Yesterday, Jake came home from school with an impromptu request.
“Our teacher wants to know if I can bring some crackers in, because I’m English.”
Crackers, for those of you who don’t know, like the French, are toilet-roll inners wrapped in fancy paper. Inside this is a little bit of card with a tiny bit of powder that ‘cracks’ when you pull them with a partner, to reveal, oh joy of joys, a little plastic ‘Made in China’ gift. Apparently, China are outsourcing to Vietnam now, so it might say ‘Made in Vietnam’. There’s also a terrible joke and a paper hat. It’s compulsory to wear the paper hat if you want to look the part. That is… if the part is looking like a drunken, fashion-less fool. For this privilege, you usually pay about £10 for a box. My brother Al and I have a competition to see how many we can win – we even have a technique and a specific angle.
However, they aren’t known in France, and whilst you can buy them from various English shops, they’re three times the price, and since there’s not so many of us here over Christmas, it just didn’t seem worth it. So, no, we didn’t have any crackers.
I went to my dad’s to see if I could find any in his grange. I had a distinct memory of sleeping with a bag full of crackers next to me last Christmas. But we couldn’t find any. Just as we were packing up, my Dad’s neighbour turned up with a stere of wood for my dad’s fire – so we spent a good ten minutes taking them off the trailer and catching up on new dogs and local news.
So… in lieu of that, I decided to crack into a Christmas pudding as a swap. Most of the ingredients are available here, except they don’t really ‘do’ different mixed fruit – just raisins. I’d kind of adapted it and it’s now without glacé cherries. How can France not do glacé cherries? Surely glacé implies ‘iced’? I thought they would be like marrons glacés, but they aren’t available over here, despite how popular they are in England. Neither is crystallised ginger. All of these are missing, but my Christmas pudding seemed right. I shall have to make my own crystallised ginger and glacé cherries next year when the cherry crops are ready. I found the stout and enough dried fruit to sink a ship, so I managed to make three 2-litre puddings. One is for Christmas pudding ice-cream, one is for eating, and one was a spare.
So… I sent Jake with a note saying I was prepared to come in with a Christmas pudding and some custard. The French love custard, like we love crème patisserie. I got an excited phone call ten minutes into school time saying the children would be delighted to sample some Christmas pudding.
Unfortunately, between nine and two, a million things went wrong. I got a flat tyre, my dad’s Clio wasn’t starting, since it’s been out of use for a few weeks, the charger wouldn’t charge, every time we tried to attach it, the alarm kicked in, and Steve called me a chocolate fireguard and made me sit in the van, because all I could think about was 180 euros for two second-hand tyres like last time. That’s nine tyres this year.
So, by the time I got to school, I was a little frazzled. Still, rows of delighted children will cure you of that. They were all extremely excited to taste Le Crissmass pooddinguh and to take the recipes and get the ingredients. I have to say I was giddy, too, as they worked out what was what. Some said it wasn’t for them. Some liked it though it was a bit strange. Several came back for more, though I think they were just hoping for ‘la pièce’ the lucky sixpence. Axel, who’s a bundle of enthusiasm (I wish I had a friend called Axel. It’s a cool name. I wonder if he’s named after the German band who did the tune to Beverley Hills Cop, Axel F, or after W Axl Rose, the rock star who really should have taken early retirement. The cornrows didn’t do it for me like snake hips did in Welcome to the Jungle. Still, Axel is pretty cool anyway) had an English phrase book from way back when, complete with details of pounds, shillings and sixpences, and when he looked up la crème anglaise, it said “The custard” which I thought was quite cute, and actually accurate, except you wouldn’t ask for the bananas with the custard, really, unless you were reading from Axel’s pre-decimal phrase book. There’s a lovely, hyper-intelligent girl, Sara, in the class. One boy was flicking an elastic band at her, so I said “Donnes-moi!” in my teacher voice and put it in my pocket. Jake was horrified by this. He said: “That’s robbery!” and was quite outraged.
I’m sad he didn’t see me in my prime when I routinely confiscated several phones from various little beggars, would stand at the door with a bin and anyone who didn’t spit gum into it and was subsequently found with gum would be found somewhere with lots of gum stuck to the bottom and made to remove it all. If it came out in my classroom, it was considered my property. I considered my classroom as The People’s Republic of Lady Justine – You have no vote and no say. But I was fair, if strict. I had several rules, one of which was ‘you can’t wear more make-up than me’ and ‘you can’t do ‘THAT’ face’… ‘THAT’ face being that ‘I’ve just seen some dog licking vomit off a pile of doggy doo’ combined with the ‘I have no regard for you and I wish you would die a horrid death in a violent way, preferably involving me spitting on you repeatedly to show my scorn’. I patented this face. I have photographic proof. I can do the scornful adolescent sneer so much better than any child I’ve ever come across. So, any imitation of ‘THAT’ face was immediately banned. Much like a young Elvis might have banned all the ancient old impersonators who would come to represent him. I perfected that look. I made it an art form. None of my friends did it. In fact, they all had healthy, wonderful relationships with their family. However, we did do the class ‘scorn-n-sneer’ to teachers who we didn’t like. So… confiscating an elastic band being flicked at a precocious and amazing little girl is fair game.
Steve just said ‘but you’re not a teacher any more’ and has given an explanation as to how he’d have complained. Like Father, like Son. And little does Steve know that if he’d have complained after having had to have an elastic band removed from his personage by a guest of the school because he was aiming it at a sweet little girl, I’d have carted him off to the Maire to be told off and shamed. I’d have insisted on speaking to his parents (That’s you Susan!) to express my outrage and insisted they share my indignation.
I did this with a boy once, who shall be known as Darren. It’s a pseudonym, though why I don’t name and shame is beyond me.
Said boy was lurking in the corridor, trying to pull a few of my sheep-like fifteen-year-old top set kids out of the fold for mischief. I’d appropriately admonished them and pulled them back into the pack, and said to Boy:
“Who are you?!”
“Why?” *why do they ALWAYS ask ‘why?’ – nothing sets my sparks going like that. Especially when they do it with a whiney nasally tone.
“Because I want to know.”
“What have I done?”
“Well, you won’ t tell me who you are.”
“I don’t have to…”
“In fact, dear, you’re right. You don’t. However, like the police I reserve the right to detain you until you do, so to the back of my class, now.” And I prompted said Boy to my classroom door.
“And you can spit your gum out and tuck your shirt in.” *Any English teachers will know this instantly. I don’t know why British education still bothers trying to clothe pupils in what’s essentially a polyester suit, since all they want to do is wear their tie in weird ways and un-tuck their shirts. I did the same. We wore shirts out to cover rolled up skirts. We had a doughnut ring of skirt around our midriffs. I’m not sure why boys do it, except that if you have your shirt in, you look like a ‘stiff’, as 11 year old me would have said.
“And you can suck my dick…” he said, smirking, thinking the class would laugh. They didn’t. Mouths opened. Jaws dropped. Eyes were on stalks. A bit of tumbleweed blew by.
“Fine… come with me.” I promptly escorted said boy to the headmaster, a portly fellow of great gravitas and dignity, about as prim as you’d want him to be.
“Sir, I’ve brought you a boy….”
Sir looked appropriately worried.
“He’s just asked me to SUCK — HIS — DICK.” I enunciated each word, loudly and clearly, as if the words aren’t common in my mouth. Darren blushed.
The head looked mortified and played along well. He made all the appropriate ‘in front of a lady’ noises, as if this was 1820. I asked for permission to call Darren’s mother. I did the same to her.
“I’m sorry to be calling you, Mrs Jones, but I have some very disturbing things to report. I’m afraid Darren has been incredibly rude. I have to say, as a woman, I’m sure you’ll understand, I felt quite violated by this, but Darren told me to SUCK–HIS–DICK….” I let the words echo. I’ve never seen anyone paler. “I’m sure you’ll understand, if a male teacher said this to a female 15 year old student, how horrific that would be – struck off, possible police investigations and so on.”
I laid it on thick and spread it about like a maturing cheese on a cracker.
By the end of it, Darren was excluded temporarily. He had a file like a telephone book and was on his ‘three strikes and you’re out’ last warning – hence why he wouldn’t tell me his name. I’m quite sure a young boy CANNOT be more mortified than when a female teacher repeats to his loving mother exactly what their little darling just said, and then milks it a little. I thought not, at the time.
It turns out, in Catholic schools, the way to get back in is to apologise in person to every member of the governing body. So Dear Darren had to apologise, precisely, using his exact words, to the priest, the head, the deputies, his parents, and finally, me.
So, Cillian with his elastic band, Stephen with his sympathy and Jake with his distress on Cillian’s behalf about robbery can join the queue of people I’ve caused grievance to.
They can find it directly behind Darren. By now, it’s about 200,000 people long.
What they’ve yet to realise is how boys actually need a firm hand. Rules is rules, but when Miss brings you cake and tells you all the rude jokes in Shakespeare, and sometimes lets you have a rest in her office, you’ll pretty much do anything for her. Boys like it strict. Let it be known. And, if they don’t like it strict, they need it strict!