Blessed with some suspiciously balmy Mediterranean weather, I end the week walking along ‘my’ seaside prom with some female friends – the type that go back years and pick up mates’ short hand mid-sentence though we haven’t got together since the snow. From my kitchen window we toast down the sunset with glasses of Prosecco before it dawns on us that a post-supper stroll would be kinder than wilting menopausally inside.
Over supper one friend predicts Grade 5 excitement ahead as long as we keep our focus on the sun rise rather than dwelling on sunsets, pretty though they can be. She predicted plenty of possibilities as long as I (yes, the focus was definitely on me at this point) stop watching couples from the safety of my window, wondering with my little green eye why they find it impossible to walk a few flat yards without holding hands. I think the hint here is that I am starting to cast these couples in some unicorn bubble of romantic froth that I imagine myself excluded from for life. Married friend helpfully points out that all these couples have probably just argued or simply detest each other (or both) and are clutching each other to prevent either party escaping. Much too hot to hold hands anyway; I hate a sweaty palm.
Speaking of sunsets, which I think we were, in teaching you learn to look for good endings, good outcomes, good results and each academic year aims to culminate in a finale of celebrations to see the sun go down on another cohort. Although the brutal litmus test of success won’t arrive until exam results are posted in August, it’s prudent to bank any potential party early. This week the Year 13 prom provides the perfect vehicle to salute student grit, spirit and humour and their capacity to party until the sun comes up – literally.
Waiting for the coaches to transport nearly 200 party animals to the ball, I marvel as students I have seen ashen, pale and crotchety over the last few exam months, flit around friendship and parent groups in dragonfly array, finding life hilarious once more and posing readily for photos. This has been a singular year group, I shouldn’t have favourites of course, but they have proved to be very special. Happily oblivious to my personal upheaval, they are unlikely to realise that their crisies and personal dramas have kept me distracted and full of respect. Many of the challenges they have faced have been volcano to my mole-hill and I have embraced their teaching discretely. I hope the only groans to come are those that might emanate from lifting a shed load of qualifications. This is an impressive group of young adults fully deserving of a party.
At the prom, the Mediterranean weather persists and we share cocktails on the hotel patio (we check ID, naturally), watching a blood-orange sun melt below the skyline before fireworks barrage across the vista, fizzing and squibbing to toast two years’ of hard work. I love a school prom – nothing like this existed back in the day – I embrace the opportunity to dress up and queue for a place at the photo booth, sweet stall and for the three course meal. Then there is the teacher dancing – I dance like no-one is watching and feel sadly abandoned by my colleagues. It’s a badly kept secret that it was I that persuaded the DJ to play Cha Cha Slide and the Macarena – yes, his condescending eye roll was humiliating but not as mortifying as it would be trying to cut some shapes to a drum ‘n’ base sound track – my colleagues should be grateful. The price will be the Head of Sixth Form memed across social media by midnight, but at least Cinderella went to this ball.
At midnight the students pack teachers off, shedding their stilettos and finery and replacing them with trainers and clubbing gear; we are tasked with taking their prom attire back into school, and promised that they will collect their belongings should they ever return from the bright lights of Brunel’s Bristol.
Spoiler alert; the students do eventually return and their bags of clothes disappear by the end of the week. School feels ominously quiet at this changing of the guard as we wait to induct a new year group. When our returning revellers do stumble into the office, they show us photos of the sunrise they welcomed in over Brandon Hill and videos of a spontaneous singalong on the first bus back out of the city – 40 of the last students standing, singing ‘Angels’ and cheering goodbye to each other at each bus stop (and to total strangers on their usually mundane daily commute).
‘We’re knackered Miss’, said one exhausted clubber, crawling under the office desks to retrieve a pair of ambitiously red high heels, ‘ but if you said we could do it all again tonight, we’d be back here in a flash.’ I take note, sunset or sunrise, always a fresh start if you have the right attitude and the right pair of shoes.
A beautiful sunset is always welcome and so is Grade 5 excitement, so sunrises need seeking out even if alcohol is not always offered at this time in the morning. Luckily I’m an early riser. Last night our Prosecco- fuelled excitement coaxed from our party another impromptu sign up for September’s sky dive . Consequently we walk along the prom and discuss our fear of heights and bad landings; we agree that it will be acceptable to hold the hand of the companion sky diver, clammy hands or not. We return to toast future sunrises and to wear down the last one of us still to sign on the dotted line – she’s a late riser, but we’re expecting great things at sun up and we’re ready to pop some more corks on her behalf.