EVER SINCE the autumn half term they have been getting ready for Christmas in the day centre. I run a basic skills class there for half a dozen students of advancing years and receding memory.
Christmas gives me the chance to introduce some seasonal cheer into the curriculum, but keeping the students' attention becomes more challenging every week, with the distractions building around them.
Day centre users who are not participating in classes wander around, sometimes coming across for a chat. From time to time, one of my students forgets what they are doing and disappears until I go searching for them and drag them back from the day room. The last 15 minutes of every lesson is a fight against the flapping of table cloths and the clunking of cutlery, as the assistants lay the tables for lunch all around us.
This is the norm, but in November it gets a whole lot worse, when sales outlets set up stalls of Christmas goodies in the dining hall and all the students find the shopping opportunities infinitely more attractive than my literacy tasks.
I cope with all of this cheerfully until a row of musical Santas and snowmen are set up on a table a few feet away. Everyone passing feels the need to wind them up, so my class has to listen to "Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day" until I am on the verge of disembowelling their batteries.
George is prompted to tell me about his glory days as a department store Father Christmas, as he has done every week since the first leaves fell from the trees. At Christmas, he says, he always produces a large fretwork decoration for the centre's dining hall. This year it is Santa on a sleigh.
Weeks pass without any sign of his work. The decorations go up in the hall and there is no space left for a large plywood sleigh, so when the centre manager walks through, I ask him where it could be displayed. He gives me one of those funny looks. "Oh, he says that every year. We've never seen it yet".
By the end of term, the plywood Santa has not appeared, nor the wooden wheelbarrows, nor the dolls' houses, so vivid in George's imagination.
To develop speaking and listening skills, we have been discussing the students' Christmas wishes. It's fantasy time again: George wants to win the pools. Bill, despite his arthritis, wants to score the winning goal in the World Cup. Pat's reply to any question is "don't know", so I leave her to think about it and we move on to other topics.
I've forgotten about the list, when Pat suddenly announces she would like a teddy bear. I check, because her speech isn't too clear, and she confirms by holding her arms in a cradle and making a rocking movement.
The Christmas spirit catches up with me. On my way out of the day centre I stop at the soft toy stall. At least I can make one Christmas wish come true.
Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer