Thursday, 7 March 2013

Lose Some, Win Some

There are some situations in life which are, by their very nature, lose-lose. One that springs to mind is that of playing hangman with 7-10 year olds. A game where having the correct letters in the correct order is fairly fundamental can only present a minefield when attempted by those who grasp of the English language lies somewhere between the levels of beginner and intermediate. Some games never quite make it off the ground:
‘Do you want to go first, Sweetie?’
‘Yes, please! You can guess. The topic is films.’
‘Fab. Here’s the pen, off you go.’
‘How do you spell Ratatouille, Matron?’

Others make it further, yet require some creative guesswork on the part of the player to determine which particular film is being referred to. The Dark Knigt Rises was one particular little-known gem or, on another occasion, GR _N/UPS turned out to be Adam Sandler’s Gron Ups. This was confusing on two levels as not only was there only one space left for two letters, but my opponent had repeatedly reassured me that there were definitely no vowels(!) in the first word. A change of category doesn’t necessarily help matters. I found myself faced with a word from the animal category which, after several guesses, I’d managed to narrow down to _ I _ _ . It wasn’t ‘pigs’ as the letter P has already brought me one step closer to the hangman’s noose. With my life hanging in the balance I decided to try a little subtle questioning. ‘So it’s an animal? Definitely an animal?’
‘Yes, Matron.’
‘A real living one? Not an imaginary or extinct one?’
‘No, Matron. A real one.’
‘Hmm, a real, living animal with the letter ‘I’ in the middle. Can you give me a clue?’
‘It has wings and can fly.’
‘Ah I see, is the “animal” by any chance a bird…?’*

Amongst all these words and letters which have been flying around, the children found themselves in the middle of World Book Day. The aim of this venerable institution is to promote reading and the written word, all the more pertinent in the past decade since the advent of all these gadget-y, beep-y, flashy forms of entertainment that we struggle to drag them away from. The children were warned that they should have a book on their person at all times or risk incurring the wrath of the ‘Book Police’. The Head of English, flanked by a couple of other teachers dressed in police uniforms, performed spot-checks on the playground to ensure that all children were in possession of a book, could give a rough outline of its contents and were enjoying it. I took the two five year-old boys from the Pre-Prep School who I look after in the mornings over to meet the Book Police. Little Ben, once he’d got over his sheer terror at being in the presence of a real policeman (which was surprising considering his utter lack of respect for my authority – perhaps it’s time to invest in a helmet and truncheon?), threw himself wholeheartedly into the proceedings, asking me what would happen if the Book Police arrested you. I explained, very solemnly, that you would probably have to go to book prison. His eyes lit up. ‘Maybe my sister could go there? That would be amazing! And my parents too…then I could play on the Wii all the time!’
I can only be thankful that the Head of English wasn’t in earshot, given the enormous amount of effort and imagination he’d put in to giving books back their appeal. Further proof, if more was needed, that some situations are simply non-winnable.

When people ask me why I’m not staying on for a second year in a job I’m enjoying so much, I explain that I love the children I look after, and am so grateful for the wonderful people I work for and with, but try as I might, I just can’t love the lifestyle. Even the very word ‘lifestyle’ seems a bit of a misnomer, as style went out of the window around the same time that the Matron’s uniform entered my wardrobe, and any form of ‘life’ as commonly recognised by those in the 20-25 year-old bracket swiftly followed. In my darker moments, I’ve found myself muttering to myself that I’m looking forward to ‘getting my life back’ next year as if it were something I had lost or misplaced. This all seemed quite reasonable to me until I remembered that somebody somewhere had once said something about losing your life in order to find it.  Suddenly being stuck in those lose-lose situations didn’t seem quite so terrible after all…

*Since publishing this, a helpful person has informed me that birds are, in fact, a type of animal. This lie that I have clearly been living under is merely another reason why I always lose at hangman. 

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