Spell as a rank outsider
In a spirit of ecumenicalism, he invited every school - private sector included - to attend his little show. He decided to stage this extravaganza in the town hall, suitably decorated for the festive season, but still carrying the pungent odours of stale beer, equally stale perfume, and more than a hint of the aftermath of the previous evening's tribute night party.
What possessed him to select his less than able head of service, Teflon John, as the announcer, I'll never know. John was a self-made man who worshipped his maker, and knew as much about primary education as I do about the internal workings of a nuclear power station.
He was one of the breed who have ruined the service. He was interested in little except his own career advancement, and he was seen at all the right events, fawning over councillors, laughing at their little stories( if not always in the right places ) and ensuring his back was well and truly covered. He had always fancied himself as a presenter. No, correct that. He had always fancied himself.
Anyway, on to the event. Why did they have to stage this on the day before we went back to school? We had a job finding anyone to represent St Pat's, such was the poor quality of this year's class, but Gregor was probably our best.
We arrived in good time, but I must admit the effects of last night's bottle of Chardonnay were still present. I felt giggly, almost oblivious to the surroundings. Joan, too, looked decidedly "relaxed". We laughed at the wee swots from the private schools poring over their word lists. Parents combed their children's hair, adjusted ties, straightened braces and fretted. No sign of Gregor.
Teflon flounced on to the stage, flicking the Farah Fawcett curls with the well-manicured and heavily-bejewelled hands. He called on the contestants to come forward. Still no Gregor. I searched the audience for any of ours.
Hello Judy. Hello Christopher. Hello Brian. Brian? A little so-and-so, yes.
A monkey, yes. But he could spell. Well, after a fashion. Well, better than Sheila the Student. Brian was duly recruited. He was reasonably dressed. He would do. I explained the rules. Brian had seen it on TV. He seemed to know the format.
Teflon John loved this. In the spotlight at last. The director introduced the event. Mrs Director was sitting in the front row. She didn't want to be there. Nor did any of us. Joan reached into her handbag and I'll swear she had a hip-flask in there. She was very relaxed.
The draw was made. I could have guessed it. First on was St Pat's. Brian took his place at the rostrum. Teflon minced forward. He explained the rules and the procedure. The director's faith in John was unquestionable.
He proudly looked around the assembled ranks for signs of approval of "his" man. This was his beloved pal in whom he was well pleased.
Brian seemed unfazed by the posturing of the peacock. "Philately". "Whit?"
"Philately". "Eh?" "Phil-a-telly". Brian looked bewildered. "Fill a telly."
I cringed. Joan swigged. Mrs Director sneered. Teflon looked exasperated.
Come on Brian, get one right - please. The boy did well, managing to rattle through "xenophobia", "hyacinth" and "rhythm". Good on you, Brian.
Now what I forgot to say was that the bold head of service had a slight speech impediment. We had all learned to cope with our Caweer Weview, our Census Weturns and our Test Wesults. Teflon rubbed his hands, as he spoke the final word.
Brian looked perplexed. He looked down at his shoes. He covered his eyes from the spotlights, as he tried to seek my permission to answer. "I'll need to ask Mrs McElroy to see if it's all right to answer", he blurted out, and I recognised that look in his eyes. I had seen it so many times before. Brian was about to do something naughty.
"Come on now, Brian, you can't go asking your teacher for the answer," said the coiffure, in a condescending, arrogant tone usually reserved for interviewing unsuspecting probationers.
"Can I say it?" asked Brian, clearly embarrassed.
"Come on now, time's running out." "W-A-N-K-E-R". Silence. Stifled giggles.
Snorts. Guffaws. Hilarity. Chaos. Pandemonium.
The whole place descended into uncontrolled laughter. Teflon John broke down. He had to leave the stage.
The director leapt on the stage, to restore order. "No, Brian, it's R-A-N-C-O-U-R, rancour."
I asked Joan for the hip-flask.