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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

1066 - trips to the beach

Updated: 3 days ago

In the day job, outside of the writing I am trying to get done, I teach at a school. To be clear, I teach Geography and have done for a long time.


With that subject comes the need to have field trips. I the current GCSEs, since 2016, this has been reduced to 'two experiences' rather than any field work itself. What this means is that pupils must have an experience of investigation techniques in a Physical Environment and the same in a Human Environment.


We use a beach, used by lots of schools, on a nearby coastline and the coastal town not too far away. The day itself is always enjoyable and a challenge to motivate teenagers into collecting data.


However, for a long long time we had to collect data and then spend a long time using that data in class, a term or two, to produce graphs and coursework - there was concrete purpose to the data.


I don't miss the stress and workload of ensuring the pupils produce an amazing piece of coursework, of marking it and hoping the moderation goes our way. I do miss the whole investigation, theory, data, analysis and conclusions - they used to DO geography, now we just tell them about its done.


These days the trips and teaching of techniques are for the Paper 3 exam which will happen a year later. There is certainly a reduction in coursework workload but an increase in content and knowledge needed for the exams - its actually quite hard to get all the teaching done in time.


This week, we have been expanding our trips to include Travel Writing - showing them VLogs, talking about Bill Bryson, having the pupils try some writing, and we'll move on to editing soon. Our first trip was to Hastings on the South Coast.


Hastings is an old seaside town on the south coast of England. Not far from Brighton, it is mostly famous for the battle which took place in October 1066 and saw the Norman Duke, William, triumph over the Harold, King of England. Whether this was through an arrow in the eye, slain by a sword, or trampled by a horse is not clear - the famous tapestry of Bayeux (which I've been to see many years ago) depicts a scene where all three are possible. Of course, the story of the arrow in the eye is more dramatic, more visceral than the others and so it has entered to the mystical history of England.


The day began, as is typical with school trips, with the registers and visit forms - making sure the parents actually knew their little cherubs were on a trip. It would not do for it to be a surprise for them at the end of the day. A few parents, a tiny minority, had not yet filled in the consent form or read the reminder emails even though their children had arrived to school ready for a day at the beach. Quick phone calls, checks, and talking them through the online consent system, and we had a full cohort.


The coach trip, on our perfectly sized minicoach, began. And straight away, I was feeling sea sick - my chair reclined which was a fantastic find and promised comfort beyond belief. What I discovered though, and was not to my liking, was that when the coach slowed the seat lurched forward. Accelerate and I was flung backwards, decelerate and I was shoved forward. After a few such oscillations, and the unquiet feeling in my belly and inner-ear, I changed seats.


Wisdom called and I answered.


A moment later, and with a big badge on my rucksack to give away the fact, the pupils gifted me a rendition of Happy Birthday. That the notes were searched for and not always found by everyone just added to its charm. 52 years old and to celebrate I was going to the beach in the conpany of 15 teenagers and two members of staff. What a life to lead.


We arrived in Hastings, noting the graffiti on the closed shops, the cliffs with the multicoloured houses towering over us, and then into the town centre which had clearly been regenerated; wider pavements, newly built shop fronts, clear signage, and customers meandering to and fro beneath the morning clouds.


At the last junction, our driver made a quick direction chage guided not by his SatNav but by the subtle urgings of my colleague and the icon of a fish on the brown tourist sign indicating the direction of the Aquarium where we wished to begin.

We gathered on the beach much like the Norman's had and surveyed the town ahead of us, picking out the defenses, the weak spots, the attractions of this fair country. Much like those Normans we were, or rather one pupil who'd foolishly proffered up bread, attacked by a seagull. This scout of the English defences called upon others and before a shield wall could be formed, the gulls were clustered around our foolish compatriot, dressed only in peasant armour (PE Kit) and armed only with his wits (outmatched).


Later on, after this first skirmish was over one of number was honoured in old fashioned way by another gull - I am told even after washing, this stain has to come out of his tshirt.


Many pupils heading down to the beach and sea to skip stones or just throw them as far as they could, relishing the splash they made just past the breaking waves. Simple pleasures are to be savoured, and as a child these little events make memories you hope will last a lifetime. I still recall trips to the beach with my own family, my brother and parents.


The order of the day, in the forefront of the pupils' minds, was filling their bellies with food. Fish and Chips, though in one case, and since the bus journey began, it could only be Chicken and Chips. Indeed, this pupil, was the first to find the requisite shop and purchase his desired meal - never have I seen a face so happy, so content, as when he had a bag of chicken and chips was clutched in his hand.


The others ate at their leisure, when the fancy, and the smell of salt, vinegar, and thick cut potato fried to perfection in beef dripping became just too much for them to resist. To be fair and honest, the scent of fish and chips is on par with that of Bacon at kickstarting salivation, setting the belly to rumbling, and reminding you that it had been quite some time since you had last eaten.


The amusement arcades, bright lights and brighter music, jarring and discordant as every machine played its own tune to attract those with pennies, pounds, seeking a moment of excitement drew in the young people. We left them to play, only rescuing them later when we needed to make our way to the pier.


For a Monday in July it was strange so see that everything was closed. No attractions were open, few of the beach shops which would serve ice-creams or sweets to day-trippers had opened their shutters. The little boating lake was closed, all the boats wrapped up in winter clothes, with only, it seemed, the mini-golf, pirate themed, remaining open.

We could look, we could imagine, but we could not touch.


The pier with its Rum Shed (which I first misread as BumShed - though what would or services it provided, I wasn't sure nor wanted to enquire) is a music venue and like much of the pier it was closed. A cafe and restaurant were open and a few dived in to get some icecream or more chips. With little to do, and some needed the toilet, we turned around headed back along the sea front.


On the journey to the pier, a few pupils had been given a Frisbee and it seemed their first time of throwing. A few lessons, a few tips, and soon the little disc was skipping across the sky like a UFO - Upsidedown Frisbee Object.


My own meal of Fish and Chips was obtained from a shop far along the front to the east. A pupil, whose father lives near Hastings, told us of it and directed us to it. This was toward the old town area and, upon spying the smoking shacks where the daily catch would end up to be preserved and sold, I was charmed.


Tall dark buildings of slatted wood with nary a gap between them, except for the access road on which a white van was parked, rose to the sky, triangular peaks and sharp roofs sliced the sky and blocked the view of the grey-green sea beyond. Across from here were a few fish and chip shops, narrow and tall like the smokers but painted white and blue, eye catching and the scent of cooking chips wafting out to hook the senses.


Eventually, the day came to a close and we traipsed weary back to the bus and back to school along the motorways, wending our way between the cars and traffic jams.


On Thursday, we go again to a beach, but today we write, we create, we reflect!



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