Saved by St Audrey

4th August 2006 at 01:00
Sister Charity has recovered from her wee shock at the assembly, although Father Murphy was last seen deep in conversation with Sean's big sister - trying to save her soul, no doubt.

The summer holiday has fairly flown past, the memories fading as quickly as the tan I expensively acquired on my Girls Away trip to Minorca. Joan, Lizzie, Penny and I had a great time, despite the unwanted attentions of a group of Round Tablers from Hull, or should that be Hell? Round they certainly were. Under the table they certainly were - mostly.

I'm sitting here in a deserted office, surrounded by every conceivable form of paper communication. Flyers, circulars, forms, reports and glossy, self-congratulatory government publications. We are doing well in our best small country, aren't we?

The dreaded brown envelope. Not again, surely? I opened it up, and held my breath. Another inspection. Part of a sample. Why me? It ruined my holiday.

I cancelled the trip to visit Auntie Mabel in Jersey. I pulled out of Joan's walking weekend in the Cairngorms and wondered if this was divine punishment for my wee indiscretion at the Christmas "do".

I rang round the staff to break the news. Some were suicidal, some were sloshed; the rest were blissfully out of the country.

The school profile was fairly up to date. No problems there then. Documents weren't too bad. Some additions needed. Borrow Joan's most recent efforts.

She had borrowed them from Lizzie anyway. I would need some updating to the wardrobe. I had gained a bit of weight since our last inspection, and the wee black number was what my grannie would have called "ticht".

I spent the afternoon in Markies and, by the close of play, had acquired two suits, three blouses and one very risque skirt. Shoes were duly added for a total spend which must have been the equivalent of the gross national product of a Third World country.

Himself was duly oblivious to my predicament, with his attention firmly focused on the forthcoming pre-season tour of Orkney. Are there 15 rugby players on Orkney? Who cares?

I spent the next days in school, consuming endless cups of coffee, twitching and becoming more depressed by the minute. I started to have major self-doubts. I wanted to run away. Father Murphy said he would pray for me. I felt all the better for that.

It seemed so unfair. There I was, on my hard-earned holiday, and I was being forced into preparing for another charade, another game of Squeal or No Squeal, Family Misfortunes or Call My Bluff.

I lit a candle. I was getting desperate. A candle? What about a school fire? All documents lost. No evidence. My world was shattered. And then it happened. I was sitting in the staffroom, up to my knees in plans, forecasts, assessment results and reports. The tears were not far away.

Suddenly I heard heavenly voices. A shaft of the most brilliant sunlight came streaming in through the window and landed on my mobile phone.

I jumped when the ring tone started to play. I hesitated to answer, not recognising the number on display.

I swear I saw Audrey Hepburn's face in my cinnamon Danish pastry and heard Jennifer Jones telling me to answer.

"Hello, Bridget McElroy speaking . . ." The voice on the other end was hesitant, apologetic and, quite frankly, grovelling.

"This is HMI Ferguson here, Mrs McElroy. I've been trying to contact you at home for some time. It's about the inspection . . ."

I felt nauseous. I lost it. I was being threatened. Fight or flight? I fought. "Mr Ferguson, this is absolutely ridiculous. I'm supposed to be on holiday, and I've had to spend days writing b**** policies, reports, returns and fill in forms for you lot. Why St Pats - again? Why don't you just leave us b**** well alone?"

Silence. Cough. Splutter.

"Well, that's why I wanted to get in touch with you, Mrs McElroy. There's been a dreadful error, I'm afraid. Computers. We've got the wrong St Pats.

We are supposed to be going to St Pats in Harvies-toun. I'm so sorry for any inconvenience caused."

The heavenly voices reached a great and awe-inspiring chorus. I'll swear Audrey winked at me.

Later that day, I went to the chapel to reflect on my escape from the Suited Inquisition. I lit several candles and, for the first time in ages, gave thanks.

". . . and thank you for the two new suits, which fit perfectly, the three blouses, one of which I will now return as it is too tarty, the risque skirt and, above all, the beautiful Italian shoes.

"Forgive me my profane outbursts towards Mr Ferguson and my spending of cash which rightly belongs to my awful wedded husband."

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