“See you then, sir?”
Well, they probably won’t. It’s all over. Their childhoods.
There they were, smiling, aspirational, shiny-shoed, scrubbed-up, tiny tots, lined up under the big chestnut tree on their first day at Big School. And now here they are, weeping, hardened, battered and tested to destruction under that same big chestnut tree on their last day ever.
It’s all too much.
The tearful hugs, the shaving cream frolics, the daft kisses, the cheap flowers, the magic marker messages on t-shirts, all that Hallmark sentiment – “Have a great life!” “Will miss you forever.” “I loved you from year one.” “All the luck in the world.”
There are, of course, more formal rituals to cushion the blow. I recall picnics in Keats’ house with my swooning sixth form aesthetes, rowing across the Serpentine with fools falling overboard, boat trips down the Thames with clots concussed on Russian vodka – and the pupils weren’t much better. Or those unbearable, never-ending final assemblies, with that Whitney Houston song or the odd church service with the inevitable and annihilating Jerusalem.
All much better, though, than the modern balls. The Ball or Prom – a ghastly American import, which resembles a vile corporate jolly, from which the disenfranchised and poor are exiled. Dave Mania in a dicky bow! Decibelle in a tent! My tutor set in a gaudy limousine, all decked out like those orange buffoons in The Apprentice?
Heaven forfend! That’s no way to say goodbye.
My farewell address to the troops was always tough going for all of us. It tended to the shameless, a mawkish mix of old time clichés and random quotes, before collapsing into lachrymose incoherence.
“Pleasure and privilege to teach you ... will miss your mischief and quick wit ... you aren’t, you never were, you never will be a Measurable Outcome ... all God’s children ... beware all fundamentalisms ... don’t ever sell your soul or become an estate agent or vote Tory ... kindness is all ... you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows ... the captain lied ... strength and honour ... grace under pressure ... we will never pass this way again ... the rest is silence ... goodbye...”
Blub blub blub.
“See you then sir.”
But some don’t go. Major scamps, who’ve spent half their lives trying to bunk the place, hang about the school gates. You watch them finally fade into our ever-darkening world.
Still, get a grip, there’ll be a new lot in September.
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.