sexy art teacher! Debbie, his wife, runs a book shop in addition to trying to hold all the threads of her family together. Whilst fighting against her own instinct to find out too much about the sexy american journalist who keeps ‘popping in’ for a chat, she also fights to keep herself focussed on their own lives. Peripheral events seem destined to distract and seduce them - frustrations and restrictions demand an outlet against the backdrop of the pressures of raising a family, within our current fully distracted world! Frank uses the arrival of a new computer to vent, and starts to ‘write it all down.’ The end result is a novel - 'Bloody Music!’ - about a harried music teacher fighting against the onslaught of modern education! Whilst rumour, suspicion, tantrum, anarchy and awe are the catalysts for upheaval, amazement, warmth and love, their independence and strength carries the family through - just! Frank’s novel raises some awareness, but he himself is caught in the unexpected landslide of change. More importantly, through his writing he acquires a greater understanding of himself, and of those he loves.  The sub-plots contain the curing of Grace (the terminally ill bookshop owner) the gift of true friendship, the pride in doing something really worthwhile, and the trust we could place in our youth if we allowed them to be innovative and participant, rather than ‘grind-stoned’ and burnt out. Positive change against the odds is the overriding struggle, whilst attempting to attain freedom from restriction is the central main theme. There is a cure for cancer, the voice of suppressed youth, and the ‘run of the mill’ disillusioned adult all forcing their self expression to forge a better future. The novel is essentially about people and their interaction with each other - set within the structure of Sonata Form - Exposition - Development - Recapitulation - Coda, with the mood of each section a representative echo of this musical form.

Bloody Music! Exposition

(A Sonata for the CreativelyMisunderstood in the Modern World!)
Nicolas John
Bloody Music!
(A Sonata for the Creatively Misunderstood in the Modern World!)
First Edition - 2015
Copyright ©2015Nicolas John (pseudonym).
For Terina, my family,
colleagues, educators and music teachers everywhere.
This is for you.
”Music in education can contribute to all areas of experience, including the mathematical, physical, technological, spiritual, the aesthetic, creative, and social. There are many skills of the mind that are developed in this process: imagining, formulating, discriminating, selecting, rejecting, evaluating, ordering, structuring.”
”Aesthetics is a powerful force in all forms of creative work: for scientists and mathematicians just as for musicians, poets, dancers and designers.”
Sir Ken Robinson.

Part 1 (Exposition) - Themes, Characters, Secondary Themes.5
Part 2 (Development) - Exploring the Conflicts Present. 252
Twenty One269
Twenty Two284
Twenty Three302
Twenty Four318
Twenty Five327
Twenty Six345
Twenty Seven357
Twenty Eight371
Twenty Nine385
Part 3 (Recapitulation) - Reconciliation, Reestablishing the Main Themes.414
Thirty One415
Thirty Two425
Thirty Three438
Thirty Four450
Thirty Five460
Thirty Six473
Thirty Seven486
Thirty Eight498
Part 4 (Coda) - A suitable conclusion.505
Thirty Nine506
Author’s Note516
Part 1 (Exposition) - Themes, Characters, Secondary Themes.
Late August
Frank attempted to open his eyes - slowly.
Very slowly actually
. just enough to allow the familiar elements of his bedroom to forge recognition into the disarray that was attempting to be his consciousness. Too painful - eyes closed!
Why exactly had he continued to 'down the scotch’ last night when he knew full well 'enough was enough'? Simple but stupid question, with a simple but stupid answer; on the one hand, Phil had called round for a BBQ that always resulted in a long night of sorrowful banter disguised as wit and entertainment, and on the other, this was the day he'd been dreading for six, far too short weeks - the last day of the summer holidays!
Whilst being a teacher gave you great time-off (no-one could really deny it although everyone tried!) the downside was that it was all too easy to develop a fear and reluctance to re-engage in the world that had become 'modern education’ after such lengthy breaks away from the coal face! Frank was the classic example of the world worn educator - dreading the end of his summer break and the inevitability of the academic year ahead.
Essentially, he really loved what he did, despite any ingrained embarrassment and all the associated baggage that goes with the label 'music teacher’ (and there is always some in any school). He felt he’d tried and somewhat succeeded in finding a way to inspire, whilst still retaining a genuine enthusiasm - rare now amongst his colleagues - and had ascended to the position of Head of Music at Greater Barrows High, certainly one of the better schools in the county. It had been difficult at times and had needed resilience and real determination, but Frank wasn't a quitter - he had seen too many of his peers simply walk away without achieving very much, as they became increasingly frustrated with trying to deliver a meaningful music programme in schools that didn't want them. Frank wasn't going to accept that this was okay, in fact he wasn't going to accept much in the way of suppression at all - he was going to attempt to convince everyone that not only was music important, it was vital in its place in the world, and in particular in a child's development! Whilst his colleagues at times thought he was delusional, Frank didn't care; delusional or not, above all else, he was a driven professional.
Passionate about his vocation, he was never happier than when he was delivering the 'nuts and bolts’ of music to a diverse bunch of pupils ranging from age eleven to eighteen. He loved to be involved with drawing them together; the talented, the not so talented, the completely untalented, (the downright pathetic) and often eking out of them achievement and performance that in many cases not only seemed unlikely, but often verged on the 'mission impossible’ only a precious few weeks before an event. He loved the stress of the potential pending disaster and the fulfilment of salvaging it from the flames, sometimes only hours before public humiliation seemed unavoidable!
Perhaps it was a gift; a noble calling; a dedication and a bravery, to keep flying in the face of adversity and challenge the musically challenged (which seemed to include almost all of the pupils and the vast majority of his colleagues these days) in an environment that increasingly stated'Why do we want this?’'What is it for?’'Music isn't important any more - if it ever was!’And whilst he still held his passion to teach, guide, mentor and support - with some common aims (intellectual understanding and development, and great musical performance) - he was becoming increasingly tired of facing another year of uphill struggle with inane arguments and common-room politics. Additionally, the continuing war of attempting to convince barely literate teenagers that a real understanding of the art of music would help them intellectually, without the necessary infrastructure support of academic backing, was in the end just too wearing. The foundations of resilience were crumbling, and had been for some time in truth, thus the drowning of sorrows last night prior to reengagement!
Who was he kidding anyway? Some of the kids at Greater Barrows wouldn't recognise a glimmer of intellect if they tripped over it, fell on their backsides and sat in it! Mind you, most of the staff had clearly tripped over something long ago that they hadn't recognised either - they’d got their own heads completely buried somewhere as a result, and Frank wasn't convinced any of it was much to do with intellect - so perhaps the battle really was already lost! If you can't convince your peers who can you convince? Perhaps, in the end it wasn't a noble calling after all, he was just simply deluding himself - he was of little importance delivering a marginalised subject in a potentially futile environment - end of.
Or, perhaps he was just 'pompous and arrogant’ as some of his colleagues clearly thought he was? Actually, he’d given up caring what other staff thought of him a long time ago; he had to sit outside the box just to do what he had to do - if they didn't like him for it, tough! It didn't make him very collegial, but it got results for the kids, and that in the end was the bottom line. In retrospect though, drowning your sorrows in the bottom of a bottle of whisky might raise your level of philosophy, but it wasn't very mature, didn’t cure anything, and it sure as hell bit back the next day with a stomping kick in the head.
He tried to focus on the dressing table (difficult) and brace himself for the final day of 'rest' before the inane struggle of INSET engulfed him tomorrow. He knew (or hoped) deep down that he'd be fine once he got there - Debbie always told him he would be, and she was right, (as she usually was about most things) so he knew really that once he got back into the thick of it he was always better off dealing with it, rather than dwelling on it in a grump. Even in his drunken stupor he knew that common sense would win through; he just wanted to prolong the inevitable as long as was humanly possible.
Without Debbie he probably would have made a complete mess of most other things, so she was always worthy of his attention, andstill the love of his life after nearly twenty years of marriage. He knew she could also be fairly intolerant of less than adult behaviour, and as he had the hangover of hangovers he hoped she would be kind and gentle as he heard her approach the bedroom!
”Come on Frank - try and open your eyes and get with it”!
Frank shielded himself from the egg-shell cracking vocalise - he perhaps needed to review whether this particular kind of attention was completely, unrequitedly worthy, at just this point in time, but he suspected Debbie wasn't going to retreat until he responded. Still, he tried to hide and pretend that neither of them were really there, in the vague hope that she might just go away.
”Frank! Stop curling up in defence; you are a long way from a foetus so stop behaving like one, and if you drink yourself stupid like an overdraft endowed student no-one else is to blame but you, you bloody idiot! It really is about time you grew up - so let’s start playing adults today should we? Come on Frank OPEN YOUR EYES! ABRE LOS OJOS!”
Frank moved slowly under the duvet and scrunched his eyes to withstand the onslaught of a new consciousness - the reality of almost full awakening. Gradually Debbie came into a misty, painful focus, her mock anger barely masking the humour on her face. She always loved it when he made an idiot of himself and she had remained the adult, as long as he pulled himself together quickly and didn't ruin the day!
”What time is it?”
”Getting up time. Time to rise oneself 'Oh mighty one' and display the role-modelling adulthood you hold so dear by presenting yourself forth amongst your children - in short, get your backside out of bed and fuddle your way downstairs so you can join us for breakfast! And do try not to embarrass yourself - we don't want to convince our babies that it's acceptable behaviour to get completely 'off our faces’ just because we feel a little sorry for ourselves now do we? Five minutes Frank, or Jamie will be encouraged to show me how loud his speakers go with that Metallica track you love so much.”
”Sorry love.....” he whispered as the door swung shut. Grounded, resourceful and in control - that was his wife. It wasone of the things he loved about her the most, even if he would have preferred to remain just where he was for another somnolent hour or so. He attempted a deep breath and eased his body to a better position so he could slip over the edge of the bed, and gently - ever so gently - plunged himself into the beginnings of a new day, teetering on the edge of the precipice that would become a new academic year.
Frank slumped down in his usual chair at the kitchen table - Jamie to his right, Evelyn to his left; Debbie busy as always making sure everyone had what they wanted, munching on some toast and pouring the coffee. Familial bliss thwarted only by the pounding headache and the desire to hide in a cave.
”Hey Dad - good night last night?”
Jamie, mid adolescent, growing fast, hormonally poised for the onslaught of adulthood and well prepared for the hot, cool, mega and thus noisy package,in which it all too often arrives!
A talented musician who had drifted to bass guitar rather than trombone for obvious reasons, even though he still studied both. His focus of attention in general was on what was 'in' and things which had a more instant appeal than looking at the bigger picture - but then at just fifteen, he had no more idea than anyone what the bigger picture might even be, so why waste 'now time' looking for it? Like a true Eastern philosopher (and the majority of adolescents who seem to either become ever closer to Enlightenment, or irretrievably distanced from it) Jamie lived for the now - the immediate now; the instant now.
”Dad? You know it's like the last day of the summer and I kinda wanted to get that game working that Jack gave me, but you said we probably need a new graphics card coz the computer is like just so OLD.... and you said at the start of the summer that maybe we could think about getting one and now it's like the last day? If we got is sorted today I could still get tomorrow while all the teachers try to remember what to do to teach kids and that'd be really cool, and like we have had like all summer to fix it? Possible? Given that we have spent virtually the whole time not at home?”
Frank shifted the angle of his head in his hands and squinted at his son with a painful grimace forging around his jaw; there was some humour in it, but only that of the wry, black, persecuting kind. Still, as engagement was clearly necessary, and if light banter allayed the prospect of imminent action, then engage he must.
”Are you mine? Are you really the product of these loins? If you were the caring, loving first born heir, I know you would consider your father's position above all else, and gently allow this day to pass without incident or request. Your father has a headache.”
”It's not my fault you got pissed with Phil last night; you promised to look at........”
Before Frank could even find a syllable for response Debbie stepped in to restore order.
”James William, we do NOT speak like that in this house - apologise right now.”
”Sorreee...... it's just I....”
”And it's Mr. Bryson to you please, not Phil.”
Frank and Debbie knew only too well that whilst Frank was 'Dad' and 'kinda cool' as an accepted 'street-cred' music teacher in 'teen world', Phil, as a drum kit and electric guitar teacher, was quite simply a hero, and often thought of as one of the gang by many of the pupils - albeit an adult and authoritative one. Sometimes the edges of the staff/pupil relationships could get a little blurry and it was always a useful reminder to both kids that friends and family were also staff at their school!
”We know what you want Jamie, and it may or may not be possible - I would prefer you to be outside most of the next two days; the weather’s okay for once and I would love some help in the garden......”
”I would be outside some of the time - Jack wants to go ride the trail through the woods, but Dad said he'd realign the gears on my bike and I've still got that slow puncture - you know I came off last time and you told me I couldn't go till it was all fixed - I thought it was safer to stay in and work the computer; I don't want to get injured just before school starts again!”
”Jamie, that is emotional blackmail - stop now! We'll talk about it and see what plan there is for today - now finish your breakfast and contemplate the need for putting the hoover around your room - when that's done we can talk.”
A sulky glower and a poetic eye roll terminated with a fixed pleading stare at Frank across the table. Frank gave an apologetic, understanding smile and gentle shoulder shrug, none of it lost on Debbie who caught Frank's eye to prompt a response.
”Let your mum and me have a chat, and see if I can sort some of it out - no promises, and who knows if I can get a graphics card - the things dilapidated anyway; it may be easier to just buy a new computer. (Instantly clear positive reaction from Jamie) But that's not the point - I hate you wasting your time playing computer games when you could be doing something creative, which is why I always stall when you ask, which you know full well”
Jamie resigned himself to the remainder of his breakfast.
Frank gently moved his gaze to his left - Evelyn was occupied with a page from a teen magazine in addition to breakfast.
”Are you going to cause me stress today my sweet, or is all well in Evie world?”
”I think your day already looks like it got wrecked Daddy, and you know I wouldn't want to make it worse, even though it was probably your own fault. But I do still need my speakers fixed to the wall... I was going to ask but it can wait if you don't mind doing the DIY during term time?”
Evelyn, thirteen years and three months old. A summer baby, a Sunday child, a young clone of the wife he adored, and a young lady who was discovering fast how to get what she wanted from the male of the species. She knew he hated DIY at all times of course, but he always procrastinated after work or at weekends - usually things got done during the school breaks, but that window had been missed more and more recently as they chose to spend their holidays in their recently acquired bolt hole in Spain.
Frank turned his attention to his daughter - innocent, naively sweet, and loaded with an ability at gentle manipulation that could make world leaders look like novices. He knew that care was needed here or this trait could escalate disproportionately over the next few years. Frank gave her what he thought was his knowing and understanding look, accompanied by an acquiescing half smile.
”Don't you worry about it Daddy - you know I wanted to listen to some of those music extracts you're going to set for us this term that's all - only coz I always feel a bit weird in class if I don't know stuff and I'm like, your daughter! Whenever- no big deal; they're on the iPod anyway.”
Frank nodded in gentle agreement - he should have fixed the speakers weeks ago, but he needed to be careful not to mark a minor triumph to Evelyn and further deflate Jamie. Tricky stuff this parenting - particularly with a pounding head and intelligent children; their creative, flexible minds not yet completely glued solid and incapable by their immersion in modern education. Perhaps his musical genes would save them? He could hope!
”Okay kids, leave poor Daddy alone so I can fill him with coffee and see if we have a human rather than a zombie in the house. Go on - scoot!”
Jamie made a bit of a show of being in a minor huff but clearly the mention of any new hardware was a real positive, so he was happy to leave things as they were, and helping mum in the garden did seem at least to have been forgotten. Evie stood from the table and tipped to kiss Frank on his forehead.
”I love you Dad, and we're all a bit sad the summer's over - I know you don't want to go back to work, but hey, at least you get to teach me - look on the bright side!”
With a cheery smile, a bounce in her step, the easy vocal delivery of the chorus from the latest hit single, and a toss of her pony tail she was gone.
Debbie sat down nursing her coffee mug.
”What was all that about a new computer? You know you hate him playing games and I don't think you are going to convince him to use it like you want Frank.”
”I know. You're probably right. But I do feel I've let them down a bit this summer, and we aren't keeping up with technology. We should have a plan really 'love it or loath it!’ Jamie's going to start course-work this year and if we don't get him a laptop he is going to need something he can work on at home. He's chosen GCSE music because of his ability, so we probably should have something that can run the software a bit better, and it would probably help me as well.....”
”Sounds to me like you've been thinking about this for a while - don't remember the conversation though...”
”Sorry love, I know we haven't had a chat about it, but you know I have been hedging over upgrading the computer. It might just be better to buy a new one that copes with the next few years. We should think about it I suppose, and I probably have been working it through without saying anything.”
”What do you want to eat?”
Frank knew that Debbie had probably been quietly accepting the same thing, and her changing the subject was, whilst not quite acquiescing, wasn't disagreeing either. A conversation would follow, and as was usual in their relationship, an agreed plan formed, and a course of action pursued, even if there was sometimes a marginal element of reluctance in the decision.
”Toast, marmalade, cappuccino, three egg omelette with sautĂ©ed mushrooms and some.............”
She grabbed his hair as she stood and kissed him on top of his head.
”I'll make you some toast. You know where the eggs are.”
”I'd better check my email to look at the time for INSET tomorrow - probably something stupid like eight o'clock. What should we do later?”
”Well, once you've recovered a bit let’s go for a walk - we need to talk about this computer stuff and once you get back to work you spend too much time indoors, and let’s face it - the fresh air will do you good!. Then let’s see how it goes - we've got to decide on supper and make a start on getting the kids ready for school - but I've got tomorrow to sort that, so no panic. Last day of just the family, so just enjoy it, and maybe do a couple of those jobs for the kids - if you can with a hangover of course?”
“Better make that two paracetamol as well as the toast...!”
Later, once they'd returned from one of their favourite walks, beyond a puncture repair, shortly after the holes had been drilled and the speakers mounted on their brackets, and whilst the final stages of an early supper was developing its flavour in the oven, Frank booted up the computer in the study.
”How long does this bloody thing take?”
”Sorry love, but it’s a complete pain........
Frank opened his work email account to confirm his fears.
”Oh here we go......... you’re joking

. Yep I was so right, typical Peter White and his mercenary attitude - I can hear him now - ”you've all had six weeks holiday so I know you are all itching to get back into it” - he's put INSET to start at eight o'clock - eight o' bloody clock; I just knew he would - complete tosser!”
”Sorry love - but he is! You don't have to work with him; I can guarantee he's a complete and utter .........!”
Frank walked into the common room and headed for his pigeon hole - he could already see the usual clutter of paper stuffing it full.Without even looking at it closely he could predict at least three copies of the time table, tutor group lists, class lists, examination result statistics, year twelve final options lists, tutee time tables, assessment data, new assessment criteria, annual reporting schedule, inspection preparation information and protocols, PSHE schedule and information, SEN needs and information, new pupil information, and somewhere - somewhere amongst all of it - should be fairly near the top - no not that one - or that - aha, here we go, yep, got it - a single sheet of A4 paper - INSET schedule. At least he could dispense with one piece of paper once the day was through!
It had been the same for the last three years; ever since Peter White had been appointed as Director of Studies, replacing a retiring colleague whom Frank had worked with really successfully. The post these days seemed to depend more on the ability to generate statistics, tick boxes and produce copious paperwork for staff (so that everything complied with current legislation, could be measured, and could be presented to a bunch of old, failed headmasters, who happened to have taken an inspector training course so they could pretend they were still useful to education - if they ever had been in the first place of course!) rather than guiding them (the staff that is) to vocational greatness, and actually checking that they were doing their job properly - actually teaching at a high level all the time, not just when an observer sits in the room!
The whole inspection process in particular seemed to be based on the assumption that 'if there is evidence
.. it is good’, and 'if there is none
it is bad’ - it drove Frank mad! Scientists and mathematicians measuring 'good education’ as if it were two plus two. Whatever happened to aesthetics? Whatever happened to creativity? Didn't they know you can show great statistics by having children primed for every test you do - which now seemed to be expected and 'parent law' anyway?
”Oh look - my set all got between eighty and ninety two percent... Wonder how!”
Frank had always done all he could to reflect the progress and high standards of his pupils, but not all pupils were able enough to succeed at the highest level all of the time. In music, the diversity of talent simply cannot be hidden - even the simple idea that all pupils 'ought' to be able to pass a GCSE in the subject by the end of year eleven falls completely by the wayside - in general a music teacher is simply unable to accept a pupil on the GCSE course unless they are already fairly established as a musician and have a solid knowledge and background of the subject; no bones about it, to a degree academic music is an elitist subject. To pass a GCSE in it you just have to be a fairly able musician - there is unfortunately no getting around it - but due to its general lack of focused importance as a subject throughout education, particularly as delivered to the younger age groups, by the time pupils reached year nine, only the minority would ever be able to opt for music as an examination subject in their more senior years. Even then, some of those eligible would be deterred in favour of an alternative that 'might be more beneficial in the future’.
Until creativity itself became viewed as a more important element of education, and statistics and the obsession with 'measuring’ ebbed, Frank knew he had to accept that little was going to change and he would just have to try to comply. This was the area of his job that was giving him the most grief - seeing a talented innovative child become a stunted number cruncher, just because some government protocol dictated that certain subjects - Maths, Science and English - were more important than all others. One look at the paperwork now stuffing his pigeon-hole confirmed it all - bureaucrats were far more concerned that teachers should dedicate the majority of their time, and prove their worth, by filling in lots of paper, rather than actually guiding and dedicating themselves to the pupils. Completely mad. And Peter White was absolutely the worst bureaucrat of them all!
”Hey Frank! How was the summer?”
Adrian Jackson - Head of Art, a generally nice guy but a bit highly strung, prone to tantrums, liked his own way, single, mid forties, very 'arty', but most importantly, helped fight the good fight for The Arts against what could often be the heaving mass of the opposition. Frank considered Adrian a true ally amongst the staff and one of the few colleagues he might actually call 'friend', albeit that Adrian was completely private about his own life, almost to the point of recluse. Frank had often invited him round when they had a gathering at home, but Adrian had yet to accept. Frank guessed that Adrian was the talented typical homosexual artist, and as such was not amongst the 'in crowd' of the staff, but like Frank, he functioned on the periphery with great sensitivity and understanding, and held unrivalled dedication and professional integrity. Frank was glad he and Adrian shared the same corner, even though it added to the potentially feminine illusion of music as a weak artsy subject - mostly for girls in the eyes of some staff and an unfortunately large number of the boy pupils! Where on earth did this perception come from anyway? Bullies probably! Inadequate, uncreative homophobic brawlers who had to make their mark somehow, and had previously discovered they themselves were inept within the Arts! If you can't hack it, diss it!
”Hi Adrian. Good; it was good. Just seems to fly by all too quickly and suddenly you're back here with reams of paper!”
”I know - in a couple of weeks it will seem like we never had a break at all; better not to dwell on it I think! Did you escape to Mallorca and reinvent your cultural and artistic self?”
”Oh, absolutely! I couldn't live without it now; I actually think it's the only way I stay sane, and you're right, the culture is still so vibrant. Actually there was an incredible art installation in the local town where they host an arts festival through the summer; early days but we must have a serious chat about it - I've been having some ideas and I think we could do something really great with the kids..... What about we have an 'arts meeting' in the next couple of days and pool some ideas?”
”Okay, but I have got most of the term planned out already...”
”I know, I know, and I knew you would have things in place already, no worries, but I think I can fit in musically with almost anything you have, for what I have in mind. Let's just have a collective chat and see if we can draw things together across the arts; make an even greater impact - you know how we're always being asked to 'combine department work' - well I think this could fix it really easily.”
”Okay, let's compare timetables later and see if we can find a common time towards the end of the week; I've got a new teach.......”
”Hello Frank, Adrian, how was the world of flawed aesthetics over the summer? Guiding you both to a beautiful truth I do hope? Did you pop off to Spain again Frank, in your little bolt hole?”
Peter, bloody White - always full of interrupted self importance.
”Mallorca Peter. We spend our summers on Mallorca.”
”Ah, yes.” Accompanied with an all knowing, smirky chuckle.
”Madjorca! - Brits abroad, live entertainment, discos, karaoke - right up your street Frank - a bit like a refresher course every summer; keeps you on the edge!”
”You show your ignorance Peter - The island of Mallorca, spoken Mayorca, is one of the most beautiful places in Europe, considered by many to be amongst the top most beautiful places in the world - the Sunday Times did a review on it recently, and they seemed to agree. We live there out of choice,instead of living here - as much as we can!The food is real, not plastic - actually pulled from the neighbouring farms; the weather is amazing - Mediterranean actually; and the people are nicer - more balanced -less polite at times, but in an earthy grounded way that has a certain brutal honesty about it. Not the affected 'know it all, holier than thou’ smug kind of way we see so much of here back in the UK! So its a refreshing change actually.”
Adrian slipped away with a nod of acknowledgement to them both. He had no interest in disparaging jibes at any time, but certainly not so early in a new term - Frank had never quite learned not to rise to the bait and Peter was a seasoned fisherman simply enjoying his weekend sport.
“I’m sure it’s a lovely place, I simply cannot imagine what you actually do there for six weeks... Living out of a suitcase in little more than a hotel room...”
”We live there Peter - that's where we call home; that's where we leave quite a lot of our belongings. One day we might actually live there permanently.”
”Crazy to me Frank - where you work is where you live. Where you go on vacation should provide diverse experiences, not a place where you just pay more bills, see the same sights, and visit the same shops! You should widen your horizons a bit; keep yourself fresh - help the family to expand their knowledge - visit some different places when you get a break.”
”I think we all stay pretty fresh Peter, and not entrenched and blinkered. Not difficult to go on holiday from Mallorca - just a paradigm some people with closed minds could find tricky to grasp. By the way, is there a real reason for starting INSET at eight o'clock, or did desperate 'holiday boredom' get the better of you? You should find yourself a bolt hole Peter, a place where you can step away and relax a bit - ease some of that frustration, help lighten the load.”
”I'm right where I want to be Frank, and who needs nearly seven weeks holiday really? Today is a planned normal working day - no reason to start any later. Back to the real world - structure and rigour - not the hazy, lazy basking of artists and musicians! Ah, there's Jason, I need to catch him before we start. Glad you're back refreshed and sharp Frank; you’ll need to stay alert these next few days to keep up!”
Then he was gone; more important conversations to be had.
Frank cursed himself inwardly for his inability to pass off the likes of Peter White; he just couldn't help himself and knew that in the long run the repartee didn't do him any good.He was too easily drawn, and after talking to just two colleagues was already wound up, and it was only seven fifty in the morning. Pathetic. He went to go and chat with a few others to quell his irritation, and see if he could find his new assistant, Clare, before the day got fully underway with the joys of the full staff-meeting.
Typical Peter bloody White. It had taken him less than five minutes and Frank already felt like he needed to be anywhere other than right where he was. Welcome back!
Frank took a seat off to one side but fairly close to the front of the assembled staff; The Headmaster, Dave Grimshaw, liked to hold his staff meetings in a semi round - he was a fair man and the opinions of his staff mattered to him, whilst he still maintained the firm control to make clear decisions. Frank sometimes felt he had a need to chip in over certain matters of policy, so he always positioned himself clearly within Dave’s sightline.
As he removed his wristwatch and placed it on the table in front of him, alongside his notes, The Headmaster took his seat with Peter White on one side and Nicola, the school administrator, on the other taking minutes.
”Good morning everyone; welcome back! - I trust we all had a relaxing summer break and are refreshed and ready to launch into a new year? A few changes,which will become clear as the day unfolds, but first to introduce our new staff members to you; then we'll have a report back on the summer trips and activities.......So, joining the science department we have .........”
The staff introductions continued and Frank tried to take in the new names and faces. He was amazed every year at how young some of the new teachers looked - barely older than the out-going sixth formers it seemed - he couldn't believe that he'd probably looked the same when he'd started teaching. It sometimes made him feel quite old and seasoned, but also glad in a way that he now had the experience to know what to take seriously and what to pay lip service to - with the exception of certain Director’s of Studies! A staff common room meeting could be a very intimidating place to be for new, young teachers on the first day of a new school year; Frank decided to make a real effort to go and have a chat with each new teacher to introduce himself, and make the offer of using him as a sounding board for the hundreds of questions new staff would inevitably have.
The meeting paced through predictably along the usual amicable feedback until Dave turned his attention to matters academic, and in particular preparations for the upcoming inspection in the New Year.
“So, I'll now hand over to Peter to brief you on examination results, assessments, reporting, documentation and how we will be spending the rest of the day through INSET.”
Peter stood and positioned himself at the side of the desk in front of Dave - Frank became irritated immediately as the move blocked half the staff from Dave's site line. It could of course have been just careless unawareness by Peter, but Frank knew that wasn't true - everything Peter did was calculated and potentially manipulative - a sycophant when necessary but an opportunist first and foremost. Peter saw himself in the Headmasters chair either here or somewhere else before too long, and he didn't seem overly concerned about who had to be walked over to get there. Frank tried to quell his irritation and annoyance - even the smallest actions from this man were prompting instant fury and irrational reactions!
”Just ignore it Frank....” He told himself, as he tried to focus on what Peter was actually spouting on about.
” the mean of the collated results across the board versus the predicated mean from the full cohort MidYis tested projections was actually an increase of nought point five of a grade; this indicates a value added based on expectation, that was actually reflected within our internal assessment data, clearly defining pupil tracking targets throughout year eleven.”
Mark Clayton, Head of PE and often the one to voice a humorous quip (Frank felt it went with the turf - overly sporty guys exerting a bit of Alpha Male humour) couldn't resist the opportunity.
”Peter, does that mean we got the kids half a grade higher than expected in some cases, but we already knew we were likely to?”
There was a collective chuckle around the room - most of the staff shared the sentiment that stating the obvious wrapped up in fancy terminology was killing the profession, and was, in many ways, a shameful waste of time and talent.
”Yes Mark, that is exactly what it means.” Peter was clearly a little irritated by the impertinence but wasn't going to have his stride altered by anyone.
”But we need to aim for a one rather than a nought point five. A one ensures that all pupils will gain a grade higher than we predicted they would get when tested at year nine. That is to be our target boundary for the upcoming year, and I will be meeting with each HOD individually over the next few weeks to set out what arrangements we will make within each subject to achieve this, as a foremost priority across the board.”
No-one felt like making a funny comment after that - all the humour seemed to have evaporated. In fact, all the positive ions seemed to have been sucked out of the room altogether! Mark felt the need though, for a pertinent comment.
”Peter, we all know that last years Year Ten, which will now be Year Eleven, are just not as bright as the Year Elevens we've just had - how do you think we're going to lift their grades higher than they are capable of?”
”That is why I need to speak to each HOD; to implement a successful strategy, as necessary, to ensure these results. Yes, it may mean we all work harder; yes, it may mean certain students have a curtailed activity programme; yes, it may mean we revise extra curricular activities; yes, it may mean we look carefully at any academic time loss - fixtures, trips, matches etc. One thing is clear; if we are to achieve our aim with this year group, we need to implement a strategy in October, and we all need to realise that this is the most important thing on our current agenda's to ensure our reputation as a school continues. Now, we need to move on today, so I won't take questions on this at present, but all HOD's can talk it through when we meet tomorrow.”
This was fairly typical; don't engage in debate but pick off smaller numbers or even individual staff one by one - Frank sometimes wondered why they bothered with staff meetings at all; why not just send an email outlining what was going to happen if you couldn't discuss it?
”For the remainder of today we need to get started on our collective self assessment tasking.” Continued Peter in his usual seamless outpouring.
”So I have assigned you each to a group, and nominated a chairperson. You each have areas to discuss and paperwork questionnaires to complete based around a variety of topics; pastoral care, management effectiveness, governance, curriculum issues, time table effectiveness etc., which you will discuss through the next two sessions; then we will have a full plenary session at the end of the day where you can give feedback. That gets us off on the right track at the start of the year, and helps us focus on how we can improve in general, with us all following the same path. The list of groups is on the common room board with the room where your group will be based, and I will pop round to each group through the day to see how you're getting on. Thank you Headmaster.”
Frank just hated this stuff. In the end, anything controversial would be ignored anyway, and most staff would feel they had to be politically correct, so they watered down their arguments - certainly on paper. It would almost certainly end as a mediocre reflection of the school as a whole, and thus a pointless exercise in his view. Last year an analyst company was hired to survey the parents, and gain honest feedback (another expensive Peter White idea - these things don't come cheap!) and whilst the majority of parents simply did not respond, eleven percent did. The results were then collated and those views expressed as useable data. 'Sixty percent of our parents would like to see more X or Y...' Well excuse me, but sixty percent of eleven percent is about seven percent of the actual total - so not very many then! This apparently wasn't an issue, and any evidence was just used to implement change - usually by Peter - so he could make his mark. It didn't even seem to matter if there was no real benefit for the pupils, in fact it was often the opposite; the pupils could well be disadvantaged as long as the protocols were followed and the paperwork was in order.
Frank listened and groaned inwardly to himself as Dave tied up the initial proceedings. What had 'modern education' become? The day was going to be dull and pointless just so a box could be ticked - yep, we had a full staff self-assessment day. Whoopee..! He lifted himself from his seat and headed for another cup of coffee, straddling the fence between downright anarchy or barely manageable abeyance. As always, he knew he would make himself 'tow the line', but it was becoming more and more difficult to comply, and he wasn't even sure he could find the humour in it anymore. He just felt a bit weary of it all - wasn't he supposed to have enthusiasm at the start of a new year? How did it all get beaten out of him so quickly - was it him that had changed, or was it the unnecessary apparent piousness of bureaucracy? Whatever it was, Frank knew he was borderline rebellious and would have to work hard to hold his tongue in these first few days and weeks. Too much time with his own thoughts and relative sanity over the summer perhaps; time now to buckle up, drive safe, and keep inside the speed limit - although the temptation to break away from the traffic queue, nip off down a side road, and find that unhindered, open country lane was an itch almost impossible not to scratch.
”Just stay calm Frank!” He told himself as he made it to the coffee machine and stabbed the button for a double espresso.
Debbie unlocked the door and deactivated the alarm. She would use the morning to take stock of any deliveries and make a start on putting things in order again. It was now almost a decade since she had taken over as manager at 'Novel Ideas', the rather quaint bookshop in town, and last remnant of a bygone shopping era. Grace, the owner and founder, had benefitted from a wealthy husband and a dedicated clientele over some forty year period, and whilst the shop still generated a small but handsome profit she saw no reason to sell anytime soon. She had run the shop solo through to her late sixties, when her husband’s failing health dictated two things - greater time at home to care for him, and the realisation that rather than read about life through literature, it was probably time to enjoy what was left of her own before it was too late!
Debbie had been a regular customer who greatly respected Grace's manner and style, and was genuinely flattered when Grace (out of the blue) asked if she would be interested in helping run the shop part-time. It became the perfect scenario, with Debbie gradually becoming full-time after a few years and now, ten years on, the sole manager of the shop, albeit respectful of, and with full compliance to Grace’s wishes. Over the years, the turnover had increased with some new initiatives, and Debbie was able to employ two part-time assistants of her own, which gave her total flexibility over her hours and the ability to take school holidays as necessary - always the difficulty with any job when married to a teacher!
The only downside of taking a long summer vacation was the sorting, stocking and bookkeeping required after several weeks of turnover and new deliveries. Her two temps., Lizzie and Julian were great, and although Julian could be a little unreliable, (early twenties, would-be writer, trying to write first novel, often distracted by frustration and partying) Lizzie more than compensated with her generally grounded reliability. She ran her own online business and was seemingly happy to bring a laptop into the shop twenty four seven if need be, reckoning she could focus on her own stuff during the quiet periods without customers - as long as Debbie didn't mind that some core elements of running the shop (stocking shelves etc.) were pretty much neglected. The 'manning the fort’ arrangement generally worked well, but with the stock and accounts left solely to Debbie, she now had weeks to catch up on. Not that she minded - she actually liked working the spreadsheets and made it a real source of pride that she was able to budget effectively, and took a genuine joy in reporting back to Grace with solvent news.
With regard to the stock (the books themselves) and how they were presented on the shelves, that was her real passion - she just loved books, and seeing them in an ordered fashion. She took real consideration in how the books were organised, and made every effort to have the shelves displayed as an excellent library rather than a bookstore. Easy access to literature and information, and a knowledge of the materials on offer is what kept their clientele using them above the many and easier alternatives. With constantly changing titles and the need for current 'bestsellers' to have a clear impact, it was always a challenge to know what to place where, particularly after a long period away, with many new works. Debbie knew this would keep her busy for weeks and was still freshly excited to see which books had made it into print, or which authors were 'on a roll'. Her job gave her complete access to what she loved most - a great story well written, or a clear argument well defined.
She worked through the morning with a smattering of customers and lifted many of the slightly older titles off the shelves into neat piles, still in alphabetical order and was just considering a lunch break when the door 'chimed in' a customer.
”Hello Debbie. I thought you'd probably be back on duty today with term starting. How was the summer?”
”Hi John - do you know how much I love the reliability of some of our customers? I’ve had a hunch you’d pop in all morning! And the summer was excellent thank you - I just always feel for Frank when it's over and he has to get through these first few weeks back; he finds it harder each year, even though he loves what he does really.”
”Ah, yes - the myth of modern education! He struggles because he is an artist who is guided by emotional response and believes 'creativity' - the process of original meaningful ideas - is important to the human race; and in particular children. How radical would it be to allow children in education to actually have access to the kind of problem solving skills and development that might actually make a difference? Dangerous talk - it could change the world! It’s the reason I retired early, as you well know, but do tell Frank he isn't wrong - the world needs people like him if there is any chance of the race making it to the twenty second century!”
”It's all too political for me John, I just try to encourage him to stick at it for the kids’ sake - it's the bureaucracy that kills him the most, and I know I don't need to convince you of that!”
John Hardy had retired early from Frank's school three years earlier, stepping down from the position of Director of Studies which he had held for over a decade. As an English language specialist he had also been the driving force behind many of the drama productions in collaboration with the drama department, and had often drafted in Frank to co-produce a musical or at least have some incidental music crafted into the performances. The period was still viewed by many as something of a 'Golden Era' of arts productions at Greater Barrows, due in no small part to the drive and vision of John as a man who understood all sides of education, not just the box ticking.
It was one of Frank's saddest days at work when he learned of John's intention to resign and retire early, and in reality, he hadn't embraced any changes or 'innovations' since.
”So no obvious signs of improvement at the start of the new year then?”
”No John, I actually think its worse. Frank was saying last night that everything has gone assessment mad and the bid for excellence is all based around evidence and statistics. They are asking the impossible by demanding higher grades from a weaker year group next year and expecting the staff to drop all else to achieve it!”
”Madness! Complete bloody 'head in the sand' madness! It should all be about value added in general terms, not constantly higher results - Greater Barrows got great reviews for what they achieved this year; maintaining it will be difficult enough! That man White seems to be an arrogant ladder climber, more concerned with his own CV stats. than actually the vital holistic education of the children in his care. It sounds to me like he'll push those poor kids to misery and failure next summer, not success. And all in a bid for what? Marginally higher statistics?”
”That's what Frank says - he's so worried they won't allow the year elevens and thirteens to take part in any of the wider education on offer, and you know what that means? No play involvement, no music ensembles, possibly a reduced activity programme altogether. He's very down about it all. But I know I'm preaching to the converted - sorry, I shouldn't bore you with the on-going saga; I know that's why you left teaching...... How can I help you anyway? Is there a new book you fancy?”
“Yes,yes - we'll come to that. And you’re right, I did get fed up with the constant politics - life is much rosier now - however, whilst it is indeed why I left teaching a tad early, don't forget Frank and I were great allies through our time together. If he needs any help please do remind him I am only the other end of a telephone, or he could always pop round. You know, he should find a way to vent his frustration constructively - he has some great ideas and I'm certain he still has that innovative inspiration; it's what draws the pupils to him. He should channel his anger into making a statement somehow - write some music, or do a paper to submit to the education council. Even write a text book about how to deliver composition to untalented pupils - something, anything, as a channel for self expression. Tell him from me to do something positive, and 'don't let the buggers get him down!'
“Now, the real reason I'm here,and on precisely the same subject as it happens, is that I understand Sir Ken Robinson may be about to publish another masterpiece of common sense which will demand my attention - launch date in October - would you do me the honour of pre-ordering a copy?”
“Let's have a little look on the system to see what we have...... I'll tell him to give you a call soon John, it always makes him feel a bit better when he knows he isn't alone out there, and he really does miss you being around! Now, lets see..... Okay,yep here it is - due out mid-October - if I pre-order it, it’ll be here by launch date, okay? Silly question! I'll just get the order book - give me a minute.”
After a short break for lunch Debbie had just about managed to arrange most of the titles in 'Science Fiction', both old and new, in the areas close to where they would be shelved. She was down on hands and knees in the section when she heard the door 'chime in' a customer. She continued arranging the stacks for a couple of minutes to allow the customer to browse and then made her way back to the counter area to see if any assistance was needed. Strangely, there was no one in sight - some of the shelves were shoulder height, but it would be most unusual for a child to have come in either unaccompanied, or at this time of day - she went to investigate.
The first evidence of 'a presence' hit her as she rounded the corner of 'British History' and moved down to the 'Social and Environmental' section. The air was filled with a woody, slightly soapy smell, with a hint of ginger a bit like freshly baked biscuits - at least that's how she described it to herself later when she tried to conjure it up again to remind herself. The second piece of evidence was a shuffling noise on the other side of the bookcase, somewhere in the 'Journalism' section, accompanied by some gentle low murmuring, and the sound of books being piled on top of each other. Debbie moved around the end of the aisle swiftly, speaking as she rounded the corner.
”Can I help you find what you're looking for?”
Startled, the man stumbled onto his backside from a crouching position, still holding a book in each hand. Whilst he must have been around mid to late thirties, the loss of composure and look of helplessness made him appear as the child he had once been. Debbie couldn't help but smile and give a little chuckle at the poor man's embarrassment.
”I am so sorry - I really didn't mean to startle you like that, I just couldn't see anyone was there. Is there anything in particular I can help you with - getting up perhaps?”
The man looked up at her with a resigned slightly crestfallen expression.
”No, I'm fine right here;sittin' on my butt in the middle of an English bookstore, just trying to find something inspiring to read
..! Impressive so far wouldn't you say? Do you always try and spook your customers by sneakin' up on them like that?”
He'd said it with a grin and amusement in his eyes, and then moved (very gracefully actually) to standing up. Tall, lean, slightly rough shaven, wavy dark blond hair, comfortable natural clothes, and a real intelligence behind his easy manner; and that smell - provoked again as he moved - soft, warm gingerbread!
”I am so sor....”
”Mike. My name's Mike, and yes I'm an American.”
Debbie shook his offered hand and was immediately conscious of it’s warmth;it’'s strength;that she held it for just a bit too long;that she would happily hold it again;that she was suddenly not speaking; that she was staring inanely at his face.
She quickly let go and tried to regain some composure.
”I'm Debbie; I work here.”
For a moment there was silence as he just looked directly at her, Debbie trying and failing not to keep catching his eye, wondering what on earth her hands were now for, and what to do with them. Then thankfully, he spoke and a degree of normality returned.
”Gathered. I would love it if you could help me find 'Into Danger by Kate Adie'. Been told its a must read, but your books all seem to be in big piles on the floor...... rather than on the shelves? So I was just going through what seemed to be the 'A' pile.”
”Sorry - again. Just in the middle of sorting out new stock. Let’s see if I can find you a copy.”
It was now Debbie's turn to get down on her knees, which made her feel oddly self conscious and too aware of the potential embarrassment near this comfortable man; her emotions were in quick-fire confusion, jumping from amused interaction to heart-racing excitement in a nano-second! Her instinct shouted loud and clear 'Run like hell girl
..this guy is causing serious vulnerability and loss of control..’Mike it seemed, was only too aware of her discomfort, and immediately dropped back down in a crouch beside her.
”Here, let’s sort it out together.”
They worked through the titles, finding a couple of other books by Adie, but not the one Mike was looking for. Debbie had time to compose herself as they checked through each book.
”No. It looks like we don't have it at the moment - let me go and check the computer.”
Debbie was pulling up the search information as Mike moved around the bookshelves and headed for the counter. She watched him gently approach with an easy, calm gait.
”My God.” She thought.
”Heaven help me - a beautiful sexy man stalking me in my own shop!”
”We don't have it at the moment, but I can get a copy in three days if you're happy to call back in?”
”I don't think I'd have a problem with that - give me something to look forward to.”
”If you like I could take your number and give you a call to confirm delivery - save you wasting the trip if it gets delayed?”
Mike took out a pen and started scribbling on a piece of paper torn out of a notebook he produced from his bag.
”Now that's what I call customer service - here you go, that's my cell phone number. Okay, see you in a few days. You know though, it wouldn't be a wasted trip in any case; book late or not.”
And then he was gone, with a real smile and playful joy in his eyes. Debbie sat on the chair behind the counter and tried to go through each second of the previous few minutes. Tried to work out what, if anything, had actually happened........, and tried to catch hold of the aroma she could still faintly detect - softly baked gingerbread.
A real live gingerbread man!
All accompanied by a suspicious tiny pang of guilt.
Actually more than a tiny pang.

She would have to be a little selective when she relayed the days events to Frank!
No point in overreacting and raising concerns over nothing.
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