You can get away with a lot as a teacher. Wear New Look, leave your Tupperware in the sink, or "accidentally" score crack cocaine at a Devon nightclub, and the chances are that someone, somewhere, will feel sorry for you. But if you forget your department's tea and biscuits then you are on your own. Failing to supply them with the regulatory minimum of two packs of half-coated chocolate digestives and a box of Typhoo is a form of professional suicide.
If it's a first slip, you might be forgiven. But if you are a repeat offender then you are looking at a P45. You will probably end up in Hull on an incentivised package which you will squander in Iceland because there is nothing better to do there on a Friday night than consume your own bodyweight in microwaved mini pizzas and jumbo tempura prawns. The reason the cash-rich "Hull Offer" exists in the first place is to fund the gastric bands that their teachers need after spending their evenings watching Escape to the Country while simultaneously escaping into plates of hydrogenated fat. It is no coincidence that Hull is a typo for hell; just look how cheerful it made Philip Larkin.
Teachers need biscuits. A daily fix of a custard cream is all it takes to keep most of us up and running. Last week I had a particularly tough session with my Year 11s. The class were more interested in watching Kylie Lawson shove a tampon up her nose than in listening to me. While I struggled to regain control, the thought of my mid-morning snack kept me going. One thing about my department is that we never stint on sweetmeats. While some schools teach to the test, mine teaches to the biscuit: we prefer an open tin to an open question.
But unfortunately, on this particular day, the cupboard was bare. This was because the biscuit monitor was an "educated urbanite": a health-conscious BMI-obsessed baby on a mission to lower our cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, if a colleague's ribs are bigger than her breasts, don't trust her with a supermarket trolley. This well-meaning ascetic had wandered in with a skeletal frond of grapes (I've seen bigger haemorrhoids) and a pack of organic, salt-free rice cakes. If she had her way, we would spend breaktime sitting on Pilates balls, flagellating ourselves with wholewheat spaghetti.
Next week is better - it's the turn of our aspiring single. She lives with wall-to-wall Cath Kidston and two cats named after romantic poets. Everything she bakes is irresistible; her stories of how Keats nearly fell into the cake mix, less so. The tastiest treats, however, come from the menopausal main-scale teachers who expose their blue-collar roots by bringing in pickled onion Monster Munch and sugar-free, aspartame-laced orange squash which they refer to as "juice", and count as one of their five a day.
There is only one thing more stressful than choosing biscuits for your colleagues and that is picking out their Secret Santa gift. Every year, the pressure is on to identify someone else's heart's desire and bring it in, attractively wrapped, for under a tenner. Last year I got a deputy head and had to pretend I had found her Creme de la Mer in a catalogue clearance store. Yesterday I got lucky: I drew the Monster Munch teacher. Kia-Ora gift sets here I come.
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.