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ER's Christmas Carol

I'd warned them all. If I heard one single chorus of any Christmas song before the first week of December, there'd be hell to pay. It's all very well for Asda, Tesco and their pals to start their festive preparations before the Factor 20 is safely back in the cupboards, but not in my school they don't.

Concerts, discos, carol services, visits to the Evergreen Old People's Home and the visit to the pantomime - don't you just love Christmas? Maybe the former director was right, when he cancelled Christmas one year. The pressure is cranked up from the first few bars of "Little Donkey", and my diary is so full with school commitments that I might have to miss the Rugby Club Ball and the in-laws' anniversary lunch. So, it's not all bad news, then?

Broken windows, angels off with chicken pox, college tutors seeking completed assessments, a whiff of gas from the kitchens and blocked toilets - just another manic Monday. And then it happened.

I had just finished the P6-P7 assembly on the theme of forgiveness, not one of my better efforts I'll admit, when I had a call from the Holy Sepulchre, also known as The Office. It was ER herself. Why did I hear the theme from Jaws ringing in my head?

She wanted to come round for "a wee chat". Give me migraine, give me toothache, give me PMT, ADS, BBC or ITV, but don't give me ER in the month of December - please!

It was a part of her "patch review". I'll give her a "patch", but it won't be the kind you find in the school first-aid box. She is my line manager, so I agreed to a meeting conveniently squeezed in between a seminar on head-lice control and an urgent dental appointment. Bridget's bridge is falling down, my fair lady.

Our relationship has been frosty, ever since the revelations of her "protegee" at the interview. Her cups had been full and did run over. ER was not amused, and it had showed.I found ER to be an irrelevance, a nuisance and an anachronism. But enough of her good points. She meant well.

No! That's my mother talking - the ultimate Scots insult: they meant well.

My head was itching, a psychological reaction to the seminar on the little beasties, when she breezed in.

"Kettle on?" she enquired, cheekily fluttering her well-extended eyelashes, and attempting a smile which threatened to crack the Polyfilla make-up. All sorts of wicked thoughts were going through my head, as I noticed one of her eyelashes sticking to her lapel.

We exchanged pleasantries, and she told me how much pressure she was under.

I had no idea of what her diary was like. Meetings, visits, seminars - and not a child to be seen. The poor lamb.

Gradually, I sensed a crisis. "Bridget, dear, I'm worried about our relationship." She felt we had drifted apart. Ten out of 10 for perception.

She wanted to know if I had a "problem" with her. Ten out of 10 for bravery. She wondered what we could do to "rescue" it. Nought out of 10 for realism.

The coffee was ready. I went to the cupboard and looked at the array of condiments, supplements, medicines and assorted additives.

I saw Oor Wullie's two faces - the angel and the devil. Would I? Should I? Could I? Would she notice?

Well, it was Christmas after all, so I told her something in a spirit of goodwill, harmony and reconciliation. I showed her my diary, my commitments and my programme. I told her I needed support, understanding, and, quite frankly - a little TLC.

I thought I saw a wee tear in the corner of her eye, as I gave it full blast. I told her what I didn't need - reports, assessments, questionnaires, courses, returns, seminars, launches, "events", case conferences, reviews and (deep breath) patch pastoral visits at Christmas.

ER wriggled in her chair. She looked uncomfortable. The response that followed was totally unexpected. "You're right, Bridget. It's gone too far."

She looked down at the expensive shoes, fiddled with the expensive handbag clip and sighed. "I'm packing it in, you see. I'm going to become a lecturer at the university."

The thought of a new generation of teachers, all clones of ER and her philosophies of education, filled me with dread. I wished her well. I felt a right hypocrite, but not for too long.

Later that week, I heard that ER had cancelled all her other patch visits.

Apparently she had been struck down with a particularly nasty dose of the skitters. I must admit I had a wee smile on my face, as I thought of the poor soul, unable to vacate her throne.

The following day, I received a Christmas card from the office. It was signed Elizabeth Rose - with best wishes. I felt awful.

Bridget McElroy

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