Goodbye, Mrs Doom...
Things are looking up at Cold Comfort Primary School. It's still not a pretty sight - crouching there in its weed-strewn yard on the corner of Sink Street - but cosmetic improvements will come later. Miss Flora Poste-Holder, the newly-appointed language co-ordinator, knows that more funda-mental changes must be wrought if Cold Comfort is to emerge from a quarter century of neglect.
She has begun by instituting a Literacy Hour, and Miss Elphine of Year 2 is delighted at how quickly her children are learning big words like "phoneme" and "prefix". Higher up the school, Mr Seth and Mr Reuben no longer feel they have to do class teaching with the door locked, and are happily introducing group reading - though one set of six books between two classes doesn't go very far.
Flora has also persuaded the two promoted staff, whose internecine disputes have echoed through Cold Comfort School for the past 25 years, to take early retirement. The deputy head, Mr Amos - wild-eyed, grammatically correct and never without a copy of First Aid in English - is now convinced that his time has come. He's going to buy one of those Ford Galaxies and travel round the country with a roadshow on advanced clause analysis.
Miss Judith Lovechild, head of infants - a breathy, bosomy lady with a penchant for egg-boxes - realises her time is over and has decided to retire to Cornwall and write real books.
The parents and governors so far approve of the new regime. Over a pint in the Stick and Carrot, they applaud the departure of "the Old Uns" and animatedly discuss the home-school contract for reading drawn up by Miss Poste-Holder. The general feeling is that their children may benefit more from learning to read than from watching endless episodes of Australian soap operas. They're going to give it a go.
Miss Poste-Holder has even made headway with the headmistress, Mrs Ada Doom, who has been locked in her office for 10 years - since she saw something nasty in the stock cupboard. On first stepping over the office threshold, Flora was somewhat taken aback by the grandeur of Mrs Doom's apartments: state-of-the-art office furniture, oriental rugs and wall-hangings, banks of sophisticated computers, Faberge eggs.
But then Mrs Doom explained how important Total Quality Management was, and how productively she'd spent the past 10 years - writing the definitive set of Perfect Policy Documents - and Flora understood. She also understood what Mrs Doom had seen in the stock cupboard all those years ago - something so threatening to her management plan that the shock had sent her into her 10-year retreat. It was stock.
Though it's not yet been announced to the governors, Flora has persuaded Mrs Doom that her impeccable management talents are wasted on Cold Comfort. Through friends in high places, she has found her a sinecure at the Department for Education and Employment, where she's expected to do very well. Mr Reuben will soon be appointed acting headteacher, and Flora will hold a car boot sale of the office paraphernalia, some of the proceeds from which will secure about 30 more sets of group reading books.
So the only problem remaining at Cold Comfort Primary is the caretaker, Old Ezekiel Woodbottom. Flora Poste-Holder knew from the first that he would be the most difficult nut to crack. Old Ezekiel has been at Cold Comfort for as long as anyone can remember. The story goes that he was once a young tearaway, though this is difficult to square with his present appearance - rolling eyes, waving arms, lugubrious expression - and his wildly apocalyptic turn of phrase. As he pushes his broom around the playground he shrieks to the four winds, and anyone else who might be listening: "There's allus been problems at Cold Comfort and there allus will be."
But things are looking up at Cold Comfort Primary. Mr Reuben and Flora are watching the old man from the staffroom window. They turn away and pensively sip their coffee.
"I don't care how long he's been with the school," says Mr Reuben. "He just gives the wrong impression altogether."
"Yes," agrees Flora. "He'll have to go."