Christmas in a primary school is delightful, and something I really missed in my first retirement year. The concerts, the carols, the parties, not to mention the delight on the nursery children's faces as Santa enters the room. But I don't miss the Christmas raffle, because the first time we organised one it became something of a nightmare.
A raffle seemed a good way to raise money for our Christmas activities, so parents and staff were invited to donate unwanted games, toys and books. We soon discovered that many parents had used the request to clear out anything they didn't want: a ball of wool with two knitting needles, jigsaws with pieces missing, a toy garage with no cars, a crayoning set minus the crayons, a xylophone with three notes and a pile of 78 rpm gramophone records. It took us days to sort the wheat from the chaff, but fortunately the staff came up trumps and we soon had many gifts we knew the children would enjoy.
I sent a letter to the parents, carefully explaining how the raffle would work. Every child would receive a line of five tickets, for which they would pay 50p if they wanted to enter. The child would keep half of each ticket, write their name on the other half and hand the written half to secretary Sandra, who would pop it in the raffle box. What could be simpler? Well, in those days my optimism knew no bounds and I assumed that parents read the letters I sent home.
During the following week, some parents rang to ask how much money they should send in, some said their children insisted the tickets were free, others asked if entering the raffle was obligatory and those who didn't celebrate Christmas were annoyed because they felt they shouldn't have been sent tickets in the first place.
And then there were parents like Alfie's mum, whose life was devoted to her son. She was determined that as far as the school raffle was concerned, Alfie wasn't going to go without. Every day Alfie came into school with another two pounds for tickets, until I realised that it might have been sensible to restrict the amount that the children could buy. Nevertheless, the money was mounting up and we had soon accumulated enough to pay for all the festivities.
On raffle day, we set the gifts on tables at the front of the hall and the classes trooped in excitedly. Sandra stood behind the tables with a pen and pad in case a winner was away, and the children watched eagerly as I pulled a folded ticket from the box. By the time I got to the third ticket I realised that Alfie was likely to win everything on the table unless I applied a little sleight of hand to the ticket selection.
Then, as the winners came to choose a gift, most hovered interminably while the general noise in the hall gradually reached unacceptable levels. As the raffle wore on, several Reception children burst into tears when they realised they weren't winning anything, not helped by the fact that I couldn't read the scribbled names on some of the tickets and others had no names at all. The event rapidly escalated into an agonising endurance test.
The following year we organised a second-hand toy fair instead. It was a huge success and every child left with something. Even if it was just a ball of wool with a couple of knitting needles.
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: email@example.com.