THE BOYLE CURRICULUM
The morning lessons had gone badly. Somehow our topic on ‘families’ had been side-tracked by little Tony Docherty who claimed that his older brother was a hijacker, which had made some of the other children cry. I knew full well that Tony Docherty’s older brother was in fact a steeplejack, and tried to get things under control by asking if anyone in the class could tell me what a chimney was for, but the children had just looked at me blankly. I’m ashamed to say that I deducted 76 house points for their ignorance, and from there the lesson degenerated into squabbling and name-calling. I think we all said things we regretted.
In the afternoon, I had the children take down all the posters that covered our walls — even the one which showed how all smokers were bad on the inside — and I had them stick up large sheets of plain black rice paper instead. Then we all sat down in the story circle in our newly blacked-out classroom, and I began to tell the class about my brother, Boyle.
‘What kind of man is my brother Boyle?’ I said. The children listened without a whisper. ‘My brother Boyle is the kind of man who, if you rushed to him in a panic because your house was on fire, would make a great show of lending you his smallest bucket. You would snatch it from his hand and use it to try and douse the fire-storm that was engulfing your home, but all the time what you’d really be worried about would be the safe return of his puny bucket.’
The children were wide-eyed with concern. I continued: ‘And also, for years afterwards, you would have to endure Boyle telling others how he had practically saved you from the flames single-handedly. You would have to sit there at his dinner-parties as he slapped his enormous thigh and boomed to his wife Lorraine across the table: “If it wasn’t for me, my little brother would be nothing but soot by now!” And you would have to sit there and smile and agree and say yes, it’s true, Boyle practically snuffed out the flames with his own bare hands. In fact, it’s a travesty he hasn’t been decorated for bravery, or been asked to give the benefit of his wisdom to our emergency services .’
The children sat in silence in our rice-paper blackened classroom for some moments. Then Peter Mathers put his hand up and asked exactly what volume of fluid a ‘puny bucket’ could be expected to hold. I said, ‘about a chimneyful’, which shut him up.
This morning the children quietly got on with drawing pictures of burning houses. I had to send Tony Docherty over to 3C in the next portacabin along to ask if we could borrow some of their red and yellow crayons, as we had worn all of ours down to little stubs. Once the children had filled their exercise books with pictures of burning, they started on the black paper. The enthusiastic red and yellow inferno scribbled on our black walls was an impressive sight, and the children seemed pleased with their handiwork. I awarded extra house points all round.
Come the afternoon, the children sat themselves cross-legged in the story circle without any prompting. Mary spoke on behalf of them: ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘we’re not sure we understand yet. Tell us more about what kind of man Boyle is.’
So I told them: ‘What kind of a man is my brother Boyle? My brother Boyle is the kind of man who, if you telephoned him for advice because you had found a tiny, injured bird in your garden, would come straight round and hit it with a shovel. You would stand in shock for a minute, as the deathly clang echoed around you, and then all of a sudden you would feel ashamed of yourself that you didn’t have his no-nonsense attitude to the circle of life. You would vow to learn to light fires with flint, to skin rabbits with sharpened sticks, and to apologise to Boyle at once for being such a spineless ditherer compared to him. ‘Then later, while you were cleaning bits of baby sparrow off your patio, you would learn that he’d told his beautiful wife Lorraine that if she wanted his opinion, the poor little creature would probably have survived, if only it had been scooped up and kept in a shoebox and fed bits of milky bread, but that he, Boyle, knew that his little brother would not have had the patience for such things, so he’d just done his grim duty with a heavy heart. And the next time you saw Lorraine, you would be able to do nothing more than cringe and turn away, thinking all the while that you could hear her whisper “bird killer” under her breath.’
After I’d finished, we looked up sparrows in our Bumper Book of Ornithology. Peter Mathers asked: ‘Sir, what is the circumference of the circle of life?’ but I pretended not to hear him and busied myself getting out the craft box, and we spent the rest of the afternoon making little model birds out of tissue paper and drinking straws. In almost no time at all the children fashioned the most incredible array of delicate little creatures. They folded the tissue paper into tiny pointed beaks and made claws out of finely tweaked straws. The intricacy of the feathers was a marvel, especially given the blunt safety-scissors they were working with. Some of the model birds looked uncannily lifelike, perched on the ends of the desks, and the children role-played nurturing them and feeding them crumbs from their hands.
Under my instruction, Tony Docherty then role-played being Boyle, and using an exercise book Sellotaped onto a metre ruler as his shovel, he stomped around the classroom shouting: ‘It’s all for the best!’ and smashed the birds to bits with great angry shovel-swipes. Tony captured Boyle’s self- important swagger with such uncanny accuracy that I could feel all my old Boyle resentments welling up inside me.
Very soon, our entire classroom was a scene of devastation: smashed tissue birds were everywhere, and many of the children were crying. The only bird still intact belonged to Peter Mathers. Peter’s bird was an engineering marvel: a complex lattice of several dozen straws, and hundreds of finely folded sheets of tissue paper. It had a wing-span of nearly two feet. Tony Docherty strode over to it and raised his metre-rule shovel and shouted ‘circle of life!’ but at the very last second Peter snatched the bird away and flung it out of the window. We all stood transfixed as it glided up into the air, flew higher than the school, and then with what I could have sworn was a flap of its tissue wings, soared away over the sports hall.
Before the home-time bell went, I handed out the Boyle Worksheets. These contained multiple-choice questions concerning the many subtle cruelties of Boyle. I hoped it would help the children further their understanding.
Today we spent most of the day preparing for the Boyle Musical, which we will perform as the end-of-term show. I am going to write songs for the children to sing, so that the catchy tunes will lodge forever in their heads, reminding them how pompous, vain, deceitful Boyle is. The children worked hard on a pair of enormous papier-maché heads of Boyle and Lorraine for the show. Even rendered in mushed-up newspaper and poster-paints the likenesses were quite striking. At intervals I’d shout out, ‘What kind of man is Boyle?’ and the children would shout back, ‘He is the kind of man who would sell your coat on the internet and then drag you on a long winter walk so he could laugh at what a funny shade of blue you went’, or some other fact from the Boyle Worksheets.
At one point, I left the classroom for a few minutes to photocopy some song-sheets for the musical, and when I returned I saw that the children had raided my supply of gold stars that I use for awarding house-points, and had stuck them in the hair of the papier-maché Lorraine-head. I suppose I should have been cross, but the way the little stars shimmered and sparkled in the afternoon light was quite stunning. I reached out a tentative hand, part of me expecting her hair to feel real and lustrous to my touch. I said: ‘Children, gather round and see what kind of a woman Lorraine is. See how beautiful she is.’ The children gathered round. We counted the stars in her hair. There were one hundred and twenty-six. So that’s how many extra house points I awarded the class.
Today, when the children come in, I tell them to keep their hats and coats on, as we’re going on a field trip. A Boyle field trip. I hand out clipboards and binoculars and we all bundle into the school mini-bus and drive to Boyle’s house. When we arrive I tell the children to form a crocodile and stay low, and follow me, and we sneak along the perimeter wall to the large oak tree. I tell the children that from the topmost branches we will get an excellent view of Boyle’s house, and we all clamber up, the bigger children helping the smaller ones. I say that I am very impressed with their team-work as we all find perches among the branches and leaves. We secure our clipboards and the children focus their binoculars and begin to scan the grounds.
The children peer through their binoculars and say: ‘Boyle certainly seems like the kind of man to have a very big house. It is very grand and well-kept. There are twenty-seven chimneys.’
I say: ‘I think what you mean is that it’s unnecessarily large, showy, ostentatious. Make sure you write that down.
The children look again and say: ‘We can also see orchards and horses grazing on the lawns!’
I say: ‘Boyle is the kind of man who knows his little brother is terrified of horses, yet has them roaming free on his land. Write that down.’
Then the children say: ‘Also, we can see that standing on the front step is a very beautiful woman. She has long yellow hair and pale skin and even though she is frowning and seems to be pointing in this direction in an angry manner, she shines like she is lit by a thousand tiny stars!’
‘Lorraine!’ I say, snatching a pair of binoculars out of Mary Tranter’s hands, and hurriedly focusing them.
‘Oh, Lorraine! Write this down: how can my brother Boyle ever appreciate what a perfect creature his wife is? If she were my wife I’d never leave her side. If she were my wife I’d spend every day gazing into those beautiful eyes and stroking her shining hair. My brother Boyle is the kind of man who does not deserve such a wife.’
The children say: ‘Wow. She really is beautiful, isn’t she? Can we get any closer?’
I say: ‘Perhaps after dark.’
Mary Tranter says: ‘Sir, how do you spell “restraining order”?’
And then Peter Mathers shouts ‘Look!’, and we all look up in the air to where he is pointing, and see that from out of the clouds is gliding his tissue-paper bird. It swoops round the tree, its paper wings burring rapidly, and then continues on its way, gliding towards one of Boyle’s chimney-tops. Suddenly I find myself in the grip of a terrible anger, and I thrash my way up through the branches to the very top of the oak tree, and leap at the bird. I grab it mid-wing-beat. As I fall, I see the children scribbling furiously on their clipboards. I can hear sirens. By the time I hit the ground I have torn the bird to shreds.
The children will probably be having a supply teacher around now. I wonder what kind of supply teacher the supply teacher will be?