A shot in the dark

Bridget McElroy

I knew it! Front page of the paper: "Local head saves director's life".

Will it mean an award? Promotion? Increased per capita? Sainthood?

You can imagine the leg-pulling that went on before the headteachers'

council last week. I wish it hadn't been me. Honestly.

Anyway, we are all too focused on getting our eco award to be worried about headlines and returned favours. We have converted our old infants'

playground into a vegetable garden, made a pond in the old rhubarb patch and created a wildlife garden where the former Horsa hut stood.

The P7s have recycled computer cartridges, paper and tins and won the Rotary Club Award for Tidy Playgrounds. The absence of crisp bags is now a feature and the new healthy eating policy is having an effect. Even the staff are playing their part.

We are fitter, healthier and more active than ever before. The judges can come anytime. St Pats is no longer St Pits. The portfolio of achievement is finished, printed with refilled cartridges on recycled paper. Sniff any trail and you will find excellence, mingled with compost and fertiliser.

The locals have been impressed. It's been a long time since ducks and geese landed in the school field and weren't shot, speared or garrotted.

I received the letter. The assessment would be sometime in late September or early October. There would be a formal assessment and a random visit - totally unannounced.

We were getting into a dangerous time at St Pats. Halloween and Guy Fawkes were looming and we were in the run-up to half-term. Things had a habit of going wrong at this time of the school year.

I slipped Jannie Jim "a wee present" to keep his vigilance level as high as his alcohol level. This was no mean task. He assured me that his patrols would be rigorous and vigorous. Well, he actually said he'd boot anyone's a*** he caught in his school. Same thing.

The assessors arrived and I jumped through the hoops. Photographic evidence of before and after were submitted. The assessors were at pains to stress the importance of the philosophy underpinning the programme. Give me strength! I am overwhelmed with philosophy underpinning everything.

We waited and waited for the "random visit". Jannie Jim came into the office and asked for a word. "I ken when they're coming!" he announced proudly. He had been in the female toilets cleaning, when one of them came in. Not wanting to make a fuss, and to save embarrassment, he hid in the end cubicle. Emma, the ecologist, decided to combine two jobs at once, if you pardon the expression, and was phoning to arrange the night-time visit with a colleague.

"It's the morn's night," said an excited Jim, well pleased with his espionage. The bottle of Glenfiddich seemed a small price to pay for the intelligence.

Jim scrubbed off the graffiti, assisted by some wayward P6 boys, whose silliness in class deserved some "feedback". He completed his check. Pond safe. Garden free of litter and weeds. Ducks sizing up reeds for a possible home. I swear I heard him whistle "All Things Bright and Beautiful".

I told him to take a few hours off to prepare for his vigil. Big mistake.

Jim found solace and comfort in railways. Well, the Railway Tavern, to be precise. He was reeking of Polo mints when he returned. His last words to me were ones of positive assurance. "Dinnae you worry, hen. Nae body's goin' to spoil oor gairden."

Nobody did. Jim saw to that.

Apparently, some intruders had got into the school playgrounds and were seen over at the pond. Jim had sensed that the vandals would spoil the impending "random" inspection and let fly. Every expletive under the sun was shouted at the top of his voice as he loaded his grandfather's Home Guard gun. "F*** off, ya wee b******, dinna spoil Mrs McElroy's gairden afore the inspectors come!" Bang! Bang!

The intruders fled at a great rate of knots, leaping the school fence in panic. Jim staggered after them, firing at random. He waited and waited for the rest of the night, dropping off into a deep slumber.

I came into work the next day to find a police car at the school entrance.

There was a reporter from the local paper lurking, trying to find a scoop.

There had been an incident. I could see it all: "Local head hires hit man".

I made some enquiries with the eco awards people. Emma, the ecologist, was apparently off work with grape-shot wounds to her rear. Her colleague, Kenny, was also absent, suffering from post-traumatic stress, bruised ego and ripped trousers.

Jim had meant well. Who needs an eco award anyway?

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Bridget McElroy

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