The rolled steel beams were an urgent bright red above the white roofs of the new College of Technical and Further Education. Jim Collanson eyed them with alarm. Fifty-eight years old and with a lifetime of practical trade work and technical teaching behind him, he had fitted the old Tech with its high-pitched roofs and its now-vacated, high-ceilinged rooms. His stories of 'how it was done back then' had seemed appropriate in the sprawling, seventy year old miscellany of buildings. Now, three years past the optional retiring age, he felt keenly the statement of overdue change made by the cold symmetry of the new college, its white walls hard with heat and glare.
He pushed open the aluminium and glass door, moving assertively enough along the plastic-covered corridor. On each side were stacked higgeldy-piggeldy, broken plastic chairs, dismembered square tube-steel tables, laminex edges drooping off their tops, and shapeless drafting chairs, all of which combined to give the rash newness an incongruous complement and create opportunity shop chaos.
He had put out the jumbled furniture the day before with the help of his 'Foundation for Employment' group of teenaged boys. They had responded with astonishing vigour when he asked for a hand in moving the unusable items to points where cleaners could pick them up and deliver them to Central Store for repairs. An earlier attempt to get the cleaners to identify damaged furniture had been unsuccessful, it having been claimed that cleaners lacked the expertise to make such decisions. Jim had become somewhat ratty when senior administrators had intimated that students were to blame. His back had stiffened when the intimations narrowed to accusations that it was his group along with other low-level special groups which had done the damage. He'd replied that it was easy to point the finger at these unfortunates who'd dropped out or had been dumped by secondary schools. They had little hope of employment because of their poor social attitudes and shockingly low levels of literacy and numeracy. However, his defensive mode quickly gave way to more militant tactics and he had carefully examined the brand-new furniture for defects in design and manufacture. As a result, his report had listed a variety of faults ranging from bad welding to intrinsically poor design. "Totally unsuitable for school use," his report had abruptly concluded.
The report proved to be an escape route. The administration seized upon it. "Put all defective furniture into the corridors for return to manufacturers", had come the equally terse reply. No disciplinary action against students. No keel-hauling of lecturers. The top-end was at fault. No quality control. What did they do to earn the top dollar?
Jim turned into 119. Ten students awaited in various postures of disorder and discontent. Three lay on the floor. He could see there'd been dope for lunch.
Good afternoon gentlemen.
I've left me bag at home.
Go and get it.
Now! Don't bother to come back. You're absent.
Yeah, go Dimot. Move your arse. You heard him, move it!
What's on today?
What you didn't do last week. Open up.
When are you going to teach us something useful?
Technical description of an engineer's square.
What's the use of that?
You'll find out if you shut up.
I've got no paper.
Borrow from your mates.
Haven't got any.
Why can't you bring us some?
No free stock. Cutting down. Buy your own.
Heading of "Technical Description of an Engineer's Square."
Get it down.
Get down the heading.
I can't write fast.
You told us not to print.
All right. I'll slow down - just for you.
Number group system. Note it's not decimals but number groups. Covers thousands of items. Watch the board.
Watch the birdie!
Get on with it!
Why? Bloody useless.
Just because I told you! First group... one, dot, zero, dot. See, like this.
What are we doing maths for in an English class?
Because I want you to. It's a big help to you. Logical - as long as you know how to count, you can't go wrong.
I can't count but I'd rather do anything than English.
Well, try, just for me. I care for you.
Enough of that! You can get the help that you need from me. Small class. A great chance for you to catch up what you missed out on.
I didn't miss out last night - did you Briggsy?
New college, new machines, it's all your way.
How about a new teach?
When I was apprenticed we had nothing like this. On the job training - work experience all the time! Everything that the tradesmen didn't like doing! No allowances. Six pence - that's about twenty-five cents an hour, forty-eight hours a week and Saturday morning!
How dy'a put your weekend in?
Cardinal number group is followed by subordinate groups. Identify with sub-headings and keep in vertical alignment - see: one below the other...
How dy'a feel Monday morning?
Leave a line space between the Cardinal groups. One zero and two zero, leave an extra line space - keep the layout neat - you get marks for format as well as for what you say.
A table thumped the carpet; the pressure of two forceful young legs had buckled the inferior joints.
Shall I put it out with the rest, Sir?
Why not? It's very badly made.
It's two forty-five. Time to knock off, Sir.
Yes. Write up your notes at home. I'll look at them next week.
As the class shoved out along the passage, bags caught table legs and chairs clattered to the floor.
Jim closed his brief case and walked slowly to the tearoom. The red paint scowled at him and the wind lashed up a fume of sandy dust. Young seedlings thrust through the rawness of the levelled sand.
They'd come through somehow, Jim thought.
New: 18 April, 1996 | Now: 11 April, 2015