It was ‘presentation evening’ at the school. Teachers, pupils and parents met in order to celebrate five years’ work and the more or less successful end of them. The Director of Studies, Mr Hackitt, was standing at the entrance door when we arrived, bowed politely and gave us a welcoming ‘nice to see you, Mrs C.’ He was there in his professional capacity, needless to say, the first parents’ evening since the end of the ‘great strike’, the faintest smile was showing on his face. We gave him a warm ‘hallo’ and my husband thought, this was a good start of the evening. We sat through the programme like everybody else. There were mainly speeches given by the Headmaster, the senior pupils, the Chairman of the Governors and as a special attraction the Director of Education, the ‘most powerful single person among the Education Authorities’, Mr Hackitt explained to us later.
I had rarely heard so much praise and so much applause within a short time. My husband told me that this was common practice, if not routine, on an occasion like that. He remembered it exactly like that from the time he was young. All the speakers, except head-girl and head-boy, first congratulated the pupils on their remarkable results, thus prompting applause from the proud audience, then praised the staff for their remarkable work, prompting more applause, then thanked everybody from headmaster to caretaker, parents, governors and others for all the work put in, all the patience shown and all the good will demonstrated. More applause. All the speakers stressed how difficult the last year had been, teachers’ strike and all that, how precarious the situation and how good everybody’s behaviour, making excellent results possible, one of the best schools he had been to, the Director of Education said. These statements were followed by applause.
The Chairman of the Governors extended particularly profuse thanks to everyone in the least involved and took care not to forget his Vice-Chairman to whom, he said, he owed a lot. He made a little pause to allow time for applause, but for once it didn’t come easily. I could in fact hear one pair of hands which soon stopped, feeling lonely. I thought this was unfair and while the pause lasted, the Chairman preparing to resume, I started clapping with determination and am pleased to say that the rest of the audience followed enthusiastically. The Chairman smiled and turned to the Vice-Chairman who, I hope, was duly moved.
The highlight of the evening was the speech delivered by the Director of Education. He had presented the pupils with their certificates first and had found something to say to every single one. We watched him up there on the stage, marvelling at what he had to say to complete strangers, laughing, waving his hands, stepping backward and forward. One pupil done, the next one came, and so on. He seemed tireless. It turned out afterwards that he had been collecting material for his speech, for he told us first of all that he had met ‘lots of interesting people’ and listed all the professions which they had told him they wanted to choose. He spoke without notes, one hand in a pocket most of the time, bending his body backward and forward for emphasis, starting off jokingly and then assuming a serious face for the basically serious matter he wanted to discuss. Of course, it was Society that was at stake. The quality of its members decides about the quality of Society, he explained to his eager listeners, and all the talent present could play an important part in improving Society considerably. What they would have to do was simple: stick to the ‘dream’ they had of whatever it was, my daughter had told him she had no idea what, and make it come true! Persist, persevere, show their mettle … and a lot more.
I didn’t follow it all. I was distracted by a very worrying noise which seemed to come from near where the fire hose was suspended on the wall. A distinct noise of water, sometimes more, sometimes less, as of a fountain, except that there was none. I was almost expecting water to appear on the floor, it sounded so close. One or two people looked in the direction of the noise. However, on the whole there seemed to be no reason for concern, everywhere stayed dry. I found out afterwards that it had been raining fairly steadily, probably making a gutter overflow. On the outside, of course. I don’t know how thick the wall was and how much rain it would resist in theory.
After the official part came the unofficial one. There were coffee, tea and conversation.We were mainly hanging around, waiting for our son who was giving a helping hand in the kitchen. Mr Hackitt was also around, keeping an eye on everything and clearing empty cups away. I made myself useful and did the same. Eventually there was nothing left to be done and we met up with Mr Hackitt quite naturally. He was having a cup of coffee, saying that without it he would be worthless.
I said, the school appeared to be a splendid one after all we had heard tonight. He answered, he had always known it was, right from the beginning. Splendid atmosphere in general, excellent relationship between staff and pupils, staff and headmaster, staff and parents and among the staff themselves. We heard there was a special type of teacher who seemed to enjoy working and staying at this particular school and whom, when applying for a job there, they would recognize instinctively. If there were two equally qualified candidates for the job, they would choose the one who struck them as the right ‘type’, he said earnestly, without specifying what the exact requirements were. The school wasn’t bad academically, which must have been an understatement judging by what we had previously heard. Not brilliant, he said, but he would like to point out that the staff were working hard.
He might have remembered at this point my last meeting with him, for he hastened to add: Of course, we’re not perfect, but who would be perfect? But it was a nice school, he insisted, the kind of school he enjoyed. I was pleased for his sake, said that we, too, were happy with the school, so were the children, he acknowledged it with a smile and replied that he much appreciated supportive parents. What a good turn-out tonight, for example, I trust he saw me help with the empty cups. I told him we were only standing around because waiting for our son. Where is he then? he asked, let me have a look for him. And he went into the kitchen, into the tearoom and along one or two corridors, we could hardly follow, until he eventually found him. He said ‘nice to have seen you, Mr C., nice to have seen you, Mrs C.’ and we said ‘good-bye for now’.
He was wearing a red tie with lots of tiny white dots, I didn’t think it was too good a choice, too much of the same thing. I preferred the blue tie I saw on him last time, counterbalancing his temperament, so to speak.