CHRISTMAS is the time of year when I am able to talk to my wife, May. She is depute headteacher in another secondary school, and this means that we only meet by appointment.
Our nephew, Michael Quinn, aged eight, recently asked, "Uncle Pat, are you and Auntie May getting divorced?". He wondered why we didn't come home in the evening and have our dinner together like normal people. We were able to reassure him that being senior managers in schools is a bit like getting divorced, but a lot cheaper. I would have explained to him about the millennium review and the restructuring of promoted posts, but he went off to play with his yo-yo, a far more constructive activity.
We work for different authorities and this means separate holidays, a fate exacerbated for many families by local government reorganisation. Being off at odd times can be a nuisance, but it can also be a blessing. There is something exquisite about hearing the door close and the engine start, knowing that this is one of the celestial mornings when Edinburgh stays in bed and the rest of the world works.
The local golf course is pleasantly deserted when only Edinburgh is on holiday, and I bless Victoria Day and other special occasions celebrated only by the capital. I understand that, when the Scottish parliament comes, we will all be given a day of rest on St Andrew's Day. It will be gratefully accepted, but won't have the special relish of a day off when everyone else is working.
From time to time, we get roped into each other's school activities. Our schools both held family ceilidhs on successive Friday evenings and these were most enjoyable events. Dancing is not my strong point and some of the choreography was original in character, but all in the course of duty. Staff functions also come in double doses. Sustaining interest in lengthy eulogies about people you have only just met can stretch the patience levels, but is often part and parcel of our family business.
The term at Holy Rood has ended in typically surrealistic fashion. All the requisite documentation had been laid out in pristine fashion on our recently carpeted hospitality room in preparation for the return visit of the HMI inspection team. No detail had been overlooked by June Falconer, the school bursar, who meticulously checked the plastic wallets with their colour-coded stickers, carefully marshalled on the best table we could find. Just as the Grand Inquisitor made his entry, we discovered that somebody had parked his bike against the table, not quite the image we were seeking to convey, but certainly true to life.
The Christmas season will involve both of us in attendance at numerous parties, carol concerts and staff functions. These are invariably pleasant, but attendance by the head and depute head is an expectation rather than an option, and quite right, too.
Last year, I kept coming across the same music instructor playing the same carols at concerts in primary and secondary schools across Edinburgh. For her, it was a case of "The Tenth Noel". Her enthusiasm for each event was undiminished, and if staff show that level of commitment, no less can be expected of headteachers.
This year the Sweeneys have abdicated responsibility for the Christmas dinner, after feeding the family throughout the past 20 years of festive frivolity. At Christmas 1998, we will adopt a quality assurance remit as brother-in-law cooks the turkey, father-in-law talks about when schools were schools and Michael Quinn, unimpressed with the gravitas surrounding him, goes on playing with his yo-yo.
Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh