It's time for the staff party, but where? Leo Bown reveals the Christmas dinner-dance dilemma
As the season of goodwill and peace on earth draws ever closer, a strange kind of festive warfare has broken out at English department meetings. But it's nothing to do with next term's set texts or who's taking Year 11 to see King Lear. It's a far more serious matter, as the battle lines are staked out in the campaign to secure a venue for this year's departmental Christmas dinner.
Love it or loathe it, there's no escaping the fray, as the meeting reaches "any other business" and turns its attention to the December social - and the restaurant shift that any self-respecting Year 12 waitress will move heaven and earth to swap.
The new head of department has taken on the organisation of this year's do, and it's a thankless task. The brainstorming session is more of a washout, as no one can think of a suitable eaterie left unscathed from previous celebrations.
Someone suggests a local Chinese restaurant. It's a fairly cheap, family-run place with an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet, and would be ideal. Except that few of its staff are likely to have forgotten the special needs department visit last year. The evening was always going to be a classic, from the moment the "come dressed as another teacher" theme was announced at the staff briefing.
The buffet was a definite hit - within five minutes there wasn't a spring roll left in the building. But the free bar was probably a mistake. Simple instructions from the head of department - just give your name at the bar each time you order - had reckoned without the army of teaching assistants' capacity for consumption, and the convenient disguise provided by the evening's dress theme. There were at least six of her at the bar at any one time during the evening.
By the time the karaoke started, spirits (and noise levels) were high. The Year 7 dance club had spent three weeks teaching the staff karaoke team an optimistically athletic version of Geri Halliwell's "It's Raining Men" routine. The result was far more entertaining. Joyce's attempt at a Fame-style high kick would have made any yoga teacher wince. The waiters watched nervously (as did the few lone diners who had strayed close to our party) as the trio started spinning around the front tables. Then during the instrumental break, the karaoke man decided to take matters into his own hands. They were unplugged, and got a standing ovation that owed more to relief than artistic appreciation.
The next venue also looks unlikely. The restaurant has hosted the combined science and maths department Christmas dinners for the past two or three years. Not to be outdone by the beer-swilling PE department, they had combined forces to revamp their celebrations. Last year's silly hat dinner had gone down a treat, although the Year 12 waiters apparently found their pure maths lesson a bit difficult to take seriously next day. Practical experiments were possibly more toxic than usual in the science department, too.
In the end, English staff decide to follow the example of maths and science (without the hats) and join forces with the drama department. The luvvies book a late table at the local Greek restaurant, and the literary types plan to join them after the school pantomime.
Costas, the owner, is a magnificent host who loved the atmosphere last week when the Year 9 tutor team descended. Apparently they were great singers, although there were tales of crockery smashing that probably wasn't planned as part of the entertainment.
The evening will undoubtedly be memorable, as post-production spirit is bound to ensure anyone in the vicinity will hear the frantic air-kissing long before they see it. I wonder if Costas knows what he is letting himself in for this time?
The day after the departmental night before is often a quiet one at school. Tales from the various celebrations gradually seep through to the staffroom, and each year a new cohort of NQTs learns some important facts of school life that the PGCE never covered. This year as you settle back into a darkened classroom to watch yet another video, you'll realise that it's a great time to reflect. Wherever you end up, and whatever your department does, enjoy the festive wind-down in style. The Christmas term is a marathon of legendary proportions, and by early January last year's knees-up will have become the stuff of legends.
Leo Bown is a former english and drama teacher