The night Santa called it quits

23rd December 1994 at 00:00
It was Christmas Eve in Snow land. A light flurry of snow swept across the school yard. Santa Claus looked at his watch. Only the governors of Snowland School would dream of having their annual governors' meeting at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve. Why he had agreed to be chairman of governors he would never know.

"Well, may we start?" he began. "I've got to go on my round at midnight, and I promised Mrs Claus I'd drop in for a bite to eat before I set off." The motley assortment of governors slowly abandoned their lukewarm tea and over-baked macaroons. "They were a technology project," the head said apologetically, as the better-prepared governors discarded their curled-up sandwiches and calcified cakes and reached for their Rennies. He glared daggers at Mr Oldfield, the head of technology, who was also a staff governor.

There was no love lost between Oldfield and the head. He saw the head as an oleaginous creep who smarmed round the governors to feather his own nest. The head in turn saw him as an unreconstructed woodwork teacher, whose vision of technology was a string cutter. "Don't blame me squire," Oldfield muttered, "I never wanted cookery in our bloody faculty anyway. It should have stayed in home economics where it belonged."

"May we start then please?" Santa Claus repeated. The sociology of being a school governor had always baffled him. As an outsider he found himself at the centre of intrigues, manoeuvres and nuances he barely understood. "Item l," he began. "Apologies. Do we have any apologies?" There were none. Sadly that would mean he had to contend with Mrs Plant who fancied herself as an expert on constitutional law.

"Item 2. Minutes of our last meeting," he continued. "May I sign these as a correct record?" "Mr Chairman!" Oh no, here it comes, Santa thought to himself as Mrs Plant launched her first fusillade. "Are you going to take the Office for Standards in Education inspection under 'matters arising', or as a substantive item under 'future issues' later?" she declaimed in the voice that had shattered a thousand icebergs. She sat back and beamed the smug look with which she always patronised the governors when she thought she had made a telling point.

"We'll take OFSTED later," Santa replied, his stomach beginning to protest at the indigestible cupcake he had foolishly consumed before the meeting. Outside the window something rustled. It was the reindeer getting restless as the snow thickened. There was Dancer and Prancer, the two lead reindeer, and Wally and Plonker, the two OFSTED inspectors, who graded all the chimneys as "above", "below" or "at" the national average, and helped pull the "generally satisfactory" sledge around the world.

"I wonder if we can move Item 12 up the agenda," the head oiled. "It's an important item and I wouldn't want it neglected by coming late in the evening. " Small wonder. With his usual self-interest at heart, the little twerp was as transparent as ever. Item 12 was about performance-related bonuses for the head and deputies. There had never been any difficulty casting the annual production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs since he had been appointed. The part of Dopey cast itself.

Santa sighed. He really must have been mad to take on the chairmanship. "Yes, we'll take it after your report," he said. "In fact perhaps you could give us your report now."

The head preened himself. As ever this was the moment he had been waiting for and had dress-rehearsed a hundred times.

There followed an intricately crafted fantasy that told of unparalleled achievement. In a nutshell, the school ran perfectly and the head was a resounding success. His teacher colleagues were invisible in this orgy of self-congratulation. Mr Oldfield's neck got redder as the saga unfolded. Unable to restrain himself, he burst in with, "I think the staff might just have made the odd contribution, Mr Chairman." Santa nodded. "Yes, of course."

"Mr Chairman!" Mrs Plant's scalpel voice jerked Santa out of the somnolence into which he had sunk during the head's panegyric. "May I ask if the school has fulfilled all the attainment targets and programmes of study of the statutory Orders of the national curriculum?" Mrs Plant sank back, swelling with pride, oblivious to the sheer meaninglessness of her question which had hit the meeting like a stun grenade. She had spent half an hour reading national curriculum documents to handcraft that one.

"I wonder if we could hold that most interesting and well-conceived question and just slide seamlessly into Item 12 now that I've concluded my report, " the head cooed. "You see, I think my report shows that I have met all the performance criteria for ..."

"What about the OFSTED report?" Mr Oldfield boomed. "OFSTED report?" Santa asked, thrown by the head's deft footwork and Mr Oldfield's belligerence.

"Yes, the bloody OFSTED report!" Oldfield repeated. "Basically it said that the staff were running their socks off and that the school management left much to be desired." The governors shuffled uncomfortably.

"I'm glad you mentioned that," Mrs Plant intoned. "I've been looking at the OFSTED inspection handbook, and on page S6, paragraph three, of the salmon-coloured pages."

Santa Claus closed his eyes. As the glassware in the room shattered piece by piece at the intensity of Mrs Plant's torrent, his headache worsened. Why had he agreed to become chairman? Why did the head love himself so much? If he gave him his very best present, would even that make Mr Oldfield happy? Would the biggest sack on his sledge be an effective gag for Mrs Plant? Could he stand being chairman of governors any longer?

As the snow swirled ever more densely outside, he made his decision. Next year he would resign and concentrate on his annual trek round the world. At least that was manageable. And he could see an end to it.

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