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Praise for Mary as a star is born

Jenny Davidson gives thanks for the saviour of her Nativity production

Jean's crisp tones cut across the babble of our informal staff meeting. "What are we going to do for Christmas? There's less than six weeks to go!" "We could put on a panto," I suggest. Some hilarity follows as we toy with well-known names in education for pantomime roles.

Chris Woodhead would be Jack because he's a real climber and is always after the the pot of gold. The part of the Giant, who clever Jack fells at a stroke, (well several cuts then - the beanstalk is a tough one) is taken by the teaching profession which grumbles and shouts: "Fee, Fi, Fo, FumI smell the blood of the curriculumBe it alive or be it deadIt breaks the spirit and numbs the head."

The mantle of little Red Riding Hood as innocence personified, with her basket of goodies surely falls upon Gillian Shephard's shoulders. I'll pass over the jokes about a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Time passes, the staff panto idea wanes and too soon the day of our pupils' Christmas production is upon us. Dressing the children for the evening performance begins. The calm of the room is broken when I find Joseph has mislaid his own sandals and has purloined another pair.

"He's took me shoes Miss," storms Herod, living his part in a manner unseen in rehearsal.

"Taken. Taken my shoes," I correct him.

"Oh, he's nicked yours an' all, has he Miss?" asks Herod.

At that moment, a breathless Mrs Carter appears from the playground.

"It's our Lorna-May. She can't be Mary. Came home bright as a button. Had a good tea - fish and chips, always have them on a Friday." Mrs Carter pauses dramatically. "Then she lost it."

"Lost it?" I echo, pinning Joseph's cloak - again.

"You know . . ." Mrs Carter puts two fingers in her mouth and gags. "It's best she stays at home."

I go in search of Mary's understudy, only to be stopped by her best friend, who confides in me.

"She told me Miss, at home time, that if she couldn't be Mary she didn't see the point of just sitting in that hall again."

Jean miraculously appears with a silent child in tow.

"Angela will fit the part nicely. She's almost the same size as Lorna-May. " Jean smiles. "No costume alterations needed."

"I can't speak, Miss," whispers Angela. "You don't have to. It's a tableau, " says Jean. "It's your presence we need, Angela."

"Do I have to give presents?" Angela asks anxiously.

"No, that's the kings' role. Don't worry dear, Joseph will help you."

The line of angels sways down the corridor singing a French carol. I shepherd (no pun intended) my flock (there I go again) into the back of the darkened hall. A baby gives a tired cry.

A toddler, suddenly recognising his angelic sister, exclaims: "An-na!" He wriggles from his mother's lap and tries to join his sister on the tiny stage. In the semi-darkness he blunders into the pyramid of "gifts from around the world".

A pineapple hits the legs of a governor. Cobnuts roll about like ball bearings, bringing some members of the audience to their knees with distinctly unholy cries.

The spotlight settles on Terry, a rising star, prone to exaggeration, but with one of the loudest voices in the school. Dazzled, perhaps by being in the real limelight, Terry just stands. His lines of welcome are unspoken. His face begins to crumple. Then with a large, beatific grin, Terry expands his lungs and shouts, "Six cheers for Christmas!" We all join in enthusiastically; six cheers indeed.

Jenny Davidson lives in York.

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