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Beanstalks and bankers scale satirical heights

It's pantomime time again ("Oh no, it isn't"). At Wester Hailes, as at countless schools, the props come out, the guitars are tuned, the talent nervously prepares for its curtain call.

The town is bankrupt. Global warming has killed the crops. The bad bankers have stolen the money. Jock and his mother are destitute, but Jock is also lovelorn and the beautiful Gill, step-daughter of the wicked banker, appears unobtainable. He's advised to dream but firmly told that he is "a loser".

Eventually mum decides there's no option but to sell Cassie, the family cow, but Jock fails to deliver her to market. On the way, he meets his fairy godmother. He's astounded that she knows his name. "How do you know my name's Jock?"

"If you were Welsh, I'd call you Taffy. If you were Irish, I'd call you Paddy. If you were on Celebrity Come Dancing, I'd call you a prat. You're Scottish, so I'll call you Jock." (Who said the old ones were the best?) Alas, the fairy godmother gives him five magic beans for Cassie. Mum isn't impressed.

Next day at school, the kids are restless. "Miss, will you punish me for something I didn't do?"

"Of course not!"

"Then you won't punish me for not doing my homework?" Boom, boom!

They decide to hold a talent contest to raise money for the town. The singers, dancers and instrumentalists show all the verve of young folk everywhere, and we love them because they're good and because they're ours. The talent show isn't enough but the beanstalk has grown. An over-the-top soprano version of Climb Every Beanstalk sends Jock to the higher reaches.

He brings the giant's golden eggs back to earth but has them stolen by the wicked banker. He goes to the top of the beanstalk and returns with the hen. The giant tumbles earthwards, is killed and, falling on the banker, kills him too. Gill recognises Jock as the love of her life and a rip-roaring finale brings the front row dancing onto the stage.

The feelgood factor has made the audience dip its hands in its pockets. Wester Hailes may not be affluent but our linked school in South Africa has even greater needs. Generous donations follow.

Twenty-eight youngsters on stage; a wheen of others on props and ticket sales and costumes; proud parents in the audience along with lots of our other students, having fun and being kids. We all need the celebrations of the mid-winter solstice, especially in these gloomy times. We need to believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil and that love is stronger than hate. As the hard results of the greed of the real wicked bankers bite and cutbacks in spending face us all, we wish we had a magic hen to lay us a few golden eggs.

We've no magic hen, but we still have the youngsters to teach, nourish and encourage and not too many of the big bankers have their kids at Wester Hailes - or any of the local-authority schools suffering the crisis they helped create.

Alex Wood is head of Wester Hailes Education Centre, Edinburgh.

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