On the joys of farm visits and getting sick on the bus

School tour season is in full swing. Coach loads of children are chugging their way to farms and monuments. The inside story from teacher Mary O’Callaghan


The sight of them gladdens the hearts of those who remember their own school tours. The luckless few stuck behind the coaches feel no such gladness. Eye contact is made with the tearaways on the back seat of the coach with their eye rolling and face making. Inside the coach, several green-faced children sit on the remains of today’s newspaperwhile its owner has the makings of a pounding headache. A colleague nervously fingers rolls of plastic bags and packets of wipes. Across the aisle, the newest teaching recruit chats to the kids. God bless her innocence. It’s her first tour. She doesn’t realise she needs to conserve her energy for what is to come. New recruit is patiently answering the questions fired at her by a gaggle of girls. Yes, she has a boyfriend. Yes, he is handsome. Yes, she might marry him.

Soon the coach swings onto the forecourt. No one can move until everyone has been counted. And recounted. And warned the next person who moves, thereby messing up the count, will not be allowed to ride the donkey/touch the bones/make the bog shake.

Off the coach, the experienced teachers cast about for a rickety wooden shack. The toilets on the farm/at the monument, are almost always in a rickety shack. Teachers hasten to visit the still pristine porcelain before the kids. New recruit laughs, says that she will go when she has to.

The children are a motley crew. Overprotected kids (plastered-in-sun-cream or faces barely visible under rain hoods) hold hands with classmates whose shoes are mismatched and the property of their older sister. The overprotected are weighed down, prepared for every possible contingency. Others swing supermarket bags of lunch composed of giant bags of jellies.

Whether they realise it or not, this moment is make or break for the proprietors of the farm/historic site/play zone. Tell the teachers that complimentary tea and homemade scones await them in a nearby outhouse (converted into a freezing cold coffee shop adorned with baskets of dried flowers and the bodies of long-dead flies), and a return visit is guaranteed. Announce breezily that teachers must accompany their charges every muddy step of the way and the farm has signed its own death warrant.

On the farm, the children wait for their turn to squeeze a new-born chick. Chick squeezing is followed by rabbit dropping and puppy pulling. Then it’s time for the ride. There is always a ride. Sometimes a miniature train. Sometimes a miniature bus. Today they travel by tractor and trailer. The teacher waits for the screaming. She is not disappointed. The trailer lurches and bumps its way down a rutted track. The children scream. They swing across a field. Cows bellow and scatter as the tractor chunters toward them. Endless rounds of Old MacDonald are roared out. It is teacher’s turn to scream, but only on the inside.

Picnic time. Gigantic bags of highly-coloured sweets, enormous bottles of vibrantly hued drinks are hauled out of plastic bags by the T-shirted children. Lunchboxes filled with nutritious, carefully prepared snacks are prised open by the overprotected ones. The latter carefully unfold paper napkins onto the picnic table for fruit, rice cakes, boxes of raisins, as per parental instructions. (“Sometimes, darling, the farmer’s wife forgets to clean the picnic tables.”) Meantime, the others stick blue-stained tongues out for inspection, allow their biscuits and sweets to rest on the bird poo dotting the table, pick them up and cram them into sticky mouths. Nibbling listlessly at their organic raisins, the well-looked after ones envy them with all their hearts.

Experienced teacher and new recruit bond over hummus and scones. The former is almost looking forward to meeting the llama/learning how Neolithic man hunted/watching 30 children take turns to mix a single bowl of soda bread.

One more hour, and it’s back on the bus. She confides her evening plans to new recruit. She is by putting on her jammies and settling down with a boxed set the minute she gets in the door. New recruit shares her plans: a boot camp for a summer trip with her boyfriend to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, then a 10k run. This civilised exchange is rudely interrupted by indignant voices.

“Teacher! He boxed me!”

“Only by an accident!”
The llamas/hunting tips/soda bread are not a success. A combination of additives, sugar and freedom from normal restraints have rendered even the best behaved kids fractious. The llamas are pronounced boring by the boys. Why can’t they spit at everyone like they’re supposed to? The girls want to know why Neolithic man was so cruel to animals. Two sob when they discover he sometimes wore outfits composed of bunny rabbit skins. Meantime, fisticuffs break out in the queue to mix the soda bread. Experienced teacher resolves to break her weekend-only rule. She will open a bottle of wine to go with her boxed set.

Identifying the children that need toileting before the journey home is an inexact science. There are the ones who do not realise they have to go until the coach is roaring down the dual carriageway. Eventually, the last child willing to “try, just in case” splashes out of the rickety shack.

There is nothing between the teachers and home but another head count. Wearily, the children line up. Wearily, their teachers count them. Newest recruit cannot believe how drained she is. And how much she regrets wearing her new runners. A visit to the quagmire that is the toilet and even her socks are soaking. She will have to throw those socks out the minute she gets home. But first, she thinks, she’ll put on her jammies and cancel boot camp.

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