Saved by a singing nun

Bridget McElroy

One of the major advantages of being heidie is the fact that you can pick and choose which outings or, as we have to call them now, "educational experiences" you accompany.

I must confess to a distinct aversion to anything remotely linked to worksheets, so I tend to pick the fun events. The authority had block-booked one of the screens for local schools and the management had arranged for special showings of cinema classics.

The primary 7 class were heading for the Cineworld showing of Braveheart, and it looked an easy day out away from the stresses and tensions of planning and parents evenings.

Wrong. It started in the foyer, when the P7s from Avondale and Harristown clashed. Chants, taunts and mutual abuse were commonplace - and that was just the parents who were accompanying the children.

Inside the cinema, I tried to count heads, but kept reaching a different total. I asked Mary how many we brought and she assured me that we had 28.

No sooner had the adverts started than the exodus to the loos began. Some came back quickly, others dallied. My eyes were everywhere. Mobile phones went off, despite the warnings of the Lara Croft look-alike on the screen, and the room was soon awash with buckets of popcorn, gallons of Coca-Cola and the stench of hot dogs.

Where was Brian? I hadn't seen him for some time. My suspicions were aroused when his pal Martin came in and was soon offering trays with nachos and salsa dip for only 50p. After 25 minutes of Mel repelling the invading English armies, I left to seek out the bold lad.

He was standing outside the toilets, conducting a roaring trade in "alternative" refreshments. He had smuggled in jumbo packs of goodies from the local discount store and was undercutting the grossly inflated prices of the cinema chain. Packets of Lithuanian lollies, Chilean chocolate and Norwegian nachos proliferated, while his mate Peter splashed on copious mounts of Swedish salsa. The nachos trays bore a striking resemblance to the seedling trays he had used for his infamous Young Enterprise project.

Brian protested his innocence, claiming he was going to donate the profits to the Mission of the Sacred Heart. The boy had style. Gallus was the adjective invented for Brian. By the time I got him back to see Mel's attempt to woo Ms Jolie, there was a distinct absence of St Pats' finest.

Mary was beside herself with fear. The girls had gone off to the loo, "bursting" as they put it, and some hadn't returned. I stormed off to the toilets, found some of the Avondale girls finishing off a bottle of what looked like Buckfast and interrupted an impromptu Ouija board session. None of my girls was involved - Jean Brodie would have been proud.

Where were the St Pats harridans? As I walked back to Screen 7, an usherette was marching six of my brood out of Screen 8. Their classic had been Confessions of a Brothel Keeper. Jennifer asked in a genuinely inquisitive voice: "Please Miss, what's a br - " She never finished her question as I responded in a combination of hiss and scream: "Never you mind, madam".

On reflection, a singularly inappropriate response.

I asked the cinema manager if we could have the lights on at an appropriate break in the film - to allow the staff of all three schools to do a headcount. The lights came on to a crescendo of boos and hisses. The three sets of teachers staggered down to the front, gradually adjusting to the increase in lux levels. I'm sure old Mrs Smith from Harristown had been asleep. It was difficult to tell with her.

I shouted at the top of my voice for all St Pats pupils to stand up. I shouldn't have bothered. There were none there. I could see the headlines now: "Pats Pupils at Porn Palace". I raced into the manager's office again.

"Stop the show in Screen 8!" I screamed. He saw his licence disappearing before his very eyes, and duly obliged.

The panic in Screen 8 was unbelievable. The dirty raincoat brigade hid behind their screen magazines, copies of the daily papers - anything that they could lay their hands on. I scanned the serried ranks. One was hiding behind the St Pats development plan. I lowered the offending article.


I eventually found the girls in Screen 4. They had all seen Braveheart before -hundreds of times, according to Kay, and had opted for a showing of The Sound of Music instead.

I was sent several nice letters from parents thanking me for taking the girls to such an educational experience. They told their parents they had been at a musical with Mrs McElroy and they had enjoyed the songs.

There is a God after all, especially if you have belief.

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Bridget McElroy

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