Poppy Fields: Classroom Warrior!
The final part of our fun serial
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…”