A certain smile

Trop belle pour toi
The first bus left at 03:30 and after the final show and the singing and the tears and the laughing and the exchanging of the addresses and the hugs and the couple running their hands all over each other outside by the bins – and they were teachers, not kids. Or I would have had to use Stern Teacher Voice™ to say “Stop That Now. Stand Up, The Pair Of You. What’s Your Name? Not You. I Know Your Name…..”

The litany you can remember from your own school days, but in this case I left them to it and walked away un-noticed. Straight to the staffroom, to tell everyone I could find, obviously, or at least the two French women I liked to talk to. But anyway. Alors.

I had a meeting that day, one that might change my life, a discussion with a former BBC script writer about a TV script about Hereward, our almost forgotten resistance fighter, a man good with a sword and an axe, a David Beckham of the jousting field, if Beckham had come from the big house in the village with the stables, where the daughters have their own ponies and Nanny has her own car because we don’t want her living in. I mean, it’s not 1070 or something, is it? That kind of Beckham, where the kid goes off the rails because Daddy keeps bailing him out when he messes up instead of using Stern Teacher Voice™.

Remarkably effective used sparingly, no more than once a week maximum. Like anything else, a shock tactic has to shock and if it’s something you do every day then it isn’t something that’s going to shock anyone, apart maybe from yourself when you realise how useless it’s become. So go light on it. And I did, which means I didn’t even let the couple know I’d seen them. Just the French women, obviousement. Just in case they said ah dewnt know what ees zat chose, at which point I could say look, I’ll show you. Ennee, meenie, miney mo, um, you first. Er, no, um, no, first choice…. Obviousement.

The darker haired of my French friends advised me to get some sleep between the first bus going and the second one at 07:30, so after reading her a story for a bit we went to our separate rooms and did, for a little while. Sleep, you understand. Not er, you know. It wasn’t discussed. About an hour and a half, I think. Sleeping. A little and deeply, but not long.

After the last bus had gone I was left standing in the sunlight, my French friends driving down the A12 back to their lives again and after the last free, weird breakfast that had everyone English wondering ‘why do French people mix up their food like this?’ and French people wondering exactly the same about the English. The answer being that it’s school food and nobody ever eats like this nor will again unless they’re kind of sad man who can remember School Dinners being a concept restaurant.

And after a short walk in the sun down to the river and the peaceful little square-towered village church in the woods, a church straight out of Miss Marple, past the alpacas, past The Big House where Hereward Beckham could easily have lived, although I preferred to think the offspring of the house was more like one of my favourite pupils, the quietly, exceptionally clever girl who will be an international lawyer and make an absolute fortune, or the girl who liked riding and athletics and who reminded me so, so much of an ex who tugs at my heart still, if I’d known her before all her stuff went wrong, when she still had dreams and confidence and a life before her. But nothing I can do about any of that on this sunny morning except be quiet for a little while in the sun, remembering all of these new people who are gone now in the still of this huge school by the river this summer morning.

I said goodbye to the two French directeurs who had become my friends. The other English teachers hadn’t seemed to bond with them that much but I found them good company. We joked and talked about food and language and how the French burned Joan of Arc, which they seemed to have got wrong in their history books as her having been handed over to the English who had the lighter fluid that day, but no matter. One teenage girl, flambe, s’il vous plait anyway.

I packed quickly and got in the car and drove away, thinking about the way someone’s teeth were so white against their tan, and blond curls and the way the red tabs on the back of someone’s trainers stuck in my mind. Thinking about, as Francoise Sagan put it, a certain smile. A tone of voice. A glance. A delicate hand running through hair. There are much worse things to do than summer school.

Bon. Alors. Trop belle pour toi. Now there’s a TV script to write. So let’s get on, because I’ve got Stuff To Do.

Just, oh, you know.

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