HMI's horror show

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Why did they want to come back? The dreaded envelope arrived again. Her Majesty's finest wanted to revisit the school and do a survey of parents.

They said it was part of their review of parent organisations, and they wanted to visit a school board meeting and a PTA function. They might as well watch the emulsion dry in the staffroom, such is the thrill factor of an evening with Reggie and company.

The PTA were all right, but I must admit I had sort of lost touch with their activities in recent times. I found the debates about sandwich fillings and the endless poring over toy catalogues somewhat lacking in intellectual rigour. Rigor mortis more like.

Mr McGregor was making the rounds again, and he had met Reggie on the full inspection visit. The board meeting lived down to expectations. An agenda that was a great cure for insomnia delivered a meeting that certainly shortened the winter. The peacocks strutted their stuff, dropped names, posed, pontificated and achieved nothing.

Mr McGregor tried hard, bless him, to engage them in some sort of debate about the current issues in Scottish education, but their main interest was in securing a place for their offspring in certain well-known schools some miles to the south of our border. Mr McGregor despaired. Reggie gave me a good press, and said I was a good headteacher, considering. Considering! The cheek of the man!

Reggie invited the HMI for a "debrief" in the Crown. He declined, blaming his absence on the need to attend to an ailing wife.

We met Mr M with his spouse in the Covenanters' Arms. He must have married young, or aged prematurely, or both. I was reminded of Scotland the What? and the exhortation to "get yer ain niece!"

As they say in the tabloids, he made his excuses and left, but only after having the good grace to buy Jennifer and me a drink. He had asked me earlier when the next PTA meeting was and what the agenda would be. I admitted I didn't know.

The next morning, I asked little Carrie in P5 to find out from her mother the necessary details for onward transmission. Carrie's mum, Irene, was the linchpin of the PTA and was a really nice person. She had organised countless fund-raising ventures and raised thousands of pounds, not always spent wisely in my opinion but impressive none the less.

Carrie came to my office and said she had lost the note from Mummy, but was to tell Mrs McElroy they were holding a summer fayre in the staffroom next Thursday night at 7.30pm.

Mr M had asked that he meet the PTA on his own, in order to gain a "full and frank" picture of parent involvement. He asked me to provide an outline picture of the group, their role in the school and their relationship with the school board. That was easy.

Cowboys and Indians. Cavalry and Apaches. Take your pick. They hated each other with a vengeance, and Reggie and Irene had as much chance of agreeing as Tom and Jerry. I gave Mr M instructions and wished him well. I never saw him again.

I had assumed that all was well. but when I asked Irene how it went, she burst out laughing, couldn't control herself and had to leave the room. I then phoned the secretary of the PTA, Judith, and she too collapsed into uncontrollable laughter. What on earth had happened?

My last mole was Lizzie, the treasurer. Lizzie owed me a favour or two. I covered up her little "indiscretion" at the last Halloween Disco, when I interrupted a passionate clinch with Jim the Jannie. Lizzie too, was beyond redemption. She simply choked with laughter and had to hang up.

My curiosity was aroused. Later that day, I discovered the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Mr M had arrived at the appointed hour to find the staffroom in a state of eager anticipation. He found an excellent spread of refreshments, but was at a loss to explain the strong whiff of stale perfume, cheap white wine and excessive use of peppermints. He detected that his presence wasn't entirely welcomed, and felt decidedly ill at ease.

Then a hand reached into the room, and switched off the lights. A loud version of "Tonight's the Night" was heard coming from the corridor, and then it happened. When the lights went up, there was Elspeth the cleaner resplendent in red basque and red suspenders and stockings. She gyrated slowly - well, considering her arthritis, very slowly round the heating pipes before collapsing into Mr M's lap.

The poor man almost fainted but, before he could say a word, in came Gina, Jimmy's mum, dressed like a Parisian whore on speed. For "summer fayre" read "Ann Summers fair".

Thanks, Carrie.

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