Brian's blessed boot
I have had my differences with our local man of the cloth. We agreed to differ. We agreed to keep to our own professions. I wouldn't do baptisms and funerals, and he wouldn't try to tell us how to teach. We started the day well enough, a pleasant coffee and an exchange of half-term anecdotes preparing us for the assembled masses.
I asked him what the theme was going to be, and he informed me that it was a surprise.
Not half. The day descended into the stuff of nightmares and will live for ever in the memories of all those present.
Unknown to the rest of the staff, himself had visited the P7 children in the playground and hatched his "plot". Why he chose Brian as his co-conspirator God alone knows. Actually, when I think about that, God probably does.
The P1s sat cross-legged, barely containing their excitement or their need to visit the loo. They had only been at two assemblies, and some remained afraid of a tall, grinning man dressed in black, who spoke in a language that could have been Serbo-Croat. The staff shushed their charges, and the collective sound reminded me of the waves crashing on the Cretan shores.
Mary rattled the ivories, the predetermined signal for silence. Himself swept forward. The P1s swept backward. I didn't blame them. His rolling eyes, the expansive, exaggerated gestures and the excessive use of cheap after-shave didn't do him any favours.
"Now, boys and girls. What have I got in my bag today?" He was in the habit of bringing the obligatory "visual aid". He rummaged in the poly bag for what seemed like an eternity. Then it happened.
Brian of P7 came out of the crowd and, as the minister was bending down, he kicked him very firmly in what my mum called the bahookie. The man collapsed in a heap, eyes watering and clutching his nether regions. The look on his face was unforgettable.
I froze. We all froze. The poor man lay writhing in agony, as one of the P1s shouted out: "Please Miss, the minister's been kicked in the goolies!"
I moved forward and asked if he was all right. Stupid question. The soprano-voiced reply told me everything. The man was in trouble. Joyce and I helped him to the staffroom. I offered water. He declined. He reclined.
His eyes rolled upward. I didn't know if he was contacting Head Office, or about to pass out.
Eventually he recovered his composure, his voice and his masculinity. "What was that all about?" I asked.
He explained that he had wanted to tell the children the story of Doubting Thomas, and to use the theme of seeing and believing. The children would have gone home and told their parents that Brian had booted the minister, and nobody would believe them. But they knew it was true - they had seen it.
Brilliant, I thought to myself. You silly minister, you. He displayed the same uncanny knack of spotting the loony that you find in visiting HMIs.
Why Brian? Was this an act of God? I think not.
Brian was a big lad, wore fake Timberlands and lacked any respect for the adults in his life. In his defence, he was not to know the exact location of all the anatomical "bits" concealed under the clerical robes. The minister had three children. He may not be having a fourth.
Back in the hall, all hell had broken out. The little ones cried. The older ones giggled. The staff were rooted to the spot. Jim the jannie had to leave the room, as his stifled guffaws threatened to break into roars of uncontrollable laughter. The shushing got louder. The noise level was intolerable. I rushed down to the hall, and barked at the children.
Gradually, they calmed down. As the P1s left the room, the puddles left behind betrayed the tension of the event. I gestured to Mary to come to the piano and play. She looked bewildered.
"What shall I play, Mrs McElroy?" she asked in a voice which sounded pathetic.
I told her to play something, anything. The stupid woman shuffled her sheet music and panicked. Mary had opened the pages of her antiquated songbook and played the first song she saw.
I saw the ambulance draw up at the front door, just as Mary struck up the first few bars of "Ging-Gang Gooly".
I looked up into the sky and waited for a voice. Is there someone up there with a wicked sense of humour?