Following on from last week's diatribe on Parents' Evenings, I am mooching about the Garden Centre (having typed that, I realise how middle-aged I sound) when my mobile buzzes. 'Tis TS on the phone wanting to know if he can open his school report which has just arrived in the mail. This is his final ever school report - within a few short months he will be a school boy no longer, but an incipient undergraduate. We hope.
Now I can't get terribly excited about school reports. They were the subject of much horror when I was young and the nuns would hand them out to be taken home at my awful Convent School. I remember the sick feeling of dread as the offending document rustled uncomfortably in my pocket, burning a hole. When I actually got home, it would be opened with great ceremony by my father and there would follow the inevitable sighs of disappointment and recriminations. I got wise though. We didn't call it 'Grounded' in those days, but that's what I inevitably was. So....in anticipation of sanctions to come, I would do the groundwork a couple of weeks in advance and make up some concert or party that I was DESPERATE to go to, knowing full well that I was just supplying my parents with the ammunition they needed for when the howler arrived. So we followed a well-trodden path to its natural conclusion. I don't think it ever occurred to me that it might just have been easier on all concerned and led to a quieter life if I had just knuckled down and applied myself a bit better. Hey ho.
Mind you, I blame the nuns for a lot of it. A bunch of crabby old bags, they made us kneel on the floor to measure our skirt lengths and weren't above having us stand in a line so they could come down behind us, lifting each skirt to make sure we were wearing the regulation knickers. A colleague who went to a different Convent, run by a different order of nuns at the other end of the country from mine reports a similar experience - presumably this was thought to be not only acceptable but desirable at the time!?!
And don't get me started on sex education. Ours was all about inseminating cows and then we had a 10 minute film, all jumpy and crackly, which gave us a diagram of a cross section of the female body. This was in a Biology lesson and was followed up by our form tutor, Sister Pat, telling us that, if a boy asked us to sit on his knee, we should put newspaper or a telephone directory on it first and if that same boy should try to, er, kiss us, we should raise our right hand and say firmly, "STOP! I am the temple of the Holy Ghost." Honest - no word of a lie! No wonder half my sixth form had to leave because they were pregnant. If I ever venture onto the pages of Friends Reunited, most of my school mates seem to be grandparents many times over....gah - what a thought :(
But I digress - back to the final report of TS. We arrive home. "What's it like?" I enquire. "Well," he says calmly, "pretty much like every report I've ever had really. You could pick up one of my Year 4 reports and it would say the same things." The enduring theme of TS's school career has been "could try harder". He is an extremely bright boy but doesn't seem to quite believe in his own capabilities. As the years have gone on, only the language has changed. We have gone from "must pay more attention to the presentation and accuracy of his work" to "displays a somewhat laid back approach to his studies."
Asking him about any of this will produce an exaggerated yawn and the terse reply "ceebs". For the unititiated, I should explain the terminology here.
Teenagers have their own language, which I love incidentally. I love the way they are so inventive with words and make the English language work for them. Generation after generation has done it and the current lot are no different. This lot, however, seem to suffer from an extreme form of ennui. This is characterised by the word "effort" which was, until recently the standard response to any request for action. e.g. "would you make me a cup of tea please?" the answer? "Effort!"
Eventually, however, it became too much effort to say 'effort', so they resorted to "Can't be arsed" a quaint and charming English phrase, I'm sure you'll agree. Needless to say, a few weeks of the extreme effort of saying 'can't be arsed' resulted in mental exhaustion so extreme that they had to shorten it to the acronym "cba". This can be used as an all-purpose reply, viz: "put that mug in the dishwasher, not on the worktop," answer? - "cba".
Now, bear with me here. Imagine the appalling trials of being a teenager - mortgage free, living in an abode you can treat exactly like a hotel, bed and board provided, washing done for you and you will, I'm sure, agree that the poor little loves can't possibly be expected to exert the enormous amount of energy required to utter "cba" over and over again. So...yes - they cba to say cba and it is now "ceebs".
Back to the report. Allow me to quote some of the contents. The following comes from his Politics teacher:- "He is a delight to have in the class, reflective and modest (some mistake here surely? Ed.) he is also positive with a very dry sense of humour, but he can collapse into fits of laughter which is most unfortunate."
As you might imagine, this sentence leapt off the page and the Shah and I demanded an explanation. "Well, y'see there's this American political economist called Frank Fukuyama and, in one lesson, Mr W had us all reading bits of his work aloud and we all pronounced his name differently." There is a silence and that familiar feeling of dread nestles in the pit of my stomach, just like the old days. "And," I say slowly, "how did you pronounce it?" "Well," he chortles, "I called him Frank Fuck ya mama and someone else said Frank Fuck You, Ma and then another guy said...."
"Yep, okay, I get it", I said. "I'd love to hear the rest but, frankly, ceebs."