That little blue number . . .

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Back to work on Monday. How can I face them after that night out?

Camaraderie? Bonding? Collegiality? Or just an excuse for a night out? It was my first Staff Christmas Night Out as a headteacher.

The "girls", and I use the term in its loosest sense, had chosen to go to the local hotel's Bring A Party To A Party Night. Everyone seemed to be from the Child Support Agency or from car dealerships. We were promised Rod Stewart and Tina Turner, both from the upmarket parts of Bo'ness, and whose facial resemblance to the pop icons was as remote as the Jannie's to George Clooney.

Little black numbers were more Matalan than Harvey Nics, and there were those who had ordered their tickets for the do as early as July. I was given a withering look when I enquired about bringing partners, and it was obvious from the beginning of the fateful week that my presence at "their" night was merely being tolerated.

The week passed without major mishap, although the primary 7 disco nudged the limits of decency. Some of the girls looked like something from downtown Bangkok, while their male counterparts had raided the after-shave counter at Semi-Chem.

The Nativity, or Naivety as ours should have been called, featured every stereotypical irreverence: Widdling shepherds, coughing angels, wise men with head-lice and a Herod in the early stages of chicken-pox. The minister was his usual self at the end of term assembly: pleasant, pious, and ponderous.

The traditional unwanted gifts of pens, diaries, bath cubes and calendars were showered on me by children and grateful parents alike. I wonder if my "butler" could perhaps find a home for them? Talking of my rock, my beloved was going to the Rugby Club dinner. I would be lucky if I saw him before Twelfth Night, but he agreed to let me run him across to their club-house, which would try to minimise the damage of the evening.

The hotel was bouncing when I eventually arrived. The lists of firms in attendance included a few well-known names, many of the usual suspects, and two which almost made me leave. The council's education department was bad enough, but the education inspectorate? Joy to all men? I think not.

Should I go home and borrow my sister's wig? Could I buy a pair of sunglasses from the 24-hour Tesco? Why here, why my night out?

Before I had a chance to gather my composure, or make an excuse, Ina, the cleaner, showed up.

"Bridget hen, we're a' bleezin! Ma heid's spinnin' and ah'm awa' tae the lavvie!" Quite why she had to impart this wisdom to me, I will never know, but at least no one had seen her, or heard her. Wrong!

"It's Mrs McElroy, isn't it?", enquired a small, insignificant man, who I failed to recognise."Hugh McDonald."

Pause. I looked lost. He repeated his name, but my memory failed to function. Was he an elder from the church I had attended all these years ago? A bank manager, an undertaker, a chiropodist? I thought I could see him in a white coat. Dentist? Gynaecologist? Grocer?

"I'm sorry, I can't..."

My sentence was interrupted by Ina's return from her visit. Another slap on my still red shoulders. "It's pound;20 kitty, hen!"she shouted as she fell into the revolving doors and almost flattened an incoming octogenarian.

"Hugh McDonald, HMI, we met at a seminar on special needs."

My special needs were to be found at the smoky, crowded bar where Ina was attempting to balance a huge tray of drinks.

I declined Ina's offer of a pint of Stella, and her equally absurd offer of a quick kiss under the mistletoe with Jim the Citroen dealer.

I looked at the table plan. Thankfully the directorate and the education staff were sitting across the room, well out of view.

No such luck with Her Majesty's Finest. Table 12, right next to ours.

As the Glayva flowed, I became almost immune to the conversation from their table.I caught the odd word - "assessment," "indicators", "value-added" - but it was more than drowned out by the raucous laughter from my lot.

The jokes got bluer, as did the veins on my neck. Ina fell under the table. I don't think Jim was there.

My head was spinning. Their Head was spinning. It got dark early that night.

Bridget McElroy

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