What a fantastic day I had yesterday at Cragside Primary in Newcastle. What a lovely school in every way! I want to say a special thank you to deputy head Mrs James for looking after me so well, and for Julie and all the other teachers and staff who made the day such a pleasure. Of course the kids were fantastic too! If only all author visits were like this…
Some are not. There are some days when you arrive at a school and the gate is locked. You park 400 yards away, hoping it’s not a restricted zone and you lug your two bags and 80kg box of books around to the door only to find that the entrance for visitors is around the other side. You buzz and no one answers. A passing parent looks at you suspiciously. Eventually, a harrassed assistant lets you in and you sign the visitors book then wait for a badge with a broken clip.
After a delay of ten minutes a naggy woman with no name demands to see your CRB certificate and four items of ID. You scrabble in your bag and find two tram tickets and a receipt for a ladle. The phone goes. Two parents with money problems turn up. A kid sneezes over you.
Eventually a teacher appears and whisks you down a corridor into the hall where 300 five and six year-olds are waiting in assembly. Before you get a chance to say that you were expecting to do a writing workshop with a single class of top juniors you are introduced as a poet, even though you’re not, and have to wing it for 15 minutes while all the teachers file out and an infant is quietly sick on the front row.
At break you try to find the loo and are told you must use the disabled. You pull the light switch and discover it’s the emergency help cord. Hundreds of people come running and a passing group of children want to know why you’re stuck on the toilet. The bell goes. You don’t know which room you are in next. You will pass out unless there is access to coffee within the next 4 minutes.
You arrive in a class and read some of your book. The children look bored. The teacher is marking books. You invite questions and they want to know if you’re rich and famous. The room is hot and there are no windows open. Someone has farted and the rest of them are noisily peeling and fastening velcro on their shoes. You tell them about being an author and they think you make the books yourself. You explain about editors and publishers and printers. They glaze over even more.
In the staffroom at lunchtime you accumulate black looks by sitting in Mr Preston’s chair. You accidentally use Miss Hobbs’s mug too. No one talks to you.
The afternoon is worse. The Powerpoint you prepared doesn’t work on the school’s computer. You write on the whiteboard with a permanent marker and then are left with half a class as children file out for violin and oboe lessons. The last session is in the hall. A cleaner is still sweeping it. You set up and some children file in hoping to do PE. You show a book which those at the back can’t see. Teachers walk past, then parents, then Class 6 going to the library and you relaise the hall is in fact just a wide corridor. Two noisy children bring back some musical instruments and drop the cymbals. No one is listening.
The final bell goes and you get out some books, hopeful that someone might want a signed copy. No one turns up. They didn’t know to bring money. You drag your hefty box back to the office and hand over an invoice to a harrassed admin person who is just a temp and knows nothing. You mention a cheque and the head turns up and says that she thought county were paying for this. You try to get out of the school but the door is locked. Eventually you exit, your throat parched and your head throbbing. It’s raining and your car has been clamped.
But not at Cragside in Newcastle: that was FANTASTIC! (and they bought 60 books: the parents clearly value reading too: what an excellent community….)