Long, long, ago, in the dim and distant past, I was a primary school teacher and for nine long years I had a classroom with a monster stockroom, the sort of stockroom that had all the other teachers green with envy. It was five feet wide by fifteen feet long and you could have put every other stockroom in the school inside it and still have had space to spare.
(Aside – You probably have to have been a primary school teacher desperately looking for space in which to store the hundred and one things you need to cope with teaching everything under the sun to thirty plus information and experience hungry nine, ten and eleven years to have any idea how valuable such a stockroom is and how high it comes up on the scale of things that give rise to murderous envy amongst the teaching profession. Just take my word for it.)
But, this stockroom harboured a secret. It was so big that no one in living memory had ever got to the back of it, no one knew what lay in its murky depths. That is until the day when I came into school in what can only be described as a stinking rage.
Now, it is very rare for me to get angry about anything, I much prefer a peaceful life, but on this particular day I had been badly let down, at the last minute, yet again, by a certain person who shall remain nameless and I was incandescent. And when I am incandescent I tidy. If something has upset me keep your distance because I am quite likely to tidy you up and away where you will never ever be found again.
So, eyes blazing and surrounded by eager children (who had recognised the symptoms but quickly divined that they weren’t the ones in the doghouse) I declared that we were going to clear out the stockroom.
Thirty children lined up ready to have their arms ladened with paints, brushes, art paper (various weights and colours), exercise books, weighing scales, old pine cones from long forgotten nature displays, home made water clocks, empty yoghurt pots and egg cartons and a multitude of dusty, abandoned examples of one I made earlier. We spread everything around the room and started to make decisions. This we would keep. This we would put on the ‘maybe’ pile. This was for the bin.
But, the bin would not hold everything. The bin would not hold one thousandth of what we had decreed had got to go. And so, the long trek began. This classroom was on the first floor and for the entire morning laughing nine and ten year olds could be seen trooping up and down the stairs arms ladened with what seemed like centuries of rubbish. Eventually, the Head, whose office they had been trooping past, came to see what was going on and suggested black bags might be in order. Two children were dispatched to find the caretaker. They duly returned with a roll of black bags and the exodus continued.
We were very nearly brought to a halt when we discovered one of these, an old fashioned iron mangle. My mother had one when I was little but none of the children had ever seen one before. Everyone crowded into the by now, half-empty, stockroom for a quick social history lesson, not to mention a discussion as to how we were going to move the darned thing. Fortunately, it shoved quite easily and we were soon back into the main business of the day – tidying the stockroom.
Eventually the caretaker himself appeared (and anyone who has ever working in a primary school knows that the two people who hold all the power are the school secretary and the caretaker. The only person who thinks it’s the Head is the Head themselves and having come up through the ranks they really ought to know better) suggesting that it might be time to stop because there was no more room in the outside bins and anyway he didn’t think the bin men would take any more.
But, by this time we had achieved our goal. We had plumbed the stockroom’s uttermost depths. We were at the back. And there, abandoned by some long forgotten teacher, no longer loved by some dim and distant class of children, we found him – a stuffed three-legged badger. The children carried him (and no doubt an army of fleas as well) victoriously to the front of the classroom, as if the sole object of the exercise had been to mount a rescue and bring the poor, benighted animal back into the fresh air and sunlight that he had presumably once enjoyed. Nothing I could say would gainsay them. He had to have pride of place on the nature table – fleas and all.
There could have been a very tearful conclusion to this story because of course Brock couldn’t stay there. Fortunately, he was a three-legged badger, a wounded hero, who deserved to be allowed to go to a peaceful rest. We buried him with full military honours – and then the caretaker dug him up again later and disposed of him rather more appropriately. But, so as far as the children were concerned the story had, if not a happy ending, then one that they could accept and if any of you ever tell them what really happened I will come round and tidy you up forthwith.