|A bit of daftness! |
Thanks to Vick for some inspiration and conversations about bubble wrap and packaging.
Hilda looked up, startled by the sudden sound. She couldn't see any particular reason for it, so she bent her head back down to the new pupil appplication letters, trying to decipher a parent's rather spidery handwriting.
"Must be a doctor, with writing like that." She muttered to herself, as she tried to work out one particular word. "Discipleship issues? Ah! Disciplinary issues. Hmmm. Don't like the sound of that..."
Hilda jumped again. She hadn't imagined it, there was definitely a noise, and it was coming from her secretary's office.
She heard the noise of her secretary's chair pushing back, and then Rosalie appeared in the doorway.
"Yes Miss Annersley?"
Hilda looked puzzled at the formal way of addressing her, before seeing the couple of sixth formers in Rosalie's office. She had forgotten the magazine was due, it must have arrived, and Rosalie was being helped to unpack the boxes.
The sounds seemed a silly thing to be discussing before the girls, so Hilda decided it wasn't important. She needed a reason for her call however, so asked Rosalie if she had the school report for the new pupils, she needed to check for some possible 'Discipleship' issues. Seeing Rosalie look bemused, and the Sixth formers exchange a startled look, Hilda quickly corrected herself.
"Disciplinary issues, I mean. With ...er...this... prospective student"
She pointed to the name rather than say it, conscious that even the best of the Prefects would struggle with not judging a girl with previous issues. One of the things the Chalet school prided itself on was allowing a girl a clean start wherever possible.
As she fell back into her paperwork, she forgot about the sounds, assuming it must have been a sound outside or one of the girls making a noise as they unpacked. She was very busy just now, as the school was due to have it's first outside inspection. She, Nell Wilson, Rosalie and Madge Russell were to do inspections on all the staff, to try to get them all used to the idea Not because they had any doubt that the teaching needed inspecting, but because the staff needed to be used to the idea of a witness to their lessons, iron out any nerves or potential issues before the real inspectors came.
Hilda was uncharacteristically nervous about doing this, since she was very much of the opinion that professionals ought to be left to their own methods unless there were noticeable problems. She would have hated being inspected, so really didn't want to do it to someone else. So the mystery of the random pops faded to the back of her brain, and she thought no more about it.
Nancy Wilmot stalked into the staff room, face like thunder, and threw herself into her chair. Peggy Burnett and Sharlie Andrews exchanged startled looks, and turned to Kathy with a question in their eyes.
Miss Ferrars seemed just as surprised as them, so it clearly wasn't an argument between them. A silent conversation between them ensued as they all tried to nudge the others into finding out what was wrong. Nancy Wilmot was famed for her good temper, if she was in a bad mood it must be something exceptional. Peggy drew the short straw, due to the base tactics of the other two pretending to not be interested enough. Kathy knew she would find out later anyway, and Sharlie was still shy enough of the older woman not to want to put herself forward.
As Peggy made her way over and started to offer a cup of coffee, she didn't even have to say anything, in the end.
"Yes to coffee, and yes, something has happened, before you ask!" Nancy said, with feeling. "Never so much have I wished for a cane and the right to use it!"
The well worn phrase had rarely passed her lips, as she could deal with most students with very little effort normally. Peggy nodded and now the conversation had been started, the other two came over and pulled up chairs, sensing good gossip.
"Upper IVb? Lower IVa?" Peggy asked, thinking of the usual suspects.
"Nope. Try a bit higher"
"Not Upper IVa?"
"No - that little collection wouldn't say boo to a goose!"
Kathy looked worried. She had become the default form mistress for Inter V over the years, due to her ability to support the awkward mid teens age range while still keeping the academic standard high.
"What did Inter V do this time?" She asked. This year's intake had been just as turbulent as most of them, and she had given them a lecture only the day before, calculated to keep them sensible for at least three weeks. If her form was already misbehaving, it didn't reflect well on getting through the rest of term.
"No, believe it or not, it's not any of the middles or young seniors. I've just come from an incredibly frustrating session with Lower VIa"
"Sixth formers?" Came the ringing return from all three of her listeners.
Nancy had started to cool down, and tried to explain.
"It sounds so mad, now I think about it. Perhaps it WASN'T them. Perhaps I actually am hearing things..."
"Nancy, stop being so obtuse, tell us what happened!"
"Well you know how they are doing advanced integration at the moment?"
Rightly assuming this to be a rhetorical question, since there was no way they could be expected to know where the girls were in the Advanced Maths syllabus, the three nodded and waited for more.
"Well some of them find it hard, others get it very quickly. I set half the class to doing more examples while I discussed the details again with the ones who were less sure. Halfway through, there was a POP!"
"A pop? Like a bang?"
"No, definitely a pop. Well I looked up, decided it was nothing and carried on. To have a few moments later, more pops, just spaced enough apart for me to have looked away, so I have no idea which of them it was. Also I had a mock inspection that lesson. I had to think, what would I do if it was one of the real inspectors. I felt such a fool, not knowing quite what to do. If it was a more junior class I'd have stopped the lesson, but this group only have a few weeks before their exams. We can't have silly interruptions. So I just told them to be quiet, and left it at that."
This seemed quite mild, so there must be more to it, so they waited.
"Well things continued, and I forgot about the noise. I assumed it wasn't someone playing the fool. But just as I left, it was as if they were trying to make me react. One after the other, there it was, just as I went out. Poppoppoppoppop!"
The three struggled not to laugh. The sound was just funny, especially coming from such an uncharacteristically serious Nancy. As she looked at them, the funny side started to occur to her, and she cracked a smile.
They discussed the joke, for that was what it seemed to be, and decided to spread the word to watch out for 'Pops' with that class. It did seem quite a mystery, as the personalities in that class seemed far too protective of their 'grown up' status to resort to middle-like antics.
If they could have seen the Lower VI classroom the staff would have been even more confused. The form was split, with two distinct friendship groups, due to a large promotion of hard workers earlier in their school careers overtaking some older but lazier types. Both factions however were at daggers drawn, refusing to believe the other side's protestations of innocence.
"What do you think you are playing at? We'll end up with the staff not trusting us!"
"Speak for yourself! This is much more in your little gang's line. You were always cheeky middles. "
"Not for years! Don't be asses, just admit to it, whoever it was."
But no one did own up, and once the had calmed down the form had to decide to trust each other, and try to work out who had been playing tricks on them.
The next victim of the 'Random Popper' was even more of a surprise. Miss Wilson had gained such a reputation by now for extreme sarcasm, that it had been more than a decade since there had been any interruptions in her classes. In fact only that morning, she had been saying to Hilda and Rosalie that it was a little boring sometimes. Not that she wanted people to blow up her lab again, but a little cheekiness or tricks might have been quite fun to deal with.
Well she seemed to have got her wish, for no sooner had she said "fold in your desks and start lighting the bunson burners, girls" than the air was filled with pops, and an occasional slight wheezy sigh.
POP pop POPPOPPOP sighhhh poppp POPpopPOP sighhhh
"Girls! What are you doing?"
Nell was so unused to tricks now that for a moment she actually thought it was an experiment gone wrong some where in the room. But nothing seemed to point that way. She put on her fiercest look, and told a petrified looking Lower IVa to behave, and expected to have no more. However, despite the girls themselves looking just as bewildered as her, the pops kept coming, all at random times. Nell was kept moving, her head whipping from side to side, trying to work out what was going on. There would be a gap, while the girls worked, then noted down their results, and she explained. Then as soon as they began the next part of the experiment, there the pops came again.
Nell scanned the room, and couldn't work out WHAT was going on. She couldn't detect wrongdoing on any of the girl's faces. It wasn't until very nearly the end of the lesson that she suddenly caught a glint in an eye, and a slight struggle to keep a straight face. She waited until the lesson ended, and then pounced on her suspected culprit.
"What DO you think you are playing at? And - HOW did you do that?? I was watching you at the end, and the sounds weren't coming from anywhere near you at all !"
As it was explained, she couldn't help herself letting out a laugh, it was so unlike the culprit, and such a clever trick, she couldn't even be properly annoyed at the disruption to her lesson.
The final act of the Popping Mystery came that evening at the staff meeting. The staff were collected round the coffee pot, and avoiding the harder office chairs until the last minute, as always. Nell, Hilda, Rosalie and Madge were seated at the head of the table, going through the results of the inspections, ready to go round the table to see how people had felt the week had gone. Some of the more nervous or younger staff hurried over and began to sit down ready for the meeting to start.
POP ! POPPOPPOP! Wheeeeze...POP!
Nancy Wilmot, perhaps attuned to the noise due to her previous situation, spun round and stared at the table. The others weren't far behind her, but apart from some startled looks from those already seated, there wasn't any obvious cause of the noise. The more senior staff looked at each other and shrugged. The noises were just quiet enough to think that perhaps it was an echo outside, or perhaps as Sharlie suggested, a bird tapping somewhere.
It became clear that this was no bird however, as the rest of them sat down.
"What on earth?"
"Did you hear that?"
"What was that?"
The staff looked around, and then finally, as they saw the heads and Rosalie doubled up with laughter at the end of the table, they demanded to know what the joke was.
It fell to Nell to explain, as she described her earlier lesson, and Hilda then mentioned her own confusion in her office, and again after witnessing the interrupted lesson with Nancy. Madge had not been in that inspection, but had been in the Science one, and treated to the sight of Nell nearly tearing her hair out and then witnessed the culprit being caught and explanation, so was grinning from ear to ear.
As the staff heard all this, they put two and two together. Open mouths stared at the trickster. It was so unlike her, but once explained, was very funny to imagine.
"Rosalie, you devil! It's always the quiet ones !"
Rosalie grinned and replied.
"Well it started as a sensible thought to begin with ! I was trying to think about how we could properly simulate the surprises an inspection is sure to bring. There will almost certainly be things we don't plan for. Well when I was unpacking the magazines, it came to me. One of the girls had grabbed the packing material, and started squashing the little bubbles! I'd never thought to do that, but it does make the most satisfying POP sound ! Unless the bubble wrap is a little old, but even then it gives a little squeak.'
They nodded, then the penny dropped, and they felt under the cushions of their chairs, to find varying sizes of bubble wrap. They had a merry few minutes popping their own and laughing, then Nancy asked how on earth Rosalie had managed to make Nell's class and her own have pops all over the room.
"Well with the chemistry lab it was quite simple. You know the little pull out desks on the side of the sciemce benches? Well I put some bubble wrap inside the slots, and under some of the looser floorboards. So when they moved their desks or stepped away, the pops happened. It was a little easier with your class, as it was a smaller room, so I could mainly squeeze the bubbles myself in my clipboard. I couldn't resist a bigger collection of pops as you went out the door, sorry Nancy! I was going to tell you straight away, but Hilda thought it was hilarious, and wanted to try it on Nell. Then Nell wanted her own chance to play the trick, and Madge overheard, so we planned tonight!"
The junior staff gawped at this, having a most unrealistic view of their Heads and employer as all being quite old and serious. Now they were grabbing hold of the bubble wrap and laughing as it popped, just like children. Nell was even wondering aloud whether the really big protective packaging would make a big pop if you jumped on it, with Nancy adding the suggestion of doing it in the splashery or kitchen, as the tiles would make the sound louder.
"It's been a good illustration of why we are doing the inspections, however annoying it must have been." Madge said finally, as they all settled back onto non-popping seats.
"However much you know your lesson plans and have the students primed to behave, there can always be something else that might distract you. If it happens, it can't be helped, just do what Nell and Nancy did : keep going, and show the inspectors what you would do about it."
They all agreed, and the meeting began. As Rosalie had cleverly worked out, any resentment from constructive comments with the inspections was far less than it might have been, cushioned by the memory of their shared laughter at the beginning of the meeting, and the lesson that anything could happen in inspection, they just had to deak with it and move on.
As the meeting drew to a close, they all left, and Rosalie tided the forms back up and then was last out. As she looked around the room she saw all was in order, felt round the door for the light switch and found a hastily stuck on piece of the bubble wrap over the switch. She laughed, and pushed the switch.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks to Vick for ideas about bubble wrap,and jumping on big bubble packaging.