Poppy Fields: Class­room War­rior!

The fi­nal part of our fun se­rial

My Weekly - - Contents - By Judy Punch

Morn­ing, class!” Tot­ing an arm­ful of ex­er­cise books and a heavy straw shop­ping bag, Poppy shoul­dered open the door of 3E.

She was met by the usual com­mo­tion of shout­ing, laugh­ing and scuf­fling… fol­lowed by a stam­pede of feet, scrap­ing of chairs and near si­lence, ex­cept for the tinny sound of Lampy’s por­ta­ble ra­dio.

The young, cop­per-haired English teacher was star­tled to find all thirty-two pupils be­hind their desks, star­ing at her with big eyes and zipped lips.

For once, not even Naomi ut­tered her usual, “Late again, Miss?”

Puz­zled, Poppy turned to her desk and set down her books with a thrump. It was then that she saw the black­board and her cheeks caught fire.

Scrawled in chalk was Mis­sFields lovesMrBurns across a big heart. “Who wrote that?” she de­manded. She’d never seen so many poker faces. She glared at Mickey, the class clown and res­i­dent car­toon­ist. He was an ob­vi­ous sus­pect, al­though she didn’t like to think it of him.

The cheeky Naomi? Poppy didn’t like to sus­pect her, ei­ther, or any of the pupils who were clos­est to her.

Lampy? The hulk­ing thir­teen-year-old teddy boy at the back of the room was the only one not watch­ing her. His ra­dio was pressed to his ear as Slade sang CozILu­vYou. “Turn that off, Lampy!” Poppy snapped. Look­ing hurt, he did as he was told. “Shall I wipe it off, Miss?” Mickey asked. “Why are you cov­ered in chalk and hold­ing the black­board eraser?” Poppy nar­rowed her eyes.

“Be­cause I was just go­ing to wipe it off, but then you came in and I didn’t want you to catch me there in case it looked like I wrote it. Hon­est, Miss.”

“It’s true, Miss,” Naomi put in. “We were go­ing to wipe it off be­cause we knew you’d be an­noyed.” “So who wrote it?” Poppy de­manded. Mickey and Naomi glanced at each other and Poppy re­alised that not even the bond she’d es­tab­lished with them would make them snitch on a class­mate. The only way to pun­ish the wrong-doer would be to pun­ish the whole class, and she didn‘t have the heart to do that.

“Wipe it off, then, Mickey,” she sighed. “Thank you.”

As Mickey did so, Poppy said, “Well, who­ever it was, I’m very dis­ap­pointed.”

“Is it true, though?” Naomi could sup­press her cu­rios­ity no longer.

“What? Of course it’s not true!” Poppy snapped.

“We thought you liked Mr Burns.” Tracy gig­gled.

“Mr Burns is… a good friend,” Poppy said, flus­tered. “And your sci­ence teacher. And that is all.”

“I bet Mr Cavendish loves Miss Brahms!” Mickey cracked from the black­board.

“I have no idea what Harry – I mean, Mr Cavendish – thinks of our sports teacher,” Poppy blurted, red-faced. “And I’m not in­ter­ested, ei­ther.”

“They can’t keep their eyes off each other!” Tracy hissed to her best pal, Linda. As the room be­came a hub­bub of spec­u­la­tion, Poppy slapped her desk for quiet and said firmly, “But I do think it’s time this gos­sip about your teach­ers came to an end. I’ve tried to treat you like adults and be open about my life. I thought we’d es­tab­lished some trust and re­spect... but there’s a point be­yond which I think we all de­serve some pri­vacy.” “Sorry, Miss,” said Naomi. “Very well, class, take out your books and we’ll start read­ing where we left off yes­ter­day.”

“What book is it?” asked the sleep­yeyed Kip­per.

“Son­sAndLovers!” Tracy ex­ploded with mirth as thirty well-thumbed DH Lawrence pa­per­backs were pulled out.

“You can start, Naomi,” said Poppy. “Where were we up to?”

“The love scene, Miss!” Naomi splut­tered and laughed so hard she nearly slid un­der her desk.

Poppy pinched the bridge of her nose. It was go­ing to be a long les­son.

What do you think of that, then, Poppy?” Colin Burns pulled a new rugby ball from his sports bag and held it up as proudly as if he were pre­sent­ing her with a bou­quet of roses.

“Joe will like that, won’t he?” The Welsh­man beamed hope­fully.

Poppy fo­cused on the pol­ished leather,

He held up the RUGBY BALL as proudly as if it were a BUNCH OF ROSES

“A job has COME UP at my old SCHOOL – bet­ter pay, bet­ter PROSPECTS…”

be­cause it was eas­ier than meet­ing Colin’s ex­pec­tant eyes. She felt her chest tighten. She hadn’t planned to have this talk in the staff room but as Mrs Bell the mu­sic teacher barged out, let­ting the door clat­ter shut be­hind her, she re­alised they’d prob­a­bly be alone for a while.

“Colin,” she said, her throat dry. “I don’t think you should buy my son any more presents.”

“What?” His brow creased in con­fu­sion. “He likes them, doesn’t he?”

“He does, and he likes you… but he’s at an age when I don’t want him get­ting too at­tached to, er…” “I don’t un­der­stand, Poppy.” “I’ve en­joyed our days out, Colin.” She forced her­self to meet his eyes. “But I know you think it’s go­ing some­where, and I don’t think it can.”

“Is this about the kids? SirlovesMiss and all that non­sense? I’ve had that, but you have to ig­nore it.” “It’s not that, Colin.” “What then?” He moved closer and she re­mem­bered their kiss at the week­end – its com­plete fail­ure to light a spark in her.

She thought of Harry, the man she’d re­ally like to kiss. That could never hap­pen.

“I like you as a friend, Colin, but I think we should stop go­ing out.”

The door clat­tered open and Madame Grand, the French teacher, bus­tled in pro­claim­ing loudly to the room in gen­eral how much she needed a cup of cof­fee. Poppy was grate­ful for the in­ter­rup­tion. “I’m sorry,” she said, softly, and hur­ried for the door, be­fore Colin could see the tears form­ing in her eyes.

Miss Fields, can I speak to you for a mo­ment?” Harry’s voice fol­lowed her along the cor­ri­dor.

Poppy turned to see the hand­some blond maths teacher strid­ing to­wards her from the di­rec­tion of the head­mas­ter’s study. He was wear­ing his fa­mil­iar tweed jacket and car­ry­ing his baggy leather brief­case.

Stirred up from break­ing up with Colin, Poppy didn’t think she’d ever been more re­lieved to see him.

“I’m glad, I caught you.” He forced a twitch of a smile that quickly faded. “There’s some­thing I need to tell you.”

“What’s wrong?” Poppy searched his trou­bled grey eyes.

“Noth­ing,” he said quickly. “Well, apart from the fact that I just handed in my res­ig­na­tion. With im­me­di­ate ef­fect.”

“What…?” Poppy felt as if a trap­door had opened be­neath her feet.

“A job has come up at my old school. Bet­ter pay, bet­ter prospects. I start there on Mon­day.”

“But… but… what about the kids?” Poppy al­most shouted.

And­whataboutme? a voice screamed in her head.

“I thought we were on the same side.” Poppy swiped a hot tear from her eye. “You and me against Dead­wood and Pamela, try­ing to turn this school around.”

“I’m sorry, Poppy. It’s too good an op­por­tu­nity to pass up.” He edged

around her to­wards the exit, as if anx­ious to make his es­cape.

Poppy stared at his fa­mil­iar striped neck­wear in dis­gust.

“So the old school tie fi­nally won out!” she snapped. “It’s back to the hal­lowed cor­ri­dors of your posh pub­lic school. Stuff the sec­ondary mod­ern kids!”

“Good luck, Poppy,” he mut­tered, his back al­ready turned as he strode to the door.

Poppy watched the door swing closed. The slam of fi­nal­ity jolted her. She’d never felt so empty.

She glanced the other way and saw Colin watch­ing her war­ily from be­side the staff room.

With nowhere else to turn, she pushed through the door of the girls’ toi­lets and broke down in tears.

Dead­wood­isa – The last word was a mess of paint and thin­ners as Mickey and Lampy scrubbed the graf­fiti from the wall that bor­dered the gas­works. “OK, that’ll do for to­day,” Poppy said. She didn’t be­lieve they’d painted the slo­gan, and se­cretly wouldn’t have blamed them if they had.

Pamela had given them the clean-up duty as pun­ish­ment for some mi­nor lark­ing about in PE – or more likely be­cause she sim­ply didn’t like them. Poppy reck­oned she’d got the job of su­per­vis­ing them for the same rea­son.

Life at Gas Street hadn’t been much fun since Harry left. With­out him as an ally, her cam­paign to turn the school com­pre­hen­sive was in the mire. Pamela had the rest of the staff un­der her thumb.

The awk­ward­ness around Colin only added to Poppy’s sense of iso­la­tion.

“Why did you be­come a teacher, Miss?” Mickey asked as they took the brooms and buck­ets across the play­ground to the care­taker’s of­fice. “Some­times I won­der!” She laughed. Fondly, she said, “There was a teacher at ju­nior school who re­ally en­cour­aged me. I don’t think I’d have passed my eleven-plus with­out her. None of the other teach­ers cared much. It was a pretty rough school… I sup­pose I wanted to be like her.” She sighed. “Though I doubt I’m very good, re­ally.” “You’re the best teacher we’ve ever had!” Mickey grinned. “Naomi said she wants to be a teacher like you. Don’t say any­thing, though. She’s too shy to tell you.” Be­fore Poppy could an­swer, a sud­den com­mo­tion made her jump. It was com­ing from a long wooden build­ing just in­side the perime­ter, where Pamela kept her games equip­ment. “Please, Miss! No, Miss!” A young boy’s cry froze Poppy’s blood. “If you want to raid the cup­boards, see how you get on in there!” Pamela snarled. Poppy ran across the play­ground as fast as she should. She burst into the shed in time to see Pamela lock­ing a green metal cabi­net. “Help! Help!” A boy’s muf­fled cry was ac­com­pa­nied by a des­per­ate bang­ing. “What on earth do you think you’re do­ing?” Poppy de­manded. “He was in here steal­ing foot­balls!” Pamela spat.

“And you think this is any way to deal with it?” Poppy de­manded. “I’ll see you sacked for this cru­elty!”

Poppy snatched the bunch of keys from the sports teacher’s grasp.

“Give that back!” Pamela grabbed Poppy’s wrist, mak­ing her squeal.

“Leave her alone!” roared a voice full of gravel. Lampy was at Poppy’s shoul­der, with Mickey be­hind him.

“No­body touches our teacher!” Lampy warned.

Pamela weighed up the teenage tough and de­cided he was too big even for her to tan­gle with.

“Don’t think any­one will lis­ten to you!” Pamela pointed at Poppy as she dodged around them and stalked out of the door.

“Thanks, Lampy!” Poppy’s hand shook as she un­locked the cabi­net. Lit­tle Ernie Dean tum­bled out, white­faced and wet-eyed. “Are you all right, Ernie?” “She’s a psy­cho, Miss!” He trem­bled. “I know she is.” Poppy drew in a de­ter­mined breath. “Now, you, me, Lampy and Mickey are go­ing to tell Mr Dead­wood what hap­pened here – and if he sides with Miss Brahms we’ll go to the Ed­u­ca­tion Au­thor­ity.”

There was black pa­per taped over the win­dows of the assem­bly hall and a spot­light play­ing on a re­volv­ing glit­ter ball, send­ing a rain­bow of dots swirling around the dark­ened in­te­rior for the end-of-term disco.

And­whatater­mit’sbeen! Poppy thought, as she stood at the edge of the dance floor in a red party dress with a length of sil­ver tin­sel tied around her fore­head as a head­band.

As Mrs Bell spun CrocodileRock on the stereo on stage, Poppy watched Lampy prowl­ing along the side of the hall, where most of the kids were gath­ered laugh­ing and chat­ting around the ta­bles.

Once, he would have been look­ing for ex­tor­tion vic­tims. To­day, he was proudly wear­ing a flu­o­res­cent arm­band marked Mon­i­tor and keep­ing an eye out for any fights that needed break­ing up.

Mickey and Naomi were pre­tend­ing to dance to­gether for the en­ter­tain­ment of Tracy and Linda, as if their fool­ing around could dis­guise how much they re­ally liked each other.

Joe was sit­ting hap­pily on Tracy’s lap. It warmed Poppy’s heart to see her class look­ing af­ter her son so well. They were such good kids.

On the other side of the hall, Colin Burns was danc­ing closely with Jean Far­rell, the new sports teacher.

Jean was a breath of fresh air as Pamela’s re­place­ment. Poppy liked her and was glad the new­comer had found an in­stant rap­port with Colin. He was a good man who de­served to be happy.

As Colin and Jean talked and laughed, it only caused Poppy the slight­est

Once, Lampy was seek­ing EX­TOR­TION vic­tims. TO­DAY, he was a MON­I­TOR

twinge of envy to see a cou­ple so clearly made for each other.

Some­times she still won­dered if she’d done the right thing by break­ing up with Colin. The sci­ence teacher would have made a won­der­ful dad for her son.

Yet she didn’t love him, and didn’t be­lieve she could learn to, or pre­tend to. She knew what she was look­ing for, and to set­tle for less wouldn’t have been fair on ei­ther her­self or Colin, in the long term.

“Please, Miss,” said a smooth voice, “may I have this dance?”

Poppy turned and caught her breath at the sight of Harry, stand­ing so smartly in a dark blue, three-piece pin-stripe suit. His blond hair was neatly groomed and he was wear­ing his old school tie.

“I’d be de­lighted,” Poppy smiled, as she slipped into his loose em­brace. “You re­plac­ing Dead­wood as next term’s head­mas­ter of Gas Street Sec­ondary Mod­ern is some­thing to dance about.”

“Or Gas Street Com­pre­hen­sive-to-be,” he cor­rected. “It’s go­ing to take a lot of work to drag this place into the 1970s and I’m go­ing to need a deputy head. So... if you can rec­om­mend any­one?” She gave him a play­ful punch. “Of course, I want you to be my deputy!” he ad­mit­ted. “There’s no way I could run this school with­out you.”

“I still don’t know how you man­aged to swing the job,” said Poppy.

Harry smiled smugly. “I sup­pose you could say I went to the right school.”

“The old school tie, eh?” Poppy fin­gered the stripy silk neck ap­parel that had of­ten been a bone of con­tention be­tween them. She couldn’t keep the edge out of her voice as she said, “I sup­pose for peo­ple from your back­ground, life al­ways goes smoothly.”

Harry stopped danc­ing and held her shoul­ders. She searched his face, wor­ried that she’d up­set him.

“Poppy, it’s time we got this straight. I’m proud of the school I went to, and I’m proud be­cause I won a schol­ar­ship to at­tend for free.

“I talk this way, be­cause it’s how I learned to speak there, but there’s no way my fam­ily could have af­forded to send me to a top school them­selves. My dad’s a gro­cer.” “I’m sorry, Harry, I should never have been so judg­men­tal.” “The rea­son I wear this tie isn’t to re­mind me that I went to a posh school,” Harry went on, “It’s to re­mind me that it doesn’t mat­ter if you come from a rich fam­ily or a back street ter­raced house like I did – you can get on if you try. That’s the mes­sage I want to get across to the kids at Gas Street.” Poppy stepped into his arms and hugged him tighter than she’d ever hugged any­one. “I’m so glad you’re back, Harry. When you took that job at your old school I felt so aban­doned – as if I was the only one left that cared about these kids.” “I’m sorry, Poppy,” he said softly. Teas­ingly, he added, “But that was kind of your fault.” “My fault?” She stepped back. Harry blushed. “Would you mind if we went some­where more pri­vate?”

Re­al­is­ing there were pupils danc­ing near enough to over­hear them, she fol­lowed Harry to the hall’s rear door.

“You see, I thought you were go­ing steady with Colin,” said Harry, as they emerged into the pri­vacy of a sunny al­ley be­side a bike rack.

“Ah, well, that was sort of a wrong turn,” Poppy ad­mit­ted, em­bar­rassed.

“A bit like me and Pamela. I don‘t know how I fell un­der her spell.”

“I think you had a lucky es­cape,” Poppy chuck­led.

“So I’ve re­alised! But the point is, it was only long af­ter I’d left and it was too late to come back that Colin phoned me for a catch-up and told me you’d dumped him.

“Luck­ily, in the same call he said Pamela had been sacked for lock­ing Ernie in a cup­board, and Dead­wood was forced to re­sign for try­ing to shield her.

“There was a va­cancy at the top, and you’re the rea­son I worked like stink to get the job – so I could come back here and be with you.”

“But I still don’t un­der­stand.” Poppy frowned. “What did me go­ing out with Colin have to do with you leav­ing?”

“Isn’t it ob­vi­ous? Per­haps if it’s not, I shouldn’t say this. I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to make a fool of my­self. I was jeal­ous. The sight of you with Colin was too much.” Poppy could hear her heart beat­ing. “I had no idea you felt that way.” “Well I do.” He moved closer. “Which is why, if you’re not see­ing any­one else, I was rather won­der­ing if you’d like to start go­ing out with me?” “There’s noth­ing I’d like more.” She stepped into his arms and sud­denly their lips were pressed to­gether in the kiss that Poppy had been dream­ing about since the day she first set eyes on him. Burn­ing in­side, she for­got where they were un­til she heard a door burst open and the com­bined voices of 3E as­sailed them with whis­tles and raunchy cries of “Way to go, Miss and Sir!”

Poppy opened her eyes to see Mickey, Naomi, Lampy, Kip­per, Tracy, Linda and Joe hold­ing hands and skip­ping around them like dancers around a may­pole.

She knew that by next term her ro­mance with Harry would be all over the school. She felt strangely un­em­bar­rassed, though.

As she held him close and watched her son skip­ping hap­pily around them, some­thing told her that see­ing Harry was go­ing to be more than a school­yard crush.

“It’ll take WORK to DRAG this place into THE 1970S. I need a DEPUTY…”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.