The new term begins with a rare appearance and not a few regrets
I don't think Judith Crock had a good Christmas. It's the first day back and my head of department is sitting in the staffroom staring into her coffee cup. "Why do they call it the spring term, for God's sake? Pitch black and freezing when you get up, pitch black and freezing when you get home. We only get four hours of daylight until bloody March. Spring is supposed to be about birth and renewal - this just feels like death!"
Judith isn't what you call a role model. More like a turkey buzzard standing sentinel at the entrance to No-Hope Valley. Mind you, there was general astonishment that she turned up at all this morning as no one can remember the last came she came in on the first day of term. But she won't keep it up. John Baller, maths teacher, union rep and staff bookie, is taking bets on what she'll be struck down with first. The favourite, based on this morning's performance, is seasonal adjustment disorder. "She might be a skiving lightweight, but she does her research, I'll give her that," says John.
There is another shadow hanging over the staffroom: the last day of last term. The kids didn't behave too badly, but a number of staff received written warnings about their behaviour. The scrap in the canteen between Mick the Aussie science teacher and Jason the Kiwi supply was by all accounts fairly vicious, and the head has ruled that the next rugby World Cup will not be shown on a big screen in the school hall. The fight had to be broken up by a bunch of Year 11s queueing for their Christmas lunch.
But it was during the staff pantomime - another "empowering" innovation introduced to St Brian's by Dr Alistair Scarlett, our superhead - that the real trouble started. The production was directed and written by the head of drama, Orlando Jones, fresh from his latest disastrous school play, Godspell, in which he cast himself as Jesus and sparked a walkout by the nuns from St Brian's convent by simulating oral sex with a microphone.
Orlando had described his panto, Bored of the Rings: the Twin Towers, as "a meditation on war, religion and magic in the post 911 world". The opening number was a Busby Berkeley-style routine performed by a couple of middle-aged women from the English department with model aeroplanes attached to their heads who danced round two papier-mache buildings. This was followed by a line of high-kicking supply teachers wearing rucksacks labelled "US Army".
The show ended prematurely with Brenda Gache, the PE teacher, screeching her way through "There ain't Nothing like a Dame" as Orlando and Dr Scarlett - the latter in full drag in the mistaken belief that he was appearing in Cinderella - wrestled for control of the curtain lever.
That night in the 13 Horseshoes, as Orlando fulminated about artistic integrity and John Baller agreed to represent him at yet another disciplinary hearing, I suddenly remembered I had to sort out my end of term appraisal.
So as I sit listening to Judith's monologue of misery, I take a beer mat from my pocket and stare at Orlando's spidery scrawl. "Can't hold her drink. Carts plastic boxes round full of lesson plans and marked books. Too organised. Not the St Brian's type. Fail."
Next week: Rough times in the referral unit