“OK, guys, we’ve divvied up the duties for the Competitive Poetry and Literature Day [Vaudeville groan]. Burnsy, you’re on haiku. Keep your eyes peeled, mate. There’s always some smart ar-e tries to slip in an extra syllable [Jeer]. Johnno, I’ve got you down for Petrarchan sonnets. Remember, mate, it’s an octet then a sestet [General laughter]. Let’s see, Under 13 and Under 14 villanelles, that’s you, Willsy. No, Willsy, it’s not that place you’re hoping to retire to in Tuscany [Cries of “boom, boom”]. On a more a serious note, we had a near miss with last year’s stream of consciousness [Low hubbub]. I want any staff with a First Aid certificate always in attendance in case we need to resuscitate. Finally, there’s the novelty events [Mock cheer]. This year we’re running the Staff versus Students iambic pentameter. I’ll leave you to sort out your teams. I don’t care how you do it, just as long as there are five feet. Any questions? Then let’s go out there and have fun.”

On such fantasy is the Humanities teacher sustained. The reality is that there is the annual swimming carnival to be endured. This is the time when the sports faculty is free to run the school something very like a Maoist re-education camp. Classics professors digging latrines, that sort of thing. It is worse than Wednesday afternoons where staff, paunchy and stiff of limb, are made to don the school PE kit and venture onto playing surfaces to blow whistles for two hours.

So here we are at the outdoor pool and it is blowing chill from the land of ice and snow. This despite warnings of extreme UV. Warnings which are duly ignored leaving the entire school body at day’s end suffering the twin effects of hypothermia and sunstroke. But there is a vast desert of time to be traversed before the final dismissal. In fact an ocean of time as line after line of shivering little ones throw themselves into the deep end and make like survivors of shipwreck. At intervals, the results of these contests are announced over the PA system. “Congratulations Grassby House on winning the Senior relay.”

The Humanities staff member, meantime, feeling very like an Israelite in the land of the Philistines, marvels at the variety of the human form. “They do get into such indelicate positions,” as old Mr Prendergast remarked to Paul Pennyfeather in Decline and Fall. Readers of Waugh will remember that it was at the Llandudno Sports Day that little Lord Tangent, scion of the Circumferences, was accidentally shot by the starter’s pistol. How one longs for such incident. But now the final tallies are in: Grassby 101 points; Morosi 95; Khemlani 80; Kerr 43.

There is one consoling thought. With the progressively parlous state of the city’s water supplies, this time next year… well, it is an ill wind that blows no good.

Peter Fray

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