“I will tend you like a vine.”
We are here at Bracewell Primary to watch Lazlo Musk in action as one of the most promising primary teachers of a new generation. A graduate of the Teach But Can programme, Lazlo cut his teaching teeth in some of the most under-privileged, roughest and bloody awful schools in the entire world. He has taught on lava flows; under the ton-weight pounding of hundred foot waterfalls; in the vacuum of deep space; and in a collapsed mining village in rural Northumberland.
“At one point,” he says, “I was in fear of my life.” Clad in a slim, pinstriped waistcoat, Lazlo is tracing a young, hairless finger along the length of a HB pencil, getting ready for his next lesson. “There was this kid, right: looked after. You could see the neglect in his fractured eyes. It was heartbreaking, you know.” Lazlo’s voice cracks. “Look, I guess I really need to get this lesson ship-shape.”
We leave Lazlo to his painstaking recreation of the Greek Parthenon in Playmobil and walk across the main foyer to the classroom of Michael Benzine to catch up with our quadruple recipient of the Beejam Icebreaker Champion Discount Coupon (1985-1990 – with a one-year hiatus due to a panic attack ‘at sausages’). He is deep in conversation with his teaching assistant, Glynnis Hardacre (@HardacreGlynis).
“It was the same for Martin Rossiter,” he says.
“What from ‘Rising Damp’?”
“No, from ‘Gene’.”
“What, Gene Pitney?”
“No, Gene, the pop group.”
“What was the same for him?” asks Glynnis, as she screws the heads back onto Lego Minecraft figurines.
“Well, he was…” Michael’s voice cracks and he trails off, turning to his Lego diorama of the Hunger Games and fingering Katniss Everdeen. Glynnis stops screwing the Minecraft figurine and looks to Michael. She opens her mouth and…
“Lazlo is ready for you now.” A woman is standing – framed as if by Titian and looking directly at me – in the doorway to Michael’s classroom room; the strip-lighting is reflected, an oil rainbow in her jet-black hair.
Glynnis smiles: “Loreta.”
“Glynnis.” The rainbow shimmers like an oily puddle rippling in the aftermath of a departing Uber taxi.
“It’s okay, Glynnis,” shrugs Michael, “let him go.”
Glynnis sets aside the Lego man and turns to the women in the doorway: “Who are you after?” she asks.
“Well. Whats.” she replies – the two short syllables dropping from her lips like great globes of steaming honey from a horse’s behind. The two women look my way and Michael busily fingers Haymitch Abernathy.
“Oh.” Glynnis looks back to Michael’s Lego, but only for a moment: her gaze swiftly returning to the horse honey-lipped woman in the doorway.
“It’s okay,” I say – the words coming from me, seemingly separate and slow. “I’ll be right there.”
I walk back across the foyer, the door frame to the classroom of Lazlo Musk looming over me like an arc of whalebone. What I am about to witness, I am given to understand, will be a pedagogical rhapsody in Playmobil: the entire first chapter of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ played out between Playmobil characters (in the Greek Parthenon). But not just played out; it will be emoted and wrenched. This is to be a performance that will make not simply learners of the disaffected, but literature-lovers of the Pokemon Go generation. A tall order; but not so tall for the five feet and five inches of Lazlo Musk. I make to enter the classroom of Lazlo Musk, but am stopped by a voice.
“Playmobil doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of interchangeability of pieces.” Michael is standing behind me as I enter the classroom of Lazlo Musk.
“Playmobil isn’t freedom of expression,” he continues. “It binds its users to whatever narrative is determined on the box,” he calls after me as I am received by Lazlo’s assistant: Loreta Soreen.
Loreta smiles at me. Her hair reflects a black rainbow and she welcomes me.
“Playmobil is all gymkhanas and wheelbarrows,” Michael calls after me. I can almost here a ‘bloody’ before the wheelbarrows. Behind him, Glynnis touches a finger to her lips.
“The children are ready for us,” says Lazlo.
And Callum, Ursula, Kevin and all the rest, turn to us: tracking us as we walk to the classroom’s centre stage.
I hear a voice from the doorway: “How can you decline such grand designs?”
I turn back and see nothing but an empty frame.