Festive fuss puts tarnish on the tinsel
Nevertheless, as we began the Christmas preparations, I wondered what parents would find to complain about this year.
The religious complainants I'm used to: "I'd like Cheryl withdrawn from Christmas activities," says Mrs Stebbin. "We don't celebrate it, you see."
I steer Mrs Stebbin into my room. "We teach the children tolerance of everybody's beliefs," I say. "The curriculum covers many religions, Christianity being one of them." She nods. "Yes, well, I'm a tolerant person, but I still want Cheryl put in another classroom when her teacher's talking about Christmas."
I explain that this isn't at all practical. All the classes are working on Christmas activities, so perhaps Cheryl should be kept at home? Inwardly, I know the local authority wouldn't support my advice, but then the local authority doesn't have to shuffle children around to prevent their minds from being tainted from the mere mention of the word "Christmas".
By the time we get to parent number six, I'm a trifle irritated. "I don't want Femi in the concert," says Mrs Amit two days before the show. "It's against our religion." Femi has been rehearsing enthusiastically, the concert isn't religious and I simply can't believe that she hasn't mentioned it at home. I explain that Femi will be bitterly disappointed, and after heavy bargaining Mrs Amit says, "Well, perhaps she could just hold the curtain... so long as she doesn't look at the stage."
Mrs Banner doesn't want her child in the concert either. "We don't like Jeremiah drinking at the poisoned well," she says mysteriously. "But hang on," I say. "Jeremiah's just bought a ticket for the Christmas disco."
"Yes," she says. "He can go to the disco and the parties, but he can't join in the concert. It's against our religion."
Obviously Jeremiah, adept at twisting his mother around his little finger, has been assessing our Christmas agenda and selecting the items he fancies most. I tell his mother, forcefully, that if you're in for one part of Christmas, you're in for the rest as well.
Even the Christmas dinner has its moments. "I don't want custard put on Samuel's mince pie," says his mother. "It'll make him vomit. And can you put his jelly in a separate bowl?"
But nothing could match the problems that arose from Bethany, a tiny five-year-old, performing as a fairy. In the front row of the audience sat a group of mothers whose hobby is criticising the school. As Bethany flitted across the stage in her pretty tinselled outfit, they noticed that a bit of her chest was showing. After the concert, they registered their disgust to Bethany's child-minder, and then via their mobile phones to Bethany's parents, who hadn't attended the concert. I'm surprised they didn't tell me they'd just been doing their public duty, in case the hall was full of paedophiles.
Which made me doubly cautious at the disco when a small Year 3 child, worn out by the excitement, came and snuggled against me as I sat selling crisps. Oh soddit, I thought, and I put my arm around her. She fell happily asleep. Sometimes you just have to ignore the stupidity around you.
Mike Kent's book, The Rabbit's Laid An Egg, Miss!, is published by Trentham Books. To buy it at the discount price of pound;12 plus pound;1.50 pp, contact email@example.com or telephone: 01782 745567
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary in Camberwell, south London