Any junior secondary teacher who's had the dubious pleasure of exam supervision - or 'invigilation' (sounds more exciting than it is) - in winter in Melbourne, has no doubt suffered the assault of fifteen of twenty-five kids taking it in turns to drag snot back up their nostrils - where else? - in the absence of tissues or handkerchiefs.
"Got a tissue, Miss?"
"No. Use your sleeve."
What's with kids not being responsible for their own secretions these days? The teacher is expected to provide.
I pace on imperiously, looking for the position in the room where I'm least likely to be infected by kids I don't even know.
These are year 8s. Their basic reading comprehension, grammar, punctuation and spelling skills are being assessed. I glance across the room to see a boy studying his dictionary. Cheeky. It's quickly confiscated. Boy feigns outrage at the contravention of his rights. Now everyone's talking.
"Settle down and get on with it," I boom. "Absolutely no communication with any other student."
"Can you shut up, Miss? I'm trying to concentrate. You're the one who's talking." The class is duly amused by 'Jonah'. (Chris Lilley got it so right in Summer Heights High.)
And what's with kids turning up to exams without a writing implement? Again, the teacher has to prepare for this eventuality. I do, and cringe as I see the kid, who's been instructed not to, sucking on the end of my pen.
So there I am, up at the front of the classroom, counting every sodding minute. I've written the time at fifteen minute intervals on the board. Should have written it at five minute intervals so at least I'd have something to do, crossing out the passing time. I've gazed out the window, over the valley. I've studied the empty playground out of the other window. I've confiscated a set of headphones from the class attention seeker and won a sotto voce glaring eyeballed battle of wills with the same kid, who for some inexplicable reason started pretending to be a fish flapping his fins.
"Flap like a fishy! Flap like a fishy!" he chanted, to much mirth, flapping his hands. A couple of near-by kids followed suit. Must be an in-joke.
"I'll put you out!" I whisper, fiercely. "Last warning!" After a final, half-hearted flap, he settles. Terribly grateful he didn't call my bluff. I generally don't win contests with kids I don't know. I'm easily overpowered.
Check my watch. Two minutes have elapsed.
How to pass the time when one can't look away from one's charges? Hmm.
You can tell a lot about a thirteen year old school boy by his hair style. His parents have either lost control of him already, and thus he does what he wants, or they think it looks cool and the kid is an extension of their own ego. This kid has that swept around the face, little boy rock star shag. Totally impractical, it requires the wearer to modify his behaviour, constantly flinging the head, and the 'fringe', over the right shoulder to maintain vision. Particularly difficult when the wearer is hunched, nose dripping, over an exam paper. This was one of the tissue-less sniffers. Fling. Sniff.
He's tiny, little legs poking out of short pants, despite it being about seven degrees outside. His little feet are in battered black canvas slip on shoes; the type that look down at heel, even when brand new. Quite de rigueur with the male school rebel. This one, yet to reach puberty, has a grey ball pierced through the lower left lip.
Another rebel, a girl with thick eyebrows and long dark hair parted down the middle, glares at me through her curtains. She slouches down in her seat and extends her legs under the table to place them on the vacant chair, barely within reach, on the other side. I decide for the sake of harmony to ignore it. She looks distinctly uncomfortable but is determined to keep her feet there, to prove some point or other. Not getting a rise out of me, she kicks off one cheap black ballet slipper, then the other. Like I care.
Excruciating, tense, mind-numbing tedium.
Another five minutes have passed. Sixty-three to go.