Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “INSET part 2” by Ken Dunn

The sun came up over day three of the INSET programme and with breakfast over we gathered for an outing to Sun City, Milton Keynes. We were asked to use our own cars little knowing that no private coach company would enter the site to transport anyone anywhere since the disaster of the last D&T course. This was due to the fact that the partial remains of the coach from the previous year had been found lying abandoned in the campus indoor swimming pool. No sign of the driver was ever found.

So, with only vague directions we piled into five cars and then attempted to leave in five different directions. One of our number, having used the wonderland of the resource centre available to all, had re-sprayed his old Cortina a blinding white. Then he’d added red and blue stripes, constructed a blue lamp, methane powered of course, and switching on a siren which he’d knocked up from string, cardboard and ‘Blu-Tack’, took off through the car park like a bull-dozer, through the security fence and made straight for the M1, cross country, never to be seen again.

The rest of us gave chase, terrorising the whole population of Loughborough and scything through the traffic, continuing to create absolute mayhem all the way only to lose each other eventually in the Orwellian nightmare grid system of Milton Keynes. It’s the closest thing to Legoland ever seen with the feeling that you might be part of some planners nightmare model, a long, grubby, planner finger ready to plummet from above to pin you and the car to the road while a booming discussion goes on above about environment, living space and, perhaps, the rising suicide figures for those living in new towns like this.

We drove on, catching glimpses of the others between gaps in the never-ending shrubbery or flashing across the thousands of roundabouts, added to the road system, to further confuse and lose anyone stupid enough to drive through this hell-hole of urbanity.

By sheer chance we found our goal. A double fronted garage. This was not the most exciting of venues. Once finding some signs of life, by beating on the front of the damned thing for about five minutes a reluctant technician opened up. Behind him lurked two high-tech smart-arses producing robotic back scratcher’s. Wondrous. A rotund figure hovered in the background. This was a real, live T.V.E.I. Curriculum Leader. The letters stand for ‘Technical Vocational Educational Initiative’ but they are better known as, ‘This Very Easy In’it?’ Either way suspicion gradually seeped ito our thoughts in that he may well have actually been a fruiterer in disguise due to the two pineapples and cucumber which he appeared to be carrying inside his trousers. We entered this ‘establishment’ and found the standard plastic seating.

The ‘Curriculm Leader’ slid in front of us and with him stood a smug little bastard complete with felt tips and a white board behind both of them. This was the Co-ordinator of Bucks. We all felt that the first letter of that last word may have been incorrect. These characters then went on to outline a magic wonderland of microchips and the immanent redundancy for the bulk of the population. We sagged collectively as this brave new world of the future rolled out in front of us, then realised we were sweating noisily from the 40c plus temperature which the central heating was pumping out.

Somebody had forgotten to tell the computer it was high summer. It was then that one of the smart-arses admitted that the computer controlled system had refused to switch off the boiler. We had to stagger outside to breath the cool air which was a mere 27C.

Clutching our packed lunches and more than a little disillusioned by this ‘demonstration’ of the 21st century ahead of us we weaved apprehensively through the MK maze to lunch at a gay, lakeside converted cow-byre and were thoroughly entertained by the numbers of jolly wind-surfing MK population busily trying to drown themselves.

After lunch, and another nervous, motorised crocodile through the MK maze, we arrived at the next venue for the day. A school! We ran the gauntlet of tense, white knuckled staff still having to deal with the last few days of their term and found refuge in the stifling heat of the recently completed lecture theatre. Until three weeks ago this had been the extensive, but dilapidated, kids toilet and shower block. There’s innovation for you. A fascinating show of work was set out for us to peruse, all A Level standard, including purpose made, cast iron restraining devices for the under 5’s, small nuclear packages for ‘cleansing’ certain areas of the school, the staff room in particular, and a range of anti-personnel, biologically oriented, mutation inducing, non-sexist underpants.

Light-hearted and infused with ideas we floated back to the cars and drifted off on a wave of expectant and euphoric creativity, finding our way through the MK maze again and on to where the M1 and Loughborough lay waiting for our return. We rushed in to JJ’s next lecture, bursting with a new and fervent enthusiasm and anxious not to be late for the end of day seminar. Reality has a bad habit of slapping you in the face like a wet fish and within seconds of another JJ non-event coming to a grinding end we rushed to the expansive arms of Beryl the bar maid and oblivion.

Day 4 and Oh! Joy of joys! We launched into meeting a ‘SILO’! This was the ‘Schools Industry Liaison Officer’ and one of the most officious little pricks we’d come across during the whole of this extended ‘educational’ farce. This time the simulation of a production company was to be organised. Another bloody role play wank. More groans floated up from all of us. Confusion reigned everywhere as none of us really knew what the hell was going on. Afterwards, a pile of 483 paper hats, or sick bags, or maybe even inter-uterine devices, was stacked in front of this ‘SILO’ prick.

He stood there beaming at the success of the whole project. Stupid sod! They were then grudgingly carted off, for immediate incineration we all hoped, by a University refuse disposal operative, mumbling something barely audible about questionable parentage.

Then came ‘the project’ on how to summarise what we’d been doing. That left most of us with a big problem. That was simply figuring out what the hell we actually had been doing. In any case it was later re-directed by us to humiliate as many course staff as possible as well as giving us the opportunity to create a series of, ‘end of course souvenirs’. Suggestions of using the prime product of a local sewage farm did not go down to well.

We formed into two groups, successfully ignored JJ altogether, and generated, in the language of the day, ‘brainstorming ideas in parallel’. We rejected inflatable HMI party dolls, recycled overhead projector slides as surprise sandwich fillings and decided instead on duplicating candid photographs of the course leaders, taken over the last couple of days, in a variety of highly compromising situations, not to say positions, usually at 2.00am in the morning, as inexpensive momento’s for everyone.

With the bonus of tracking down the photographic laboratories of the University, we had, after an hour or so, a neatly cropped pile of finished prints, complete with forged HMI signatures, ready for sale to all. The damaged lab door, produced by using the defunct computer as a battering ram, would be easy to replace.

Time for dinner arrived but ‘lo’! Mr Bloat was missing. Then we heard that the ambulance was in attendance together with the fire brigade in the gents. They had a major problem there. During a particular spectacular evacuation, Mr Bloat had become stuck between the narrow walls of the cubicle. All manner of machinery from the fire brigade, designed specifically for ‘prising out fat bastards from gents loo’s’, was being used but up till then all to no avail.

Mars bars were being frantically fed to him to keep his strength up until someone hit on the wheeze of starving him out. Cruel to be kind. It took four days of constant vigil before he lost just enough weight to be slipped out. This was greatly helped by a liberal coating of Swarfega.

Back in Studio 3. and before JJ appeared, we hit on a great new stunt. Paper aeroplanes! And, even better, a competition! We all stampeded out, trampling the HMI pile of clothes and JJ on their way in. Clutching handfuls of ‘designer paper’ we invaded the top of one tower block and launched our mini aerospace venture. For the next two days the wind pattern around the building maintained a squall of paper missiles which killed four pigeons, smashed dozens of windows and disabled a police helicopter which was, curiously, on station above us. All the other groups rose to this challenge and the whole campus took on a ‘sociologist’ experiment.

By now the Army had surrounded the whole site, on full alert. Foxholes with light machine guns had been dug everywhere as if a plague of gigantic moles had surfaced. This proved to be counter productive for them as hundreds of escape tunnels, from the University building which had been excavated over the years, were breached. Numerous squaddies disappeared never to be seen again. The Army, nervous and rattled by this, retreated under cover of darkness to the M1.

Day 5 dawned to a quiet campus. A lecture had now been organised on, ‘Management of Change’ or more correctly, ‘How to take the piss of the system.’ This was by far the most stimulating event of the whole painful week. A flared trousered, paisley tied, para-psychologist ‘whizz kid’ spent an hilarious one and a half hours pin-pointing exactly how to induce paranoia, tension, fear, stress and deliberate schizophrenia into the whole system.

Hoots of praise, whistles, football rattles and toilet rolls filled the air at the conclusion followed by a mad scramble for his autograph. This developed further and he was carried shoulder high to the bar. It hadn’t actually opened but that seemed to be a mere detail as a euphoric tide of humanity smashed through the locked, double glass doors without feeling a thing.

Whoops of drunken delight quickly echoed through the concrete canyons as the speaker continued his theme of personality assassination. He followed this up with practical advice of how to drop a Head of Department, Deputy or Headmaster into the brown sticky stuff with the minimum of effort and without them realising how it had been done or who had done it. Wonderful stuff.

After lunch several of our number were conspicuously absent which, considering the next subject on offer, was not surprising. It was ‘C.P.V.E.’, ‘Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education’, or an ‘Object without a Subject’, but known to most as ‘Can Pass Very Easily’.

A broad based broad, built like an outside toilet and wearing what looked like a gym-slip, harangued us all about the less able ones in schools. We thought she was talking about the senior management until she dropped the clue we needed by talking eventually about pupils. Theirs would be an easy academic life if we were to chop things up a bit. This was the overall theme to what she was saying but it took a while to figure it out. She was banging on about modules, clusters and then took off at a high rate of knots about, wait for it, the problems of ‘Gender Polarisation!’

I could see a few of the group polishing their mental modules, scratching their academic clusters but they were lost about that last one. Gender Polarisation apparently meant the separation of the sexes by subject. H.E. (Home Economics) for girls, D&T (Design & Technology) for boys. This shouldn’t happen. Well, if she’d said that in the first place we would probably have understood. This was obviously building up to be great fun and, if we were good boys, she was going to give us some project work on C.P.V.E. this afternoon. Gosh! We couldn’t wait!

Another doorstep of paper was delivered to each of us by Pickford’s, the tables and floor structure now straining under the weight of the acres of converted timber we all now collectively possessed. A break for coffee allowed more of the group to escape. Our remaining number, now visibly shrinking, again fell prey to paper aeroplanes before ‘she who must be obeyed’ returned. As she, or maybe ‘it’, walked through the door all evidence of paper flight disappeared like a frog up a drainpipe in case she kept us in after the lesson.

She rattled out an incomprehensible set of instructions about our next task and then left with JJ expecting us to get on with it. As the door closed behind them the air was immediately thick with paper aeroplanes again. The HMI pile of clothes and JJ came back in but were duly ignored in the blizzard of paper as the competition spirit took over and then began to hot up between two distinct factions in the group. Lunch time arrived and with our pre-set alarm clocks ringing we ran out to hog the queue.

Trouping back later on JJ insisted we should continue with the ‘Can Pass Very Easily’ project. Just trying to understand the paperwork we had to wade through it became manifestly clear that we would ‘Not Pass Very Easily’ on this one. Gloom set in like super glue around any remaining shreds of enthusiasm.

Brief relief arrived in the form of afternoon coffee before we were plunged into another lecture. This one was, ‘Language and D&T’. Puzzled looks from everyone at this. Were they really going to talk about how to swear at kids without them realising you were doing so? Yes! For the second time pure entertainment had arrived as a ‘Max Wall’ look-a-like transfixed all of us with unbelievable jargon.

Copious notes were taken as a list of expletives, recognised and obscure, poured out as a recommended means of communicating directly, on a more or less one-to-one basis, with kids. ‘You have a tendency to block your fundamental thought passages’, was a way of saying, ‘Stop walking around with your head up your arse!’

We were now hanging on his every word. Another gem was, ‘You seem to have a problem with your parental lineage,’ which on translation was, yes, that’s right, ‘You little bastard!’

‘I’ve never heard that one before!’ and ‘Oh! That’s what it means!’ were the kinds of rapturous comments which rippled through the company as we scuttled off for tea. Great stuff!

Back in Jolly Jack’s Grotto we slumped over the waste paper (educational information) again. A gradual breakdown of interest took only seconds and an occasional paper aeroplane flitted across the room every time JJ turned his back. One bold soul managed to sneak out in the middle of some unintelligible speech by JJ, quite undetected through the furniture, on his hands and knees to a much more important event. Lead trombone in his brass band in Pontefract.

The final lecture of the day was, ‘Image and Presentation’, or ‘How to confuse and defeat the enemy, other departments, when the budgets are being negotiated for the school year’. There’s no business like show business. Spellbound, no none even noticed as 9.00pm slipped by. We all sat there, open mouthed at the techniques of stealth, fraud, deceit and criminal manipulation to gain all the school resources avaliable. Magic! The speaker was obviously a natural politician, ready made HMI material.

We rushed again for the autograph and many in the multitude relieved themselves of copious pound notes to purchase signed copies of, ‘How to get THEM to do it for YOU!’ At last we entered the bar and the surprise discovery of a few previously missing colleagues, still smarting from their unsuccessful attempts at scaling the electrified fence which now surrounded the campus. The Army had been busy in the last 24 hours. They sat, crying in their beer and then crawled to the bar to off-load their souls to big Beryl. She, as a true professional, sympathetic and running over with understanding told them to, “Drink up or piss off!”

The ‘end of term’ seemed no nearer but a heavy responsibility, if not downright guilt complex, had settled over all of us, much to JJ’s further confusion. The HMI pile of clothes was distinctly ill at ease that morning at this unexpected zeal as we all buckled down to the production of unreadable and meaningless C.P.V.E. rubbish, specifically for display to the whole and wider contingent of fellow course ‘prisonees’.

As a means of heightening the expectations of the display, all notices which had been produced by the ‘management’ were then systematically replaced by us.

“C.P.V.E. FREE ZONE!”, “T.V.E.I. RULES!”, “JOLLY JACK’S BOYS!”, “GONE ON A COURSE! – BACK SOON!” and so on.

The day progressed and so did the work. Every square inch of display space was filled with ‘exotica graphica’. Even lectures were ignored in the competition which soon showed itself between the several small groups. They were all producing dynamic, riveting, truly wondrous…. crap! JJ had to dab his eyes with his red, spotty handkerchief and the HMI pile of clothes quivered in the corner with pride at this array of ‘meaningful and sensitive, in-depth exploration of C.P.V.E.’ We all stood back and wondered what the hell he was looking at. But it did give us ‘brownie points’ all round.

Flushed with success we rushed off to don our party frocks for the highlight of the week. The Last Night Course Dinner! Will there be party hats? Jelly? Games? Strippers? Gosh, it’s so exciting! Then we found that Group 3, from, yes that’s right, Studio 3, had been allocated seats behind the gents. We all wondered why? Undeterred by this we bolted down the food (?), and washed our mouths out with the brake fluid, masquerading as red wine, one glass each only, and then sloped off to the bar, ignoring the end of course speeches.

The feint sound of the sycophantic licking of HMI boots floated through to us as we threw back as much booze as possible. Big Beryl enquired as to the quality of the dinner. We collectively told her what they could do with it and a small, fat, sweaty, balding little man at the end of the bar dropped his beer, burst into tears and rushed out. The Catering Manager.

With only tomorrow left we decided to throw all caution to the wind and invade the flesh pots of Loughborough. The University’s minibus lay unguarded and we used it as both a diversion and a means of cutting the power on the site. Pointing it at the internal electricity sub-station and then taking off the hand brake, it rolled slowly forward. We all ran to our cars, started up and waited, engines throbbing for the moment of escape. It was perfect.

A huge flash erupted as the bus made contact with the sub-station, smashing through the gates to the campus as a bonus, and we were off through the gap and down into ‘sin city’. A large orange mushroom cloud billowed up behind us and the whole campus was plunged into darkness. Five minutes later we drove slowly back through the shattered entrance, disappointed by the night life. Too repetitive. Green, amber, red, red and amber and back to green.

Sunshine flooded the early morning 16th storey window. Was it really here? The last day? Already? So soon? Ahhhh! And I had so enjoyed the whole thing. A truly rich educational experience. Jolly Jack and the HMI pile of clothes picked their way through the debris as we all began to leave the grotto for the last time to trade in our ‘closet’ keys for the removal of the electronic detection collars we’d had to wear for the last two days and then gird our collective loins for the final breakout.

Feverish activity across the campus then took place and the loading up of luggage into the cars was a signal for the Police and Army alike to form a tight, four vehicle deep, channel, directly leading to the M1.

Underground nuclear bunkers were put on full alert by white knuckled staff who just manage to scramble in and clang the doors shut, now hermetically sealed against anything, as the release siren in the campus, automatically set, went off.

All hell broke loose as the noise erupted from the car park, cum starting grid. Spinning wheels, dust and the smoke from exhausts, all well under the MOT standards, filled the air as we all roared away, en-mass, a tear in everyone’s eye, all looking forward and anxious already for next year and, ‘Course N718, Design & Technology’ – The Subject looking for the Object.

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