Saturday, October 15, 2011

' foiled by carbon..'

at my age one doesn't take too well to public humiliation. or being back at school, it must be said.

i had been time tabled to invigilate a psychology re write exam on a late bruised thursday afternoon. invigilation is not as simple as it seems. you might think you merely hand out the exam papers and say "On yer marks, get set, go."
no. the blue, officious plastic envelope, all the way from Cambridge, arrives sealed. a student has to open it and sign a document to say everything is tickety boo and there's no monkey business going on. fine. sign. sign.

then you ceremoniously hand out the papers, with a flick of the wrist, implying "i know this shit", write up on the white board start time, end time and warning time....which i always get wrong. then you say "you may begin," in your best accent, after checking no one has phones, or iPads or books or anything that may help them cheat. this applies to you, the invigilator too. bin "Psychology For Dummies" that you've had in your bag, just in case. then you're supposed to sit there. just sit there. no reading, writing, marking. nothing. these rules are stringent and must be adhered to. sometimes the British send out an inspector for a surprise visit, to check the center. you can see 'em from a mile off. white, spectacled, stern, looking unflappably lost in pin striped suits and toting Downing Street styled black brief cases and brollies.

before i continue, i must share details on monsieur X, our examination officer and french master. monsieur X is my most favourite member of staff. he is handsome and brilliant. efficiency has never seen anything like it. he speaks 6 languages fluently. he dresses the best too: flamboyant ties worn on deep purple silk of a day, white kaftan robes with matching turbans, perfectly cut tailor made coats from kanga, which he has made himself. he tailored his way through university. another impressive achievement. he knows what it takes. i have awarded him, every year without fail, The Best Dressed Teacher. period. the students love him. he says terrifically inappropriate things in class to make them laugh. my sons have since developed an alarming love of French because of him. i pay my sons to learn the conjugation of "etre" and "avoir". he is eccentrically efficient. so you see, i desperately want his approval to match my fervent admiration so therefore, as you may have concluded, he is the last person i want to disappoint.

so there i was, on that bruised rain promising Thursday afternoon, my mind on safari to sunnier climes. one student was rewriting. i smartly ticked all the boxes. corrected the end time, thanks to the student for pointing out that i had unthinkingly given him a paltry 30 mins to complete a psychology paper. i sat down and sighed. stared out the window, chin in hands and thought, fuggit, i cannot, under any circumstances sit here and do nothing. i left the door open, to keep a sharp eye out for said inspectors and monsieur X, grabbed a piece of paper and began writing. ya know, free flow. i grabbed the plastic envelope from Cambridge to press on (can't press on a wooden desk). this is more of less what i wrote:

Fuchsia flowers tremulous in a still, grey afternoon. They remind me of India, of Zambia and childhood and the rippling call of the coucal. The rain in Africa is an artist – leaving great splodges of pigment in its wake, across brown barren landscapes. It lifts my heart.

I should write Morning Pages and be more patient in poetry classes.

Apparently, as an exam invigilator, I am not allowed to do anything. Not read. Not mark. Not write. Not draw. If it were possible, the act of thinking would likely be banned too: Under no circumstances is thinking allowed in the examination room . This is entirely the prerogative of the students.

Imagine monitoring Thought? Is that what they call Meditation? No. That’s more clearing your head of thoughts and words, a serene quietening of the mind, so there’s nothing in there – an impossible task considering how curious and busy mine is. Maybe there’s a drug you can take that gobbles up thoughts. Temporarily, of course. Thoughts become words, words become things.

“ Be – come.”

“How becoming you look tonight, dear.” Does that mean you’re going to turn into something? A cake? Something edible?

“How fetching/ delectable you look tonight, dear.” Fetching. An interesting word too. I’m so glad I know what a palimpsest is. According to the dictionary a palimpsest is “…1. a parchment or other surface on which writing has been applied over earlier writing which has been erased or 2. Something altered or used again but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.”

I’m wondering if I’m allowed to write about wishes and desires. Why do I even make up rules when all I want to do is write? The words are queuing up like angry bees in my head and will out! Out! If they sting or make honey, it is not my fault. They will do as they please, these words. Some people are scared of bees. Not me. I think they’re magical. I have a hive in my roof and a hive in my head.

Oh. My. God. I have been pressing on the exam bag! (the plastic bag with all the exam sheets in them….now all these busy words are carboned onto the carbon copy…Oh. My. Word. Thank God the bottom copy stays at the center. Mr X is going to be very angry…..

Well. I was just letting some bees out, ‘as all.

And makin’ a palimpsest. . . .

you see. i had forgotten that inside the plastic envelope is a form with carbon paper in it. the top copy goes back to england the bottom copy stays with Monsieur X. i gingerly removed it and sure enough, there were all my words madly scribbled everywhere on the bottom copy. with a sinking heart i quietly put the form back and fled, leaving a palimpsest of proof.

i am marvelous at forgetting about impending doom. i AM the ostrich with her head in the sand. i have been known to stick match boxes over empty fuel gauges in cars and keep driving. i can make things go away and pretend they never existed. for real. which is precisely what i did here until the staff meeting the next morning. once the headmistress had finished her say, she politely asked if anyone else had any announcements. monsieur X cleared his throat, and in his delectable accent said, "Indeed yes..." i wished for the earth to swallow me. " The Person Who Was Invigilating Yesterday, " he began, (i went puce. everyone knew it was me.) " broke the rules, putting the examination center at risk. You Are Not Allowed To Write While Invigilating. I discovered GRAFFITI over the carbon copy of the examination form. This is not allowed." i squeaked from the corner " Oh, um, yes, that was me!" graffiti? GRAFFITI? my carefully construed words? good lord no. i was suitably humiliated. i felt hugely obliged to write him a note of apology, a desperate measure to claw back some small smidgen of his approval.

Dear Mr X

Lashings of profuse apologies for being a rubbish invigilator yesterday. If you must know, I was keeping a sharp eye out for wandering British examiners in the corridor but am happy to report none were seen. If only I had not pressed on the exam envelope all would have been fine and I would have escaped my suitable humiliation in the staff room this morning.

I find invigilating one of the most tedious and boring tasks imaginable. But please don't hesitate to use me again. I shall try my damndest to sit still, think of nothing and stare poignantly at examinees.

I must confess, I was slightly offended at my writing being labelled as graffiti. Should you be interested in what I had penned, please see attached. It's curiously ironic. Perhaps "Unintentional Graffiti" would be more apt.

Please accept my most humblest apologies.

Yours, in disgrace
Mrs Doria
(English Department)

I await, in terror, for his response. So far, there has only been a thunderous silence.

I am sure I will now be banned, which in many ways is a good thing.

Kitchen Board: Sunday Mornin' sometime in October on t'hill.

monday looks interesting. i think amneey meant fix the brake lights on the green landcruiser. monday actually has a sad addition. the landrover is to be used to take veronica's father's body to the cemetry. . . .but those sad things are not to be listed. they cannot be forgotten.

toodely y'all. bisous. X.X.X. deliciously disgraceful ones x j


elizabeth said...

What a saga of unintentional disaster! How one's heart sinks when one discovers such hideous things.
Well, I hope Monsieur forgives you. He must forgive you.
Please keep us posted.
Tell him you simply MUST write.
Oh dear. Oh dear!


Bill said...

Nicely told story. Woven sentences. Interesting, complex and filled with wit and emotional range. Your fingerprints are so unique.

Grade: A+

Llahi Ahmed said...

hmm... always wondered how it felt like being in the exam room not doing the exam.
by the by, i dig the blog, keep on keeping on!

Janelle said...

elizabeth, i wait with baited breath....x j

thanks bill! whew. A+? yay. x j

llahi! just hope you are never invigilated by me then, eh? watch the time. watch the time. thanks for the compliment.. x j

karen said...

Ha! this was so funny, and wonderfully written - I have just had such a laugh.. what a good start to my Monday morning!! I do hope Monsieur X's heart melts soon..

Val said...

i made some corny quip about carbon footprints and it was obviously booted (oops) hehe lovely story - impossible to sit there doing nothing at all for how long? what were they thinking? xx

Amanda said...

good god. there is seriously such a thing as invigilating? sounds like something be banned. perhaps it should..

i always feel like i'm taking a quarter turn toward magic when i'm reading your stories.

when i was at a convent school in England, i was supposed to take an entrance exam for a school back in the states. sister maury gave me the exam booklet and i could clearly see the imprint of my best friend's handwriting throughout, in pencil, erased. when i asked sister why judy had written in it, she replied that the nuns had gotten the american girls mixed up....even nuns screw up

Amanda said...

p.s. i forgot to mention: thanks for defining palimpsest. until now i would have thought it was a character in a jane austen novel.

i love your writing janelle.

Reluctant Memsahib said...

oh janelle, is that all true? what a glorious, glorious and funny and beautifully written story .i loved it! x

Mama Shujaa said...

Dada Janelli, you bring back memories... So beautifully! I remember the fear and dread we felt (I attended the former Queen Elizabeth School for Girls in Nairobi; later Kenya High School); towards the pompous, mean invigilators! This is such an enjoyable read. Nangojea part two!!! :)

Angela said...

If Monsieur X feels like he should ban you, tell him to do you one last favour and lead him to your blog. Then he will see your whole story, AND all the giggling comments, and if he is such a nice gentilhomme as you said, he will start giggling, too. And then send him to read your story of the Bata Bata flip flop ghost man of Zanzibar, my favourite story EVER!
They cannot let go of SUCH a writer!

Janelle said...

thanks y'all! the silence has not broken...!? oh geli i would never show him WAYS. and mama shujaa heh he! i am definitely NOT one of the pompous invigilators..i know the type though kabisa! lots love to you all xxx janelle

3limes said...

Oh I just loved this! You know I was using my imagination and teacher brain and could just imagine that staff meeting! But you wrote so beautifully I wanted more. And more about the rain...I miss the rain and how it washes and inspires. I am teaching and living and wanting rain over here in my desert isle. I miss Africa.

3limes said...

Oh I just loved this! You know I was using my imagination and teacher brain and could just imagine that staff meeting! But you wrote so beautifully I wanted more. And more about the rain...I miss the rain and how it washes and inspires. I am teaching and living and wanting rain over here in my desert isle. I miss Africa.

Izzy said...

hahahaha i kinda miss school now! i can just picture that! priceless! As per usual, love your writing, you certainly bring a profound humour to it all :) all the best in your pickle! Izzy x

Mama Shujaa said...

hi, just popped in to salimia and to send upendo kwa wingi. looking forward to more of your writing...:)

toomuchaugust said...

if he says anything, then he realizes he must tone you down. so if he says nothing, it can be as though he oversighted the incident. i'm voting for him realizing you've added many other layers, herefortowithundiscovered, to his life.

entirely magical. let's see what else you can write on. i'm rooting for that.


JoeinVegas said...

I'm sorry monsieur X labelled your writing as such. I thought it rather clever.