Brown envelope, black dress

4th July 2003 at 01:00
MY holiday was ruined. That big brown envelope made Spain, sun, sand, sangria and the other one very much an irrelevance. Why me? Why now? I've only been here for a year. I've inherited everything. It's his staff, his school, his routines, his mess.

Steady girl, pour another one. Keep calm. They can't blame you for any of this. I'll spend the summer in Policies R Us. I'm not proud. I'll borrow any documents I can find. Dress by Harvey Nics, Hair by Gregor and Policies by Scissors and Paste.

What about my troops? Will they let me down, or will they rally round? The staffroom is divided into two camps - those who don't like me and those who haven't made their minds up yet. How shall I play this one? I will try my Bette DavisQueen Elizabeth address to the troops. I will wear black. I've rehearsed that speech a hundred times or more.

I'll take Rhona the depute into my confidence. She can be trusted; especially after the favour I did her at the Christmas "do". We'll create an armada of assessments, an encyclopaedia of evaluations and a legion of league tables, all showing that we are doing a great job in trying circumstances.

What about the questionnaire? What will Reggie and co say about me? My heart rate quickened and I just knew the migraines would return before my Beloved's pre-season training once again consigned me to the ranks of partial widowhood. Why did I move here? Should I become pregnant?

Steady on. I met Joan for a coffee in Littlejohn's and told her the full story. She offered tea, sympathy, policies and a pregnancy testing kit. I nearly laughed. July melted into August and each new day outdid its predecessor in terms of panic and alarm. I could see June and Frances busily knitting my name under the shadow of Madame Guillotine.

I took Rhona out to lunch, reminded her of her little "indiscretion" at the Christmas event, and hatched our battle plan. A charm offensive. Kill them with kindness. Real chocolate biscuits. Ditch the Nescafe. Bring out the finest Kenyan Roast.

Power-dressing with a vengeance. I learnt every new buzz word, memorised all the acronyms and gathered cliche after cliche. I found a new inner strength, a new belief in myself. I can do this.

My inspiration was more Martini than Montessori, but I was ready for the staff meeting. We had policies by the score, we had indicators by the door, we had paperwork on the floor. It was starting to sound like something from South Pacific, but the rehearsals went well. I taught them the key answers.

Remember my infamous "Too early to tell" remark? I added every conceivable stonewaller answer I knew, all of them a variation on the theme of: "It wisnae me. A big boy did it and ran away." Which, incidentally, wasn't far from the truth.

At the final dress rehearsal, we played Flash Card Cliche. This was followed by Acronym Bingo and, finally, we were ready for them. The policies were pristine, the foyer fresh, the toilets titivated, the display dazzling and the ethos electric. The philosophy (underpinning the curriculum) was phantastic, phlipping phantastic.

I wore black on the day they arrived. I looked like the rep on the cosmetic counter at Boots. Was the blouse too daring? Not compared to Rhona's it wasn't. I was Mrs Earth Mother. I patted heads, not too heavily, in order to avoid assault charges being made, and called everyone by their first names. Not always the correct name, but then again, I've only been here a year.

I oozed charm, efficiency and authority in equal measures. I was a Shaper, Completer, Finisher, Plant and Company Worker all rolled into one. More coffee, Mr McGregor?

I leant over to refill the cup. "Oh, please . . . call me Jim," he said, straightening his tie and casting a sideways glance at his reflection in the strategically placed mirror. The words "toffee" and "bairns" came to mind, as he began an informal debrief of the first day's findings.

My girls had done me proud. They had bluffed, evaded and circumvented in good measure. They supported me. For the first time, they were my staff. I had shaken off the ghost of my predecessor. Today, Bridget is the first day of you.

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