Ah, for the days of the debauched staff Christmas party

The dancefloor Lotharios and bike shed snogs are long gone. We may as well put Slade on mute and call it an Inset day, says Stephen Petty

Lothario under disco lights

If some depictions of staff Christmas parties are to be believed, the evening is throbbing with incident, indiscretion and maybe the odd shock-horror snog. If only.  

Nothing like this has really happened at a staff party for at least 20 years, surely? Gone, in particular, is the louche Lothario teacher of old. 

I used to know one at a former school. He would singlehandedly make up for the relative lack of men on the staff by working and reworking the party room all on his own. Eventually, he would find a like-minded spirit and would create enough bike-shed action to keep the staffroom buzzing for at least another 12 months. 

Nowadays, Mr Lothario and his kind have long since retired or left teaching, moving away from our increasingly professional world in order to live life in relatively more forgiving pastures – off, perhaps, to work in the more protected world of presidential or ministerial politics. 

Middle-aged twirlers

The great Lothario exodus (alongside the similarly disappointing departure of the femme fatale) has made today’s staff Christmas party about as controversial as an evening meal at Guildford PizzaExpress or listening with a great aunt to Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2. 

The truth is that any social event entirely dominated now by sensible middle-aged teachers, TAs, office staff and members of the site team is never going to be especially raucous. The local police do not request to be informed beforehand, and no bouncers are ever required at the door. 

When I arrive – the dance floor still bare at this stage, except for a couple of keen early twirlers from admin – I am reminded that this is actually one of my wilder nights out nowadays.

As Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do it for You wafts gently through the speakers while the buffet appears, my thoughts turn to Peter Kay’s portrayal of rickety old Northern clubs. And also of slightly listless evenings spent at those post-wedding discos in low-ceilinged hotel function rooms. 

No more Mr Brightside

The event is supposed to get us all happily mingling together. But, when we look around, it’s as if we are all at an Inset day. Each table is easily identifiable as languages, maths, science and so on. We might as well put Wizzard and Slade on mute and get January’s scheduled twilight session on retrieval practice out of the way.

That said, we do fully enjoy the evening. Term is nearly over, and it’s perhaps the first chance since September to chat at length. We eat a nice buffet and can then start dancing if we like that kind of thing. 

But, deep down, many of us would love there to be a little of that old spice to take away with us. Objectionable though he may have been, many of us would surely welcome Lothario back to the staff party with open arms – just as long as it’s not our open arms – offering slurred invitations to a succession of colleagues to join him on a nostalgic tour of the bike sheds. 

Even the women must miss him. Lothario may not have been to their taste, but the men left are so dull in comparison with him. We are so boring that we genuinely believe that we are letting our hair down by finally hit the dance floor when Mr Brightside inevitably comes on. 

Women are not impressed by our belated and brief appearance on the dance floor. They don’t want to know that we’re Mr Brightside. Whether they loathed him or loved him, it was always a livelier evening when Mr Darkside was around.  

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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