"WHY DO the governors have to meet on Christmas Eve?" Santa Claus asked his annual question, not expecting an answer, more out of frustration.
"You know why, dear," Mrs Claus replied. "The head likes to hand round the mince pies, give everyone a sense of community." Santa nodded. "I suppose so."
Like Mrs Claus he knew the real answer. Snowland School governors met on Christmas Eve because the head liked to pour sherry down their throats until they agreed to pay him a performance-related bonus. With a few million miles to cover and billions of presents to drop off, Santa had to stay sober. He could watch the dynamics of it, able to see each move very clearly.
Santa trudged slowly to Snowland School. Uriah Heep was waiting at the door. "Good evening, chairman," he oiled. "Good evening, headmaster," Santa replied. "Nice crisp evening for you," the head went on, "Can I get you a schooner of sherry, help warm you on your travels?" Santa declined. The chairman of Snowland School governors in court for being drunk in charge of a sledge would not be a good example to the children.
"I think the main issue is clear," the head announced. "It's agenda item 4, my proposal for two Advanced Skills Teacher posts." Santa wondered how the cunning blighter would slip his own case into the agenda.
By the time they reached item 4, empty sherry bottles adorned the table. Most governors were either merry and giggling, or sleepily compliant. Mr Hardcastle, the teacher governor, was roaring drunk.
"Item 4," Santa announced. The head preened himself. "I should like to propose Mrs Scattergood and Mr Jenkins for our two Advanced Skills posts," he began. "Both are excellent and both have the endorsement of Mr Clarkson,Snowland's chief adviser, who has watched them teach."
"Cobblers!" The peaceful alcoholic haze was punctured by Mr Hardcastle's rude interjection. "That's cobblers," he went on. "Elspeth Scattergood and Claude Jenkins our two best teachers? Don't make me laugh."
Santa tried to stem the flow, but Mr Hardcastle was like a runaway juggernaut. "Elspeth Scattergood is our only graduate maths teacher and she wants to start a family," Mr Hardcastle thundered. "This is to stop her leaving. It's like a contraceptive pill."
There was more. "Claude Jenkins is the last physics teacher left on this planet and he's been offered a job in industry, so this is just a bribe to keep him. And as for Clarkson, well, he may be Snowland's chief adviser, but he couldn't tell an elephant from a hedgehog."
The head made a mental note to move Mr Hardcastle to the top of his hit list, next time the school had to take a redundancy. "I'd like to point out," he intoned, regaining his composure, "that the Advanced Skills Teacher grade is specially designed to reward good teachers, so they can earn themselves a decent salary. And that leads neatly to my next and most important point. "
There was a slightly over-eager note in the head's voice. Santa recognised the signals well, so he switched on his finely tuned palm-top electronic crap detector. It started to give out a high-pitched whine, which soon degenerated into a low moan, before finally turning into a shapeless glob of plastic and wires, expiring completely.
The head's killer stroke was not long coming. "I wonder if the governors could also find it in their way to recognise my own substantial contribution to the school with a performance-related bonus. Shall we say Pounds 5,000? Ah I see a few empty sherry glasses. Please raise your hand if you'd like a top-up. "
A forest of hands clutched the air. "It looks like that's carried pretty unanimously," the head pronounced, cleverly fusing his salary proposal with the drinks orders. Unwilling to miss a free snort, even Mr Hardcastle's hand was held aloft.
The head replenished the eagerly proffered glasses, before getting out the mince pies. "I do think a glass or two of sherry and a mince pie brings us together, don't you Mr Chairman?" A look of triumph filled his face.
Santa stared longingly out of the window. He couldn't wait to get on his round. "Is Christmas all about money nowadays?" people asked him every year. Never mind Christmas, he mused. What about education?