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Cymbal of our thanks

The week before Christmas last year I was telling a tale from Tolstoy in morning assembly (a very moral one). I was in full flow.

"How much?" said the farmer.

"A thousand roubles a day," came the reply.

"Now roubles are Russian money," I explained, interrupting myself. "Shall we say - a hundred pounds?" "A HUNDRED Pounds," repeated the infants in unison.

I should have seen it coming, but it was the start of one of those weeks.

The day of the infant nativity play arrived. Innocent blue eyes smiled up at me from inside a tea towel. "You look splendid, Francesca."

"I look stupid."

I offered encouraging words to a teacher, overwhelmed by angels. "Don't worry, even nativity plays that are a disaster are a success." On reflection it may not have been the right thing to say.

In the event, the day was relatively uneventful. Afterwards the staff relived the highlights. "I couldn't get the Roman soldiers out of their trousers quickly enough," said a young colleague earnestly - the ensuing silence broken by a lewd giggle.

My desk disappeared under Christmas cards wishing. "Happy Christmas Mr Nodle." Or Mr NoBell, Mr Nobl and Mr Noodle. I noted the need to revise the school spelling policy in the new year. The deputy head sent me a card showing a medieval painting of the holy family examining a parchment. Inside she wrote: "Jesus's parents check the league tables before choosing a school." I returned one showing a praying Virgin with: "An infant teacher prays for an immaculate reception."

Re-tellings of the Christmas story revealed unexpected creative talents in our children.

"Joseph was a very impotent man," wrote one seven-year-old. This seemed scurrilous not to say sacrilegious, but then it could explain much. Perhaps the most irreverent comment came from a six-year-old who asserted that "Mary put Jesus in a mangle".

The school orchestra put "Hark the Herald" through its own mangle, with the cymbal player eventually mastering her instrument, although not the difference between "middle" and "end". This was not a mistake that could pass unnoticed. Peace CRASH! (not yet Helen) on Earth and mercy mi-ild . . . CRASH!

On Wednesday a small brown envelope appeared on my desk. Inside was a cheque for a four-figure sum. There was no letter. I rang up the signatory, one of my parents. "It's a gift," she said. "It's to show our gratitude for all the school has done for Claire" (a child with special physical and educational needs).

"Hark the herald angels sing." CRASH! Right on cue, Helen.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrews C of E Primary School, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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