“It’s about this everyman who is terrorized by oversized lead figurines,” Michael Benzine, three-time winner of What Primary?’s Tech Tip of the Week Monthly Round-up (regional, North East, rural, first school), is explaining the plot of his latest, as yet unpublished novel to Glynnis Hardacre, his teaching assistant at Bracewell Primary: “There’s this chapter where he needs to get away from this massive lead top hat, and he’s dashing along the path at the side of his house, the hat clonking after him, when his way is blocked…”
“By a big lead iron?” offers Glynnis, wincing at me.
“No, a sports car.” says Michael, who looks at me briefly and quickly turns from both of us to work on the Lego mock-up of the classroom in which we are sat before the school day begins. Glynnis whispers to me: “I know what you’re thinking, but please don’t say it. He doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing.”
Today’s lesson is on “Apostrophes To Indicate Possession” as Callum tells me upon reading it from the noticeboard next to the classroom door as he ambles in. Michael is planning to teach apostrophes using the new LEGO Ghostbusters HQ that he’s been sent by The LEGO Group. “‘The Legs’,” (he’s making the bunny rabbits with his fingers), “‘The Legs’ send a lot of their new stuff to me to test out in the classroom,” Michael explains as he affixes a proton pack to the back of a Lego man with a black ball on a stick stuck to its head. “Last year, we taught the whole of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas using a Marvel Super Heroes Lego set.”
“The Sandman had a stripy top,” adds Glynnis, adjusting the camera ball on Michael’s head.
“It’s amazing what you can do with just a few hundred plastic bricks and a detailed, pictographic instruction manual,” Michael is completing what he calls a ‘containment unit’ ancilliary to the main Lego classroom, where he says he will keep ‘the possessed’. In the meantime, children are meandering around the classroom, collecting worksheets from Glynnis and settling down, ready to start the lesson. “I’m going to teach the possessive apostrophe using the idea of demonic possession, but sprinkled with a bit of the Ghostbusters mythology.”
“To keep it light,” adds Glynnis, spinning the head round of a Lego girl in a nightie.
The lesson begins with Michael calling the class to attention.
Michael’s calling the class to attention.
He’s at the centre of the class, in front of the interactive whiteboard, and he’s calling the class to attention.
He calls the class to attention.
He asks for their attention.
Their attention is what he’s calling for.
He wants them to stop chatting.
He waits a moment.
He calls for the class’s attention.
He’s calling for the attention of the class.
He spreads his stance out a little (not unlike Theresa May).
He calls to the class for their attention.
He calls to Callum for his attention.
He congratulates Ursula for her attention.
He thanks Callum for looking his way.
He thanks Kevin for putting down his Suicide Squad eraser.
He asks Ursula again for her attention.
He thanks Ursula, asks Callum for his renewed attention, confiscates Jayden’s Everything Is Illuminated mini-kaleidoscope, briefly looking through it before placing it on his desk next to a two-foot, transformed Bumblebee Transformer: (“Which kid does that belong to?” “It’s mine, actually.”)
Glynnis looks up from giving out the worksheets at several children, and the whole class ripples to silence.
“Thanks, class,” says Michael, “Let’s crack on, shall we?” Michael is standing before the interactive whiteboard. He quickly shuts a window on the screen that shows a pixelated Keith, scratching, on his sofa and maximises the window of a Notebook file that shows a cartoon ghost (not unlike Casper) rising out of a man’s chest.
“Have you ever felt like you were not entirely in control?” Michael asks the class.
“What’s it like, sir?” asks Callum, chewing Kevin’s eraser. (“Oi, that’s mine!”)
“Have you ever woken up somewhere unexpected, as if from a trance?” Michael is gesturing broadly with outstretched fingers on both hands (like David Copperfield might – the magician, not the fictional Dickens character). Glynnis seems a bit flustered and retires to a darkened corner of the classroom.
Michael arches a brow and turns to tap the whiteboard. A line of text rises up beneath the picture of the man with the ghost coming out of him: “Who’s body is this?” it says. “Whose body is this?” says Michael, smiling.
“It’s his,” says Callum, sitting back in his chair and narrowing his eyes.
“That’s right,” smiles Michael, tapping the board. Another sentence rises that reads ‘Its his.’ “But what if,” he pauses, “what if it wasn’t? What if his body was ‘taken over’ by another ‘entity’?” (Bunny rabbit fingers, both times.)
“What, like The Exorcist?” pipes up Ursula. Several children look up and nod in agreement.
“… Yes. Like that,” says Michael, shifting his Theresa May stance to more of a Osborne knock-knee.
“Sir, are you going to tell us what a possessive apostrophe is yet?” says Kevin.
“We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that,” says Michael, moving over to the LEGO Ghostbusters HQ. “Now, look at this.” Michael picks up one of the LEGO figurines and starts to walk it slowly around the small LEGO building, making small chattering noises under his breath as if to indicate that the LEGO man is happily talking to himself as he walks into the Ghostbusters HQ.
“I’d like to report a possession!” says Michael, in the high-pitched voice of the LEGO figurine. He then takes on the role of the female LEGO receptionist.
I lean over to Glynnis, who has returned from the darkened corner to take the Suicide Squad eraser again out of Kevin’s mouth (“It’s already been in Callum’s mouth!”). “Isn’t the Ghostbusters receptionist a man?” I ask her.
“For God’s sake, don’t let Michael catch you saying that!” she replies sharply under her breath. Michael has now taken on the even more highly-pitched, nasal voice of the receptionist.
“Oh, roilly?! A poissession, you say?” he replies to himself in a squeaky New York twang.
“Yes,” he again replies to himself in a less high-pitched, but nonetheless high-pitched voice, “My room mate has been possessed by a large, metal Scottish Terrier.” Glynnis winces. “And has narrowly avoided being attacked by an enormous, leaden thimble.” A couple of students puff out their cheeks.
“This is Jumanji again, isn’t it?” I whisper to Glynnis, “But with Monopoly figurines.” Glynnis is careful not to turn to me.
“Not a word,” she says. “Just smile and nod. Smile and nod.”
I nod and Glynnis smiles.
And the bell goes.
As the children file past, I catch fragments of their chatter:
“…it’s a shorthand for showing ownership…”
“…he didn’t get passed ‘GO’ again, did he?…”
“…also used to contract, ‘specially in speech…”
“…what’s a Fimble…”
“…I preferred Flubber…”
As the last of the children leave, I look back into the classroom. Michael is closing the front door of his LEGO Ghostbusters HQ and smiling at Glynnis.
“That went well, Michael.”
“What did you think, Whats?” she asks me.
And I nod a second time into her smile.