Fragments -- Peter Leyland
My Best and Worst School Trips
For various reasons I couldn’t write my blog ahead of time this month so I turned once again to past articles that I’ve submitted to magazines which were never used. I was inspired to dig this one out by my recent visit to Vietnam, particularly the War Remnants Museum. The photograph is of a statue of two girls with a skipping rope at the museum’s entrance. I thought it was particularly appropriate to my subject which is the supervision of school children during the 70s and 80s.
A colleague was taken ill at the last minute and I was asked to help out on a week-long trip to Leon Sur Mer in Normandy. I didn’t know any French so wondered what use I was going to be. As the trip got under way it seemed to consist largely of coach visits to war cemeteries, invasion beaches and museums. Although I found them interesting, I wasn’t sure about their appeal for my Year 7 pupils.
Eventually, on the third day a group of despairing girls came up to me after supper and asked if I could find something interesting for them to do. I had just learned how to play volleyball, so I thought I’d try to teach them. The centre where we were staying backed onto a beach which would make an ideal site.
As it happened one of the most interesting events had been a visit to St-Mere-Eglise, where a paratrooper survived being caught up on the church steeple during the invasion of Normandy. There is an effigy of Private Steele which shows a model soldier hanging from parachute webbing. I always like to think that his success had inspired my ability to improvise.
I managed to scrounge some makeshift equipment from the centre and finally attached curtain material to a pair of flagpoles dug into the sand. The children were impressed with my efforts and they learned the game quickly. Each evening from then-on I was in demand to supervise a number of increasingly competitive events between the boys and girls.
When we returned to school, I asked them what the most interesting aspect of the trip had been. I expected them, the boys at least, to mention The Battle of Normandy War Museum at Caen, the fact that Mrs Jones and Miss Garrible had dropped their normally buttoned-up demeanour, or even the suspended paratrooper, but no. Every time it was the volleyball that came up as the most enjoyable.
Thinking of Private Steele and his predicament, a hair-raising experience of improvisation was during a walk on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales with a group of Year 8s. We had travelled to a Youth Hostel in Malham in an ex-army bus which was the headteacher’s pride and joy. He took little heed of rules and regulations.
Unfortunately, neither he nor I he had prepared the children properly for the conditions they might encounter while walking in The Dales. Some of them had only plimsolls for footwear and thin green school jumpers on top, so when a storm began at some distance from the hostel and miles from any shelter we were in trouble. It can rain really hard in The Dales, even in July, and within minutes the group were soaked through and cold.
Luckily the head was also a practical man. We had with us two orange survival bags and he slit both of them open and constructed a lean-to against one of the dry-stone walls to be found in the area. Into this we packed 15 shivering pupils, himself and me, and we all sat out the storm in a huddle. I will never forget the fear on some of the children’s faces as I tried to reassure them. Even though I knew it would be all right, they didn’t.
And then as suddenly as the storm had started it stopped and there was bright sunshine. Back in the hostel, remorsefully sipping tea, I decided to regard it as another learning experience.
Strangely enough something similar happened today while I was in town at the bottom of a steep countryside ascent back to my village. I had just had a reduced-price haircut and got myself a free coffee with my 10 saved vouchers. I was settling down to continue reading The Jasmine Tree by Barbara Comyns, when the heavens opened and buckets of rain were falling. I paused in my reading and began to make plans to avoid a wetting when, just as suddenly as it had started the rain stopped, and I was able to finish my drink and eventually leave the coffee bar.
As I walked back up the hill beneath the dripping leaves, beside the primary school, I noted the smashed green and white horse chestnut shells with their shiny brown conkers waiting to be picked up.
NB. Yr 7 and 8s are now 11-12 and 12-13 yr olds respectively
*The story of Private Steel is a fascinating one and worth checking out
**Names have been changed
***Jasmine has many interesting properties