Charity begins

30th January 2004 at 00:00
The head's plans to revamp the open evening have not gone down well

We've been summoned to the conference room, which can only mean one thing: the Alastair Scarlett and Amy Studds show. The giant screen descends slowly from the ceiling, and our spirits travel in the same direction.

A general groan rumbles across the room as the head and his bursar prepare their latest PowerPoint extravaganza. Dr Scarlett begins. "Right team, are we ready for the most significant date of the year?" Amy Studds hits a button on her remote and Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" booms from the speakers as the words "The party's going on right here" flash up on the screen. Everyone is baffled. Christmas is long gone and the school's feast day isn't until May.

Dr Scarlett isn't deterred. "Oh, come on! The open evening! Only two weeks to go! February the 14th - let's make it a date to remember!" Nobody reacts except Anna Hatch, fresh back from maternity leave and up for a fight.

"It's a date to remember, all right. It's Valentine's Day and it happens to be a Saturday. Are you familiar with the term work life balance, Dr Scarlett? And anyway, aren't open evenings usually held in the autumn term? There's no one left to recruit."

Judith Crock, head of history and the borough's undisputed absence champion, joins the fray. "Yes, most normal people would prefer to spend time with their significant other. I myself have organised a romantic evening in with Mr Pickles."

Sensing a mutiny, Nigel Horsmel, the deputy, takes control."Hey Jude, read my lips: di-rec-ted time. I'm afraid that Mr Pickles will just have to restrain himself until you return home. Who knows, perhaps he's one of these new men one hears so much about these days. Maybe he'll prepare you a surprise intimate supper."

People start to titter. Judith rolls her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous Nigel, Mr Pickles is a Scottish terrier."

The head drones on for an hour about the challenges ahead. St Brian's may be one of the most undersubscribed schools in the borough but the turnaround starts now. He's decided the open evening needs freshening up (hence the decision to hold it a term too late: "we'll pull in the New Year life-laundry brigade") and has an idea that we're really going to love: he's hired an event organiser who's going to make St Brian's the place to be on Valentine's night.

"Yeah, maybe we could get Carol Smillie to give the school hall a makeover," someone shouts. "Will Nigella be doing the catering?" asks someone else.

By now Dr Scarlett is seriously losing it. "Hey guys, you just have to believe in yourselves! Er..." Amy is gazing adoringly, Horsmel looks nervous.

The deputy head coughs loudly. "What Dr Scarlett means is that all staff are expected to attend the open evening - no exceptions." John Baller, the union rep, stands up and announces an emergency branch meeting, "6pm sharp, in the 13 Horseshoes".

As the meeting breaks up, Horsmel and Judith square up to each other like a pair of park mutts. John Baller steps in. "Come on Judith, we'll sort this at the pub." "Oh I'm sorry John, I must dash. I promised Mr Pickles spaghetti bolognese tonight."

Next week: The ghost of St Brian's

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