I wasn't particularly clever when I was at school. I was good at writing stories but not too great at spelling and I used a lot of slang. My teacher put great red rings round everything that irritated her so that my pages always looked as if they'd gone down with measles. (She'd probably still circle every second word in my stories!) I couldn't do any sort of sums and I was so useless at P.E. - the other kids begged not to have me on their team. I wasn't the sort of child who could be counted on in the classroom even in lessons I liked. I often daydreamed or read my book under the desk. I didn't ever win a single prize. I was never a Form Leader. I wasn't a Cloakroom Monitor or a Flower Monitor or even the Milk Monitor. But one magical Christmas I got to be a monitor at last.
We sent each other Christmas cards, posting them into a cardboard pillar-box painted scarlet in the foyer in front of the headteacher's study. The cards were collected up and on the last day of term they were handed out to every child. It was a bit worrying wondering if you'd get as many as your friends but lovely when you could set them all up on your desk and smile at your Santa and snowmen pictures.
We were a big junior school and enthusiastic card senders so the scarlet postbox was stuffed full after only a couple of days. The headteacher decided to appoint a Christmas Card Monitor. He picked me!
I had to undo the cardboard latch at the back of the postbox, empty all the cards into a special sack and then store them upstairs in a little room above the stage. I'd never been in this room before. It was crammed with old text books, tattered bean bags, deflating footballs - and a big tin trunk. I peeped inside and discovered purple velvet, gold brocade, starched white frills, black lace, satin heels - costumes from some long-ago school play.
The first day I simply stroked the velvet and tried on one satin shoe. The second day I dressed up in the purple crinoline and paraded around the room, playing at being a Victorian lady. I went back to the classroom so excited my cheeks were as red as the pillar-box. My teacher didn't notice but my friend Christine was sharper. She followed me the next day so I proudly showed her "my" costumes. We played at being princesses. Christine thought it would be fun to have a prince or two on the scene. We were friendly with two boys called Alan and David. Alan was Chrisine's boyfriend at first, and David was mine. David was okay - but Alan was funny, with fair hair and a lovely grin. We swore them to secrecy and they crept up the stairs with us. They raked through the trunk and discovered swords and helmets and silver foil armour.
Then we told Eileen who was bigger than us (and confided things that made our eyes pop) and Robert who was the class clown and made us giggle.
The six of us squashed into the small room and dressed up. I made up a weird play about a queen and two princesses and a couple of questing princes and their trusty steed (Robert wore the ass's costume from the Nativity play).
Eileen got bored after a day or so even though we let her wear the purple crinoline and Robert larked around too much and David wanted to play football and then Christine caught a heavy cold and stayed at home.
So one day it was just Alan and me. I was the prettiest purple princess and he was a solitary questing prince and when the bell went for the start of afternoon lessons he kissed me very quickly on the cheek before we went downstairs.
I didn't want Christmas ever to come the year I was the Christmas Card Monitor.
Things to do
After hearing the piece read aloud, read it to yourself a few times and discuss it with others.
Discussion points * The "voice": This account of a very happy time is all the more powerful because it contrasts with the opening paragraph. When you look back on your earlier life, what sticks in your mind as a happy time? Is it made more intense by comparison with less than happy times?
* Description and detail: Notice how the author lists the things in the little room, and then the things in the trunk. Listing can be a very effective way of providing description if adjectives are carefully chosen.
* Conveying feelings: The ending of this story evokes the intensity of play and the close relationships that develop between friends. The author enables us to infer exactly how she felt. Notice the effectiveness of the final line "I didn't want Christmas ever to come...".
This story may remind you of an occasion where you played with friends, which remains strong in your memory. Drama can help with composing: in a group, take turns to share your stories, then act them out together. When redrafting, think about how well you have used your first-hand experience.