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Hoodwinked heads

I've been awful restless since the half-term break. Amsterdam was the start of a feeling that I was becoming stuck in a rut. I've been at St Pats for four years, and I remember a former director advocating a five-year tenure for heads.

I was also getting fed up with other aspects of my life, so I suppose I was what they would call "vulnerable" as I went with Joan to the termly cure for insomnia, also known as the directorate headteachers meeting.

The director was late - again. Budgets? Starter motor? Diarrhoea? What excuse this month?

Teflon John, his beloved pal, golfing partner and confidant in whom he was well pleased, was there flapping around like a penguin on heat. "Morning, Brenda!" he shouted as we arrived, swanning past with a decided whiff of Lacoste aftershave and last night's Muscadet.

Cocktails chez director and Mrs Teflon was a right peacock, all peroxide curls and pouting. He had a great memory for names. Not. He had been a former headteacher, although older colleagues remember him as a right toady, supreme sycophant, compulsive name-dropper and jargon junkie.

Ideally suited for promotion to the upper echelons of the directorate.

Teflon opened the meeting, apologising profusely for the late arrival of His Master's Vice. He rattled off the usual station announcements, listed the latest initiatives and introduced two new headteacher colleagues. Is it me, or do they look younger now?

Teflon is renowned for his lack of discretion, and he proceeded to tell us that one of the heads of service was away in London on interview. An impending vacancy? He told us that the director favoured secondments and that, if a vacancy arose, some of us should apply.

I had been doodling on my pad, but I looked up as he said the word "secondment". Teflon John winked at me as he said, "apply". I blushed. I looked out of the window. I heard voices. I heard the heavenly choir. I waited for the finger to come from the clouds and point at me. Bridget McElroy - you are the Chosen One.

I was all of a-flutter. I couldn't settle. I began thinking of what people would say. Would I still be accepted by my colleagues? Would I be able to be me? I didn't say a word to anyone, not even himself, who seemed more interested in the forthcoming away match in Newton Stewart and a weekend of Galloway gallivanting.

Sure enough, the directorate had a vacancy. The head of service actually got the job. Our gain was London's loss. I did apply. I told a few wee lies on the form, but sought absolution in advance. After an interminable delay, a letter arrived. I was on the long leet.

I kept everything under wraps, fending off the inevitable inquisition about the new suit and shoes. The interview was on the Monday morning, with Teflon and a councillor. I was unable to sleep on the Sunday, and my mind kept thinking of the kids at St Pats. What would the parents say? What would Father McGregor think?

I was in a state of total confusion as I drove to the council HQ. Should I go, or should I stay? I reported to reception and gave my details to a young lassie with legs up to her armpits. I was shown into the waiting room, after having been told they were "running late" - again. Quality management?

I wondered who else was being seen. The door opened and in came the next candidate. I nearly fainted. It was Joan! The swine! What kind of friend was she? We looked at each other, jaws hitting the floor and blushing faces reflecting a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

"What are you doing here?" we screeched in unison. Joan was always direct.

"I only applied because he winked at me," she admitted with great candour.

"When?" I asked in total disbelief.

Right first time. At the heads' meeting. Oh-my-God!

In came the next candidate. It was Liz. We all giggled uncontrollably.

"Don't tell me," Liz said. "He gave you the wink at the heads' meeting?"

"How did you know?" Liz asked, feeling somewhat guilty.

I could see the scene now. The gladiators all strung up on their crosses.

The Roman asks which one was Spartacus.

"I'm Spartacus."

"I'm Spartacus."

"No, I'm Spartacus."

They were all Spartacus.

We had all been victims of Teflon John's cross-eyed twitch. He had winked at me. He had winked at Joan. He had winked at Liz. What a bunch of prats we were. How vain we were. How stupid. We thought about walking out there and then.

The door opened again, and the great winker emerged, rubbing his lavender-softened hands in eager anticipation. "Who's next, then?" he asked. I pushed Liz forward. Liz pushed Joan forward.

I had to stop myself from saying out loud: "Whoever catches your eye, John."

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