Charity begins

13th February 2004 at 00:00
If it's Valentine's Day then it must be the open evening at St Brian's

It's Valentine's Day and I've got a big date. A very big date. Defying conventional wisdom - not to mention the wishes of his staff - our head, Alastair Scarlett, has decided to hold the school open evening in February.

On a Saturday. While young lovers everywhere coo, caress and cavort, I'll be in the school hall selling St Brian's to the locals. We've all been given a prompt card that says: "Don't forget, the league table only tells half the story".

Dr Scarlett has a lot riding on tonight. In fact he's blown a sizeable chunk of the school's capital budget on hiring an events organiser and taking out adverts in the local papers. It's being billed as "A Night To Remember", and it's certainly unlikely any of the staff will ever forget it. There had been talk of a strike ballot until the deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, reminded us that as a staff we collectively owed the school around six months of directed time; in effect, he pointed out, we were the property of the senior management team. Or, as the bursar, Amy Studds, put it: "We own your sad asses." I was secretly rather relieved as for about the 15th year in a row I had found myself without a boyfriend on Valentine's Day. The lad at Oddbins who sells me my weekly bottle of New Zealand sauvignon is the closest thing I have to male company these days.

The evening gets off to a terrible start. There are tears and tantrums from the head when the organiser emails shortly before 6pm to say she can't make it because she's double-booked herself and has decided to give priority to the "Love in your lap" night at the local pole-dancing club. Then Amy Studds locks herself in the staff loo for an hour and only comes out after a tearful discussion under the toilet door with Dr Scarlett. There's a lot of sobbing and at some point Brenda Gache swears she hears the head say, "But Bunny-wunny loves you". Amy eventually emerges with rivers of mascara cascading towards her chin.

We are just about to give up hope of anyone actually coming when five sets of parents and kids turn up. They are ushered into the hall by our two youngest-looking NQTs who have been ordered to pose as Year 13 pupils for the night.

Dr Scarlett is not prepared. In fact he's standing at the front of the hall screaming into his mobile. "Of course I love you, you're my wife! I'll make it up to you. A week in Mauritius - my treat!" At which point the bewildered prospective parents and children are ushered away for the school tour. This consists of a visit to the conference room to admire the fish tank and a quick spin round the new IT suite. Roy Striper, the caretaker, has been given strict instructions to lock all the other doors in the school.

One parent and former pupil peers into a science lab and is rather disturbed to see that his 1989 poster of the Periodic Table is still the centrepiece of the wall display. By 8pm they've all gone and Roy Striper appears breathless at the staffroom door to report that two of the computers are missing.

I feel like the limp spider plants that line the corridors and are due back at the garden centre the following morning. Happy Valentine's, Charity.

Next week: Horsmel takes control

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