Shamelessly Sheila

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Students? Who needs them? Sheila's a nice enough lassie, but I could have done without a placement in the lead-up to Christmas. Flu, toothache, food poisoning - what next? Is this my punishment for thinking unkind thoughts about the director at the last heads' meeting?

Well, he did go on a bit, and he is such a snob. What's wrong with a bit of recognition, acknowledgment and praise for his troops? Not for us the endless round of hobnobbing, opening lunches, initiative launches and ministerial and councillor sycophancy.

Anyway, I had managed to keep things on an even keel. My ban on carols throughout November was successful for the second year in succession, although I thought I heard a chord of Good King Wenceslas when I drove into the car park after my dental appointment.

Sheila was keen to have "her" class do the stage decoration for the primary 7 concert finale. She was a bit of an "arty" type, believed in pupil expression, spontaneity and the innocence of childhood. She'd grow out of that in time. She had done well with a difficult class, including my friend, Brian, who unsurprisingly had lapsed from his altar boy duties, almost as soon as the last of his Holy Roman candles had flickered and died. Her approach to marking had left a lot to be desired, and she was keen not to hurt feelings. Bless.

She had a wee weakness on Gozintaes, as we call long division in these parts, and, as I had to correct her spelling on several occasions, I was beginning to wonder where she had gone to school. I looked at her CV. Well, that explained that. Sheila was a product of the "High" (pronounced Hay), trading on past glories, living in the past and conning the community into thinking it was the best school in the town.

Jenny had given Sheila a fair bit of freedom with the display work for the Christmas Spectacular, but gave strict instructions not to disturb her beloved hula hoops. They were spider's webs, Catherine wheels, snowflakes and anything else Jenny wanted them to be. Night after night, Sheila and a few selected waifs and strays stayed behind to complete her Sistine Chapel.

I must confess to seeing little of her efforts, but the impression was given that all would be well on the night. Her classroom was like the inside of a Chinese laundry, huge sheets hanging from the rafters - and, unfortunately, more than a few drips of paint on the carpet below.

The wrath of Mrs McGilligan had been incurred on several occasions. "Look at a' that mess, ah'm no supposed to run around efter her and her weans cleanin' a' that stoor and muck. Ah'm a cleaner, ye ken!" Accountability, Job Purpose, Responsibility? Not for Oor Jessie.

Cometh the Noel, cometh the comeuppance. The hall is full. The director and the current Mrs Director grace us with their presence. Mrs Director doesn't seem to want to be among her subjects tonight. Jenny thought she seemed distant, aloof and arrogant. They say some men choose partners who resemble themselves. I couldn't comment.

The parents rolled in. Cameras flashed. Father McGregor arrived and greeted his flock. The primary 1s waved to their mums and their "uncles". The occasional dad was there, anxiously checking to see if the concert would finish in time for the start of the Celtic game on Sky.

Joseph and Mary were picking their noses, while the Angel looked in need of a toilet stop before he told Mary to fear not. I feared. The innkeeper kept scratching his head. It seemed infectious. The donkey, too, started scratching. So did Balthazar. And Melchior.

Mrs Prentice! That woman! She was combing their hair at Tuesday's rehearsal with her own comb. It was going to be a Nit-ivity Play. Their heads were alive with the sound of scratching. I squirmed. I could feel a migraine coming on.

The little ones did well, but the incontinent angel left a trail for the others to follow. I didn't need Emma to shout into the nearest microphone:

"Please Miss, Stuart's wet himsel' again." I laughed it off, as Jenny rushed him off to the little angels' room.

The usual run of class performances followed, and then Sheila came out from behind the curtains to introduce her "little show". The dress was too short, the top too revealing. It certainly kept the dads and "uncles" focused for two minutes. To tumultuous applause, and the occasional wolf-whistle, she left the stage. The curtains opened. My mouth opened. I wanted the floor to open.

There in 6ft letters all across the stage was the text: "Gory To God In The High St. And On Earth Peas And Good Will To All Men."

My report on Sheila has to be done tomorrow.

Bridget McElroy

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