Over the course of this week my school, like every other school in the country, opened its doors to the multitude of Year 6 students looking for a secondary school. About two thousand tend to show up. Per night. And one thousand of those will sit the test, for a school with only a hundred and fifty places to offer. Nearly seven years ago, that was me.
Imagine my shock when I moved from Surrey to the backwaters of rural England, and wondered why everyone seemed to be workaholics. It was pointed out to me that most of my class were studying hard for the 11 Plus, the exam which would get you into one of the good grammar schools. Of which there were plenty. I suddenly found myself being shunted around Open Evenings and guided around various schools before settling down to several hours cramming a night (I hadn’t got much time; I found out about the test in September and sat it in early November, when most of my classmates had been going to tutors for all of Year 5). Nevertheless, I applied to my school because I loved it, but didn’t really think I’d get in. But I did, and so, seven years on and for the last time ever, I was guiding prospective applicants around the school in the same way I had been guided all those years ago.
Pensive-sounding reflection over, you meet some interesting people on these tours. There was the absolutely lovely family, with two blond, blue-eyed children who were lovely and asked lots of questions and liked everything I showed them. Only I couldn’t for the life of me figure out if they were boys or girls. Seriously; they had long hair, effeminate faces (they were ten) and dressed fairly ambiguously. To make matters worse, they both had names like Sam. I genuinely wasn’t sure. I thought they were boys, but then again…
Or there was the family that complained about everything. They stayed for the whole tour and told me in each of the departments exactly what was wrong with the school.
Of course, it’s not just the applicants who can be interesting/irritating/scary/downright insane. The tour guides can be more than you’d bargained for. Take the case of my friend Carla. Everyone who knows her knows that she is a classic bullshitter who doesn’t care if anyone believes her and does it for the entertainment of the people who do know the truth. And what better a time to play a prank on unsuspecting people than when you’re showing them around a school?
Carla is English. About as English as you can get. However, for her play in Drama that year, she was playing the part of an Irish girl. She also needed to practise her accent. She took a family round the whole school, doing the tour in a light Irish accent and telling them a whole backstory about how she grew up in Dublin with a cow. Called Daisy. Who was her best friend. So imagine her alarm when the family she was guiding informed her that they have close family in Dublin, and wanted to know where she lived. Carla, ever the improviser, simply altered her story to growing up on a farm just outside Dublin, with her cow. Called Daisy.
And they believed her.
This isn’t the first time she’s got away with something like this. She once managed to make one of my friends believe that Lenin was a brand of condom. And Trotsky was a euphemism for The Pill. In fairness, this friend was very naive. She was completely taken in by Carla’s insistence that the wrapped cylinder she was being offered was a lolly, only to discover it was actually a tampon. I should probably point out, Carla has no shame.
Moral of the story: Always take everything with a pinch of salt, and if it’s a paper-wrapped cylinder that someone is telling you is a lollipop, don’t take it at all.