“Oh look,” said The Lezzie, our very own Delia Le Clezio. “There’s that assignment from that nasty boy in Year 10.”

“Tarquin?”

“That’s the one. Swore he’d handed it in.”

“Swearing being the operative word.”

“I accused him of lying and gave him a detention.”

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid.”

“Oh dear,” said The Lezzie unearthing a further object all mould and crust from the tumble of papers on her desk, “And this appears to be a cup of tea I failed to finish some time in Term 2.”

In all the staffrooms of Lowbottom it is a time of renewal and reclaiming of memory. As the first opportunity in months presents itself, we are in search of lost time as we work through the mounds of paper making tumuli of our desks. Sometimes the discoveries are surprising, not least the appearance of the desk top which is the bedrock of the annual archaeological dig.

For some it is the terminal dig. The Fossil has finally acclimated himself to the idea of retirement. (Actually our principal Imre Kevorkian suggested mildly that his habit of calling the students by the names of alumni long past was proving a handicap to engagement with his classes.) A hoarder, old Foss has secreted about the campus exam papers going back some decades.

No one has ever been sure what benefit was derived by this practice but every so often unsuspecting support staff will open a cupboard and be brained by the assessment tasks of 11E from 1973. The Fossil has been like a dog burying a bone and years hence, as the foundations are laid for the long-promised senior school block to replace the Van Allen Belt of portables, who is to say that another cache of old papers will not be unearthed.

Saddest of all are those mementoes of the teaching life to which the sentimental chalkie clings. There are the jokey coffee mugs (“Old teachers never die, they just lose their class”) and cards penned not quite grammatically by Year 12 students grateful for a pass. And then there is the sequence of photos with various groups proudly displaying plaques and cups of different kinds in which the teacher ages inexorably from enthusiastic tyro to something, in The Fossil’s case, approximating the mummified remains of Ramses.

So yellowed are the oldest snaps of our colleague that they resemble daguerreotypes. The spectacle of all this detritus sifted out from the midden of the educator’s life is impetus enough to purge your own desk of all evidence of sentiment.

And there will be revealed that pristine desk top on which will be raised the edifice of next year’s work. On the ruins of Troy is builded a new city: another Troy.

Peter Fray

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