July 15, 2006

Diss High School Workshop and Exile Show Tour Date, July 10 2006


So the joke was finally on me. I have written for years in novels and poems about a fictional school called Driftwood Comprehensive, situating it in a fictional Norfolk town called Dis Next the Sea, where all that can go tragic-comically wrong with a modern secondary education does. And on Monday July 10 I set off in beautiful summer morning sunshine through the gentle Norfolk countryside and peaceful woodland towards the A1066 (Not the A10666) where I would start the day in room 66 (Not 666) to encounter the real Diss High School.

Needless to say, Diss High School is a purposeful English/Humanities-led specialist college - and anything but the drifting equivalent of the one I’ve created in Dante’s underworld. The Head and the Head of the English department are inspiring and energetic and the school is obviously going places.

This time, I gave the football workshop to the Year Nines and the schooldays workshop to the Year Eights, the reverse of my arrangement at Abersychan. In both cases, I think the drama activities went down best. Some lively writing ensued. In the afternoon, I performed the full show either side of an afternoon break to the entire population of Year Nine (approx 200) on an old-fashioned heavyweight hardwood school stage that was itself as deep as some modern halls are long! It was very hot and muggy for performer and audience alike but being British we all survived. I noticed that the theatrical elements of the show went down best, particularly me being an infant reliving my first memory through the trellis (zoo cage) and being naughty at Sunday School.

The rap at the start of Act 2 got generous applause (despite some technical difficulties with the sound system) and as always the Beatles wig got one of the biggest cheers. It is a wry fact that a performer can spend a lifetime perfecting some unique combination of words, sound and movement but still it’s a silly wig that gets the plaudits! I was also engaged by the occasional heckle – eg Language! when I used a mild swear word and a word that sounded like Shipped vying between my chants of “England” in the 1966 poem. (This was the day after the 2006 World Cup Final that Italy won for the fourth time and we didn’t win – again.). The final writing tasks of the day included descriptions of “My Ideal Teacher.” Many of these were riveting stuff but, shall we say, the most amusing were not always ones you could put on a school display board!

There is great potential for excellent writing at Diss. There are plans to take the students off for a weekend retreat in some Norfolk stately home near the sea for an intensive creative writing experience next year and I hope very much indeed to meet students again on one of those. Meanwhile, thank you Diss High School for making me so welcome. And thanks for not being the Dis Next the Sea Comprehensive of my novel, poems and nightmares…

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