Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “INSET – Part 1” by Ken Dunn

My daughter began teaching last year and loves it. I wonder how long that will last? Yes, I know that that sounds very cynical but after several years of teaching I know exactly how infuriating, frustrating, mindless and occasionally quite evil some kids can be! But then, she’s working in a small independent school with sensible kids so it might not be that bad. We’ve talked a great deal about all aspects of education and I told her the tale of the in-service training side many staff had to cope with quite some time ago now. What follows, as a two part offering, is only a ‘slightly’ exaggerated’ tale of one of my training events many years ago.

Part 1

I didn’t want to do it and said so, but the Subject Adviser pulled rank over my Head of Department and myself and insisted that I should go. What a nice man. Secondary Education occasionally sends unsuspecting teaching staff away on ‘In Service Training’ jaunts. For short, INSET. Five letters, actually meaning ‘In Service Educational Training’, will lodge themselves in educational history as complete and total confusion for all concerned. This particular ‘In Service Training extravaganza’ was designed for the subject I taught, Design and Technology, or what some wags have called, ‘A Subject looking for an Object’, and usually categorised as ‘The ‘Good with their Hands Lads’. Everybody comes out with that one, time after time. This was July, 1986, and in the middle of the imposed Governmental and educational maelstrom/holocaust which was then to become known as GCSE.

As these changes to the educational process began all kinds of brown material were scattered far and wide over the secondary educational fraternity by several circulatory and local authoritarian devices up and down the country. Most of us were trying to keep our heads down in case it made contact and stuck. It had landed, mostly in the mouths of ‘advisers’ who felt obliged to spit it out all over the rest of us. One way of doing that was via INSET courses. So there I was, Day One, mid July, early afternoon, all expenses paid and outside Loughborough University, parked in a side street, fumbling over the steering wheel with indecipherable photocopies of the campus plans. The ‘clarity’ of these proved a great success in eliminating at least 30% of the full compliment of my fellow ‘insetees’ for the seven day course to which I had been sentenced.

Throughout the week we were there those of us who had successfully penetrated the maze to our own course would catch occasional glimpses of other harassed teachers, desperately trying to identify their own course venues, driving aimlessly around, crawling past the rusting vehicles containing the skeletal remains of previous lost souls.

I had arrived, only an hour and a half late, and had miraculously found the registration point for the course in one of the main buildings. A fixed ‘jolly’ grin snapped across the face of the character sitting at the foyer desk of this, a university, sixteen storeyed, residential tower block. After a quick frisk from two heavies, chequebooks were extracted, cheques filled in and receipts slid across the desk. Ten seconds flat.

A key was issued and then a lift, which was highly unsavoury to the nose, and extremely claustrophobic, brought me, via a slightly alarming, creaking ascent to the sixteenth floor. Entrance was gained to a standard but well worn ‘closet’ studio bedroom. Home for the next few days. The slight swaying of the fifteen storeys below my feet caused by the wind outside didn’t help.

A few minutes were all I could spend decanting my gear into a couple of drawers and a tiny wardrobe before descending again to brave the next set of photocopied instructions, trying to find my way to the introductory session. By sheer chance I found it together with over two hundred other poor souls, nervously checking each other as we all shuffled into the main lecture theatre. In a surfeit of over-politeness we all found a seat and were heavily subdued by the ‘thunk’ of the doors closing behind us and the lights dimming slowly.

Two more jolly fixed grins arrived on the platform at the front and launched into an effusive greeting. Then began a routine of explanation, videos, slides and overhead projected confusion which lasted for 45 minutes for seven different subjects. By now it was perfectly obvious, to any who could understand the visual and audio chaos of the presentation, that the next seven days would bear no relation to our collective expectation.

We all shuffled off to find our designated groups in a shambling and quaint single file. Another 10% of the company disappeared forever, lost in the never ending concrete around us. Studio 3, my group venue, and now to be known as ‘D.E.S. Course N718 – D&T’, was a large room with a circle of chairs on which had been placed a file containing a veritable ‘door-stop’ of ‘information’. All the stuff we’d been throwing away for years had caught up with us again in one massive chunk.

Twenty five of us sat facing each other nervously fiddling with this pile of rubbish. ‘Jolly Jack’, our tutor for the week, then swanned in, introduced himself and a slow moving, geriatric, pile of clothes next to him. This was the Chief HMI, Her Majesties Inspector in the subject but then, before you could say ‘D&T!’ we were launched into role play. I groaned inwardly as I watched perfectly normal adults, at least I thought they were, sliding too easily into the bizarre roles they were asked to perform. Keeping a straight face with this kind of nonsense is difficult for me. Their attempts at pretending to be embittered old bats of school mistresses, decrepit, rheumatoid and arthritic, 58 year probationer teachers, assorted 9 year old brats and strident mothers appeared before us. A few others developed their own attitudes watching this nonsense. I heard one low muttering of, “What the fxxk am I doing here?” Fortunately Jolly Jack didn’t hear that.

One enthusiastic nutcase ran out, much to Jolly Jack’s surprise, but then reappeared about half an hour later wearing a viciously flowered red frock, white beads, thick flesh coloured stockings, red high heels, a red handbag and a black curly wig! He held us all spellbound, parading round as a hatchet faced school marm. He was eventually restrained and is still presumably a reasonably comfortable inmate, and potential subject adviser, in the high security wing of the local mental institution he was taken to. Jolly Jack quickly regained his composure. The fixed grin snapped back into place and round two began. This was a business simulation for a fictitious company called ‘Teddytronics Ltd’, manufacturers, would you believe, of teddy bears. The basic notion was to make a profit for the company through projected proposals fed through a computer. We used Smarties as money. I ate mine.

Thirty minutes later 50% of the group had gone bankrupt, 25% were guilty of financial fraud and the remainder were a mixture of total confusion and virulent arguments quickly followed by several cases of GBH. The computer will presumably be available again after they discover why it insisted on printing out the most obscene version of ‘Little Nell’ ever committed to paper, then coughed and finally died, smoking gently. By this time a small hard core of cynics had naturally found themselves. We escaped for dinner, suppressing hysterical laughter and joined the rabid mass, fighting for position in the refectory. We crammed down as much food as possible in the available time before drowning it in the bar with as much anaesthetic as could be taken. This seemed the only means of making the evening session more bearable.

7.15pm and the evening lecture began. Relentlessly, and oblivious of the several muttered, ‘Piss off you stupid wanker!’ and worse than that, Jolly Jack rambled on. Group members nudged each other into wakefulness to ensure collective suffering and JJ continued droning on, using all manner of crap clichés. ‘A new ball game’, was one of his favourites. The first time he said it a few folk checked their fly. ‘Address ourselves to this new situation’, was another and ‘Let me float this one out to you’, only resulted in several of the audience immediately holding their noses against what they thought was coming their way.

There were others but none so awful as, ‘Let me hang this one on the great blackboard of education and see how it swings!’ That one was a cracker!

I switched off completely to all this silly sod was saying and surveyed my fellow prisoners. Various personalities and attitudes had begun to emerge. There were a couple of drones there. They were easy to spot. They were the individuals who would continue in an endless monotone without punctuation and hardly needing to breath, pursuing a circuitous route to make blindingly obvious points. Then there were one or two ‘A spade’s a spade’ characters. They were the ones who had been in education for decades and were convinced that they had the secret of teaching and it can’t be improved upon. All else is new-fangled crap. The few buffoons amongst us grinned all the time. They made statements which were totally ridiculous or naive or both and only succeeded, like the drone, in extending our torture beyond the allotted time.

JJ was a complete pratt. Just looking at him confirmed that. We all sat in our private misery, resigned to the remaining six day sentence ahead, with not a single female to lighten the experience. Someone began to snore. Miraculously 9.00pm eventually ground towards us and we escaped again to the sanctuary of the bar. Other groups arrived and sat staring disconsolately into their warm flaccid beer. A heavy atmosphere pervaded the whole place. There was only one resident pocket of sunshine. That was Beryl, the gargantuan barmaid. Alive with mascara and a line of patter to match its colour, pure filth, her self induced role was as instantaneous mother earth to all. She dispensed beer and a heavy line in piss taking with equal panache. But then disaster struck. She called time.

The atmosphere darkened as the mass departure took place with only a few of the company lying comatose around the floor, dribbling and breaking wind gently. We followed the route back to the tower block where the ‘home closets’ resided, a distance of only 50 yards or so, but that became quite tricky as weaving bands of drunks stumbled around into each other. After a few well placed kicks a pathway was forced through this lot and we managed to get to the lift and up to our closets. I quickly closed the curtains to shut out the 16 storey view and allowed total collapse and sleep to take over despite the noise of extra-mural activity from several surrounding bedrooms.

At breakfast the following morning the numbers were down again as a result of the previous evenings brain damage in the bar. The survivors struggled in, ashen faced and quite unable to cope with the sight of sizzling bacon and eggs. Several rushed out holding their mouths and turning attractive shades of green. Some didn’t make it to the gents. The refectory staff glowered at the this but had the detritus cleared away by lunch time. We left them to it and straggled off for another fun-packed day.

It began with a lecture. ‘Industrial Design – The Professional View’. We had crowded in to a much smaller room than the previous day and some of those poor sods were within inches of the front where the speaker would be standing. Another tricky situation. Any speaker would be faced with a line of folk, interspersed with near cadavers and several digestive systems on the point of breakdown. A diminutive, squeaky clean prick squeezed into the front with a face that was worth punching and began a huge ego trip about his own commercial value to the universe as a whole and what people like him need us to produce.

What he really meant was we needed to churn kids out to be canon fodder. A few purist remarks floated through the assembly such as ‘what about education?’ but these were squashed flat against the bulwark of ‘Cost Effectiveness’, whatever that means. All discussion evaporated. After morning coffee another slow, single file arranged itself in the direction of the main lecture theatre. Another educational delivery, ‘A Primary Approach to D&T’, was about to begin. Obviously ‘Blue Peter Time’. A few scuffles eventually resolved themselves as a few hardened individuals vied for the seating closest to any exit. Minor cuts and bruises were dismissed in the face of the vision which appeared before us. The last remaining stragglers, still filing glumly in, were completely cowed by the withering look with which ‘she’ scanned the audience before her.

A razor faced, iridescent blonde, dressed in black simulated leather stood there, hands on hips, waiting. All mumbling from the rest of us faded. The geriatric HMI pile of clothes then slid forward to introduce Ms Bondage, Primary Adviser for Soho. A conscious need to sit back as far as possible in the seat swept through all of us as she stepped quickly forward, her eyes flicking around and glinting viciously as she made sure we were all awake. She made great use of a great pile of coloured paper, taking us through the delights of an ‘origamic fold up’ but most of us missed the relevance of that as we then tried to cope with animated examples of grossly enlarged fluffy ducks, remote controlled ‘Daleks’ and disturbing combinations of rubber, toothbrushes and undetermined ‘gel’. The general message seemed to be that we were not ‘exciting’ pupils enough! Paranoia then began to creep in to the proceedings and, as no one dared to say or could think of anything to ask this ‘Valkerie’ of education, the pile of clothes ended the lecture with thanks but this was lost to most of us as the place had rapidly emptied in a stampede for lunch.

St. John Ambulance personnel were now on standby as everyone fought for position again in the dining room but the casualties were, surprisingly, much lower this time. An optional lecture was available for all of us during lunch time but as nobody could remember what it was about or what time it was scheduled for it seemed wiser to eat than sleep through another tedious hour of crap. It was during this lunchtime that ‘Mr Bloat’ showed himself. I haven’t a clue which group he was with but he was obviously testing out a basic theory of volume against the amount the human stomach can consume. He was not a little man. No. He was the fattest, most greedy bastard I’ve ever witnessed. The plate he was carrying couldn’t cope with the quantity which was piled onto it like a steaming pyramid. Bits fell off as he walked to one of the tables. Bits that would have fed any one of us for the whole day!

Back in Studio 3 after lunch, Jolly Jack beamed to all of us and announced the next project. This was to be, ‘Problem Solving’. He seemed to be unaware that we had all been involved in that same process since our arrival. First trying to work out what the hell we were doing there and second trying to find a way of escaping it.

We were now faced with setting up a ‘Problem Solving Brief’ and then solving it. Various suggestions were bounced around but the general consensus gradually arrived at a very practical possibility. This was how to detect a subject adviser’s arrival in the school car park and effect complete disembowelling before more than five steps had been taken. Solving that threw up a few snags. Experiment and implementation destroyed two small buildings on the periphery of the campus before refinement narrowed the field down to a 3 meter target area at a range of 150 meters. Unfortunately the next guest lecturer wandered into the test area and was vaporised before any warning could be given. The general consensus was that he had looked too much like a subject advisor.

Hasty phone calls from the management dredged up another unlikely candidate and the dust settled for the next event. During the break for coffee that afternoon, a few bods from other groups were found tinkering with our device and then pressed us with offers and counter offers, mumbling about using it for morning assemblies and open days. We turned them all down but left them to it having switched the thing off. The police arrived a few minutes after that followed by a butch batch of bomb disposal thugs and a motley collection of M.O.D. white coats. The cops rounded up the lot who’d been fiddling with our contraption. We didn’t see them again.

The next lecture was, ‘What IS Technology?’ Could this be up-market ‘Blue Peter Time’?

This was much the same as the last but with marginal differences. The speaker, a male, just, gave forth a mass of unreadable, overhead projected rubbish, countered with mystifying suggestions which included the Thames Barrier, a sewage farm and a catalogue of heavy engineering white elephants including the first fully cantilevered bra.

His, and our, attention was disturbed half way through this fascinating tripe by the low moaning and heavy panting coming from the back of the hall. It was emanating from an enthusiastic probationer blonde in her early twenties, a female we had all missed, and a ‘caring’ head of department who were presumably in the process of ‘realisation’ to be followed by further research and additional ‘evaluation’.

The speaker knew he was on a loser after this and slowly ran out of steam. He resigned himself to ending his ordeal and our confusion by finishing the lecture fifteen minutes early! We scampered off to the refectory and after the usual skirmish we placed ourselves strategically round the place in order to view the rest and eat without being attacked from behind. The timing of this also gave us a foothold to an early entry to the bar but then Mr Bloat appeared again and amazed everyone again by the amount of food he was balancing on his plate.

At breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner he always performed in the same way. One of our number estimated only a month of life may be left to him before the heart attack arrived. A few crossed themselves in sympathy.

Yet another lecture had to be attended. This one was going to be a ‘wow!’ It was ‘Structuring D&T Courses in Secondary Education’. Oh joy! All that could be seen at the front, where the lecturer was supposed to be, was a pair of hunched shoulders and a shining bald pate. A monosyllabic stream of gibberish began the whole thing, with him bobbing up and down as he became more excited about what he was talking about.

This suddenly changed as he lunged for the control box in front of him, plunging all of us into total darkness with the occasional flash of a slide to break the gloom. This continued with overhead projection arriving to further confuse everything, each image barely allowing time for any of us to focus on it before it disappeared to be replaced with another. The incoherent mumbling continued and as it did so the temperature began to rise rapidly.

Jackets slid off, buttons were undone and various stages of undress quickly developed until most of us were almost stark naked and comparing various anatomical ‘features’ as the projected lights flashed gaily on and off. All too soon the lecture was over but then a posse of security guards pushed through to arrest several individuals in the process of a tightly packed ‘gang bang’ at the back in the tropical intensity of the interior.

During tea a number of folk were actually swapping notes on length, width and overall size of the variously noted individual appendages and a general feeling began to creep in that things might be beginning to look up. The remaining session completely destroyed this simple notion and that was probably a good thing.

Jolly Jack, fixed grin radiating, took us on another verbal educational circuit which left all of us feeling that he was exploring his and our collective anal canal. The level of concentration, to whatever he was saying, faded rapidly and then died totally as JJ bravely tried to rescue our interest. He failed spectacularly. Most of us were asleep but a battery of alarm clocks were already precisely set for 9.00pm and the end of the days session.

Notes from Lapta, Cyprus by Ken Dunn

 

INSET

 

My daughter began teaching last year and loves it. I wonder how long that will last? Yes, I know that that sounds very cynical but after several years of teaching I know exactly how infuriating, frustrating, mindless and occasionally quite evil some kids can be! But then, she’s working in a small independent school with sensible kids so it might not be that bad. We’ve talked a great deal about all aspects of education and I told her the tale of the in-service training side many staff had to cope with quite some time ago now. What follows, as a two part offering, is only a ‘slightly’ exaggerated’ tale of one of my training events many years ago.

 

Part 1

 

I didn’t want to do it and said so, but the Subject Adviser pulled rank over my Head of Department and myself and insisted that I should go. What a nice man. Secondary Education occasionally sends unsuspecting teaching staff away on ‘In Service Training’ jaunts. For short, INSET. Five letters, actually meaning ‘In Service Educational Training’, will lodge themselves in educational history as complete and total confusion for all concerned. This particular ‘In Service Training extravaganza’ was designed for the subject I taught, Design and Technology, or what some wags have called, ‘A Subject looking for an Object’, and usually categorised as ‘The ‘Good with their Hands Lads’. Everybody comes out with that one, time after time. This was July, 1986, and in the middle of the imposed Governmental and educational maelstrom/holocaust which was then to become known as GCSE.

 

As these changes to the educational process began all kinds of brown material were scattered far and wide over the secondary educational fraternity by several circulatory and local authoritarian devices up and down the country. Most of us were trying to keep our heads down in case it made contact and stuck. It had landed, mostly in the mouths of ‘advisers’ who felt obliged to spit it out all over the rest of us. One way of doing that was via INSET courses. So there I was, Day One, mid July, early afternoon, all expenses paid and outside Loughborough University, parked in a side street, fumbling over the steering wheel with indecipherable photocopies of the campus plans. The ‘clarity’ of these proved a great success in eliminating at least 30% of the full compliment of my fellow ‘insetees’ for the seven day course to which I had been sentenced.

Throughout the week we were there those of us who had successfully penetrated the maze to our own course would catch occasional glimpses of other harassed teachers, desperately trying to identify their own course venues, driving aimlessly around, crawling past the rusting vehicles containing the skeletal remains of previous lost souls.

 

I had arrived, only an hour and a half late, and had miraculously found the registration point for the course in one of the main buildings. A fixed ‘jolly’ grin snapped across the face of the character sitting at the foyer desk of this, a university, sixteen storeyed, residential tower block. After a quick frisk from two heavies, chequebooks were extracted, cheques filled in and receipts slid across the desk. Ten seconds flat.

A key was issued and then a lift, which was highly unsavoury to the nose, and extremely claustrophobic, brought me, via a slightly alarming, creaking ascent to the sixteenth floor. Entrance was gained to a standard but well worn ‘closet’ studio bedroom. Home for the next few days. The slight swaying of the fifteen storeys below my feet caused by the wind outside didn’t help.

 

A few minutes were all I could spend decanting my gear into a couple of drawers and a  tiny wardrobe before descending again to brave the next set of photocopied instructions, trying to find my way to the introductory session. By sheer chance I found it together with over two hundred other poor souls, nervously checking each other as we all shuffled into the main lecture theatre. In a surfeit of over-politeness we all found a seat and were heavily subdued by the ‘thunk’ of the doors closing behind us and the lights dimming slowly.

Two more jolly fixed grins arrived on the platform at the front and launched into an effusive greeting. Then began a routine of explanation, videos, slides and overhead projected confusion which lasted for 45 minutes for seven different subjects. By now it was perfectly obvious, to any who could understand the visual and audio chaos of the presentation, that the next seven days would bear no relation to our collective expectation.

We all shuffled off to find our designated groups in a shambling and quaint single file. Another 10% of the company disappeared forever, lost in the never ending concrete around us. Studio 3, my group venue, and now to be known as ‘D.E.S. Course N718 – D&T’, was a large room with a circle of chairs on which had been placed a file containing a veritable ‘door-stop’ of ‘information’. All the stuff we’d been throwing away for years had caught up with us again in one massive chunk.

 

Twenty five of us sat facing each other nervously fiddling with this pile of rubbish. ‘Jolly Jack’, our tutor for the week, then swanned in, introduced himself and a slow moving, geriatric, pile of clothes next to him. This was the Chief HMI, Her Majesties Inspector in the subject but then, before you could say ‘D&T!’ we were launched into role play. I groaned inwardly as I watched perfectly normal adults, at least I thought they were, sliding too easily into the bizarre roles they were asked to perform. Keeping a straight face with this kind of nonsense is difficult for me. Their attempts at pretending to be embittered old bats of school mistresses, decrepit, rheumatoid and arthritic, 58 year probationer teachers, assorted 9 year old brats and strident mothers appeared before us. A few others developed their own attitudes watching this nonsense. I heard one low muttering of, “What the fxxk am I doing here?” Fortunately Jolly Jack didn’t hear that.

One enthusiastic nutcase ran out, much to Jolly Jack’s surprise, but then reappeared about half an hour later wearing a viciously flowered red frock, white beads, thick flesh coloured stockings, red high heels, a red handbag and a black curly wig! He held us all spellbound, parading round as a hatchet faced school marm. He was eventually restrained and is still presumably a reasonably comfortable inmate, and potential subject adviser, in the high security wing of the local mental institution he was taken to. Jolly Jack quickly regained his composure. The fixed grin snapped back into place and round two began. This was a business simulation for a fictitious company called ‘Teddytronics Ltd’, manufacturers, would you believe, of teddy bears. The basic notion was to make a profit for the company through projected proposals fed through a computer. We used Smarties as money. I ate mine.

 

Thirty minutes later 50% of the group had gone bankrupt, 25% were guilty of financial fraud and the remainder were a mixture of total confusion and virulent arguments quickly followed by several cases of GBH. The computer will presumably be available again after they discover why it insisted on printing out the most obscene version of ‘Little Nell’ ever committed to paper, then coughed and finally died, smoking gently. By this time a small hard core of cynics had naturally found themselves. We escaped for dinner, suppressing hysterical laughter and joined the rabid mass, fighting for position in the refectory. We crammed down as much food as possible in the available time before drowning it in the bar with as much anaesthetic as could be taken. This seemed the only means of making the evening session more bearable.

7.15pm and the evening lecture began. Relentlessly, and oblivious of the several muttered, ‘Piss off you stupid wanker!’ and worse than that, Jolly Jack rambled on. Group members nudged each other into wakefulness to ensure collective suffering and JJ continued droning on, using all manner of crap clichés. ‘A new ball game’, was one of his favourites. The first time he said it a few folk checked their fly. ‘Address ourselves to this new situation’, was another and ‘Let me float this one out to you’, only resulted in several of the audience immediately holding their noses against what they thought was coming their way.

There were others but none so awful as, ‘Let me hang this one on the great blackboard of education and see how it swings!’ That one was a cracker!

I switched off completely to all this silly sod was saying and surveyed my fellow prisoners. Various personalities and attitudes had begun to emerge. There were a couple of drones there. They were easy to spot. They were the individuals who would continue in an endless monotone without punctuation and hardly needing to breath, pursuing a circuitous route to make blindingly obvious points. Then there were one or two ‘A spades a spade’ characters. They were the ones who had been in education for decades and were convinced that they had the secret of teaching and it can’t be improved upon. All else is new-fangled crap. The few buffoons amongst us grinned all the time. They made statements which were totally ridiculous or naive or both and only succeeded, like the drone, in extending our torture beyond the allotted time.

 

JJ was a complete pratt. Just looking at him confirmed that. We all sat in our private misery, resigned to the remaining six day sentence ahead, with not a single female to lighten the experience. Someone began to snore. Miraculously 9.00pm eventually ground towards us and we escaped again to the sanctuary of the bar. Other groups arrived and sat staring disconsolately into their warm flaccid beer. A heavy atmosphere pervaded the whole place. There was only one resident pocket of sunshine. That was Beryl, the gargantuan barmaid. Alive with mascara and a line of patter to match its colour, pure filth, her self induced role was as instantaneous mother earth to all. She dispensed beer and a heavy line in piss taking with equal panache. But then disaster struck. She called time.

The atmosphere darkened as the mass departure took place with only a few of the company lying comatose around the floor, dribbling and breaking wind gently. We followed the route back to the tower block where the ‘home closets’ resided, a distance of only 50 yards or so, but that became quite tricky as weaving bands of drunks stumbled around into each other. After a few well placed kicks a pathway was forced through this lot and we managed to get to the lift and up to our closets. I quickly closed the curtains to shut out the 16 storey view and allowed total collapse and sleep to take over despite the noise of extra-mural activity from several surrounding bedrooms.

At breakfast the following morning the numbers were down again as a result of the previous evenings brain damage in the bar. The survivors struggled in, ashen faced and quite unable to cope with the sight of sizzling bacon and eggs. Several rushed out holding their mouths and turning attractive shades of green. Some didn’t make it to the gents. The refectory staff glowered at the this but had the detritus cleared away by lunch time. We left them to it and straggled off for another fun-packed day.

It began with a lecture. ‘Industrial Design – The Professional View’. We had crowded in to a much smaller room than the previous day and some of those poor sods were within inches of the front where the speaker would be standing. Another tricky situation. Any speaker would be faced with a line of folk, interspersed with near cadavers and several digestive systems on the point of breakdown. A diminutive, squeaky clean prick squeezed into the front with a face that was worth punching and began a huge ego trip about his own commercial value to the universe as a whole and what people like him need us to produce.

 

What he really meant was we needed to churn kids out to be canon fodder. A few purist remarks floated through the assembly such as ‘what about education?’ but these were squashed flat against the bulwark of ‘Cost Effectiveness’, whatever that means. All discussion evaporated. After morning coffee another slow, single file arranged itself in the direction of the main lecture theatre. Another educational delivery, ‘A Primary Approach to D&T’, was about to begin. Obviously ‘Blue Peter Time’. A few scuffles eventually resolved themselves as a few hardened individuals vied for the seating closest to any exit. Minor cuts and bruises were dismissed in the face of the vision which appeared before us. The last remaining stragglers, still filing glumly in, were completely cowed by the withering look with which ‘she’ scanned the audience before her.

 

A razor faced, iridescent blonde, dressed in black simulated leather stood there, hands on hips, waiting. All mumbling from the rest of us faded. The geriatric HMI pile of clothes then slid forward to introduce Ms Bondage, Primary Adviser for Soho. A conscious need to sit back as far as possible in the seat swept through all of us as she stepped quickly forward, her eyes flicking around and glinting viciously as she made sure we were all awake. She made great use of a great pile of coloured paper, taking us through the delights of an ‘origamic fold up’ but most of us missed the relevance of that as we then tried to cope with animated examples of grossly enlarged fluffy ducks, remote controlled ‘Daleks’ and disturbing combinations of rubber, toothbrushes and undetermined ‘gel’. The general message seemed to be that we were not ‘exciting’ pupils enough! Paranoia then began to creep in to the proceedings and, as no one dared to say or could think of anything to ask this ‘Valkerie’ of education, the pile of clothes ended the lecture with thanks but this was lost to most of us as the place had rapidly emptied in a stampede for lunch.

St. John Ambulance personnel were now on standby as everyone fought for position again in the dining room but the casualties were, surprisingly, much lower this time. An optional lecture was available for all of us during lunch time but as nobody could remember what it was about or what time it was scheduled for it seemed wiser to eat than sleep through another tedious hour of crap. It was during this lunchtime that ‘Mr Bloat’ showed himself. I haven’t a clue which group he was with but he was obviously testing out a basic theory of volume against the amount the human stomach can consume. He was not a little man. No. He was the fattest, most greedy bastard I’ve ever witnessed. The plate he was carrying couldn’t cope with the quantity which was piled onto it like a steaming pyramid. Bits fell off as he walked to one of the tables. Bits that would have fed any one of us for the whole day!

Back in Studio 3 after lunch, Jolly Jack beamed to all of us and announced the next project. This was to be, ‘Problem Solving’. He seemed to be unaware that we had all been involved in that same process since our arrival. First trying to work out what the hell we were doing there and second trying to find a way of escaping it.

We were now faced with setting up a ‘Problem Solving Brief’ and then solving it. Various suggestions were bounced around but the general consensus gradually arrived at a very practical possibility. This was how to detect a subject adviser’s arrival in the school car park and effect complete disembowelling before more than five steps had been taken. Solving that threw up a few snags. Experiment and implementation destroyed two small buildings on the periphery of the campus before refinement narrowed the field down to a 3 meter target area at a range of 150 meters. Unfortunately the next guest lecturer wandered into the test area and was vaporised before any warning could be given. The general consensus was that he had looked too much like a subject advisor.

 

Hasty phone calls from the management dredged up another unlikely candidate and the dust settled for the next event. During the break for coffee that afternoon, a few bods from other groups were found tinkering with our device and then pressed us with offers and counter offers, mumbling about using it for morning assembly’s and open days. We turned them all down but left them to it having switched the thing off. The police arrived a few minutes after that followed by a butch batch of bomb disposal thugs and a motley collection of M.O.D. white coats. The cops rounded up the lot who’d been fiddling with our contraption. We didn’t see them again.

The next lecture was, ‘What IS Technology?’ Could this be up-market ‘Blue Peter Time’?

This was much the same as the last but with marginal differences. The speaker, a male, just, gave forth a mass of unreadable, overhead projected rubbish, countered with mystifying suggestions which included the Thames Barrier, a sewage farm and a catalogue of heavy engineering white elephants including the first fully cantilevered bra.

His, and our, attention was disturbed half way through this fascinating tripe by the low moaning and heavy panting coming from the back of the hall. It was emanating from an enthusiastic probationer blonde in her early twenties, a female we had all missed, and a ‘caring’ head of department who were presumably in the process of ‘realisation’ to be followed by further research and additional ‘evaluation’.

The speaker knew he was on a loser after this and slowly ran out of steam. He resigned himself to ending his ordeal and our confusion by ending the lecture fifteen minutes early! We scampered off to the refectory and after the usual skirmish we placed ourselves strategically round the place in order to view the rest and eat without being attacked from behind. The timing of this also gave us a foothold to an early entry to the bar but then Mr Bloat appeared again and amazed everyone again by the amount of food he was balancing on his plate.

At breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner he always performed in the same way. One of our number estimated only a month of life may be left to him before the heart attack arrived. A few crossed themselves in sympathy.

Yet another lecture had to be attended. This one was going to be a ‘wow!’ It was ‘Structuring D&T Courses in Secondary Education’. Oh joy! All that could be seen at the front, where the lecturer was supposed to be, was a pair of hunched shoulders and a shining bald pate. A monosyllabic stream of gibberish began the whole thing, with him bobbing up and down as he became more excited about what he was talking about.

This suddenly changed as he lunged for the control box in front of him, plunging all of us into total darkness with the occasional flash of a slide to break the gloom. This continued with overhead projection arriving to further confuse everything, each image barely allowing time for any of us to focus on it before it disappeared to be replaced with another. The incoherent mumbling continued and as it did so the temperature began to rise rapidly.

 

Jackets slid off, buttons were undone and various stages of undress quickly developed until most of us were almost stark naked and comparing various anatomical ‘features’ as the projected lights flashed gaily on and off. All too soon the lecture was over but then a posse of security guards pushed through to arrest several individuals in the process of a tightly packed ‘gang bang’ at the back in the tropical intensity of the interior.

During tea a number of folk were actually swapping notes on length, width and overall size of the variously noted individual appendages and a general feeling began to creep in that things might be beginning to look up. The remaining session completely destroyed this simple notion and that was probably a good thing.

Jolly Jack, fixed grin radiating, took us on another verbal educational circuit which left all of us feeling that he was exploring his and our collective anal canal. The level of concentration, to whatever he was saying, faded rapidly and then died totally as JJ bravely tried to rescue our interest. He failed spectacularly. Most of us were asleep but a battery of alarm clocks were already precisely set for 9.00pm and the end of the days session.


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