Near the end of the autumn term, Miss Fraught’s classroom was ravaged by Storm Brianna. If her class topic hadn’t been called “Forces in Nature” it would have been hard to see the funny side. The devastation was complete. Artwork torn down, desks and chairs uprooted, bookcases toppled and pencil pots scattered to the four corners. On the plus side, taking down her Christmas displays had never been easier.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I like it now that Christmas is over and done with. Nothing is more satisfying than stuffing the remains of festive excess into black sacks and squashing them into an overfull dustbin. By lunchtime on 2 January, our tree had its baubles removed, its fairy lights extinguished and its end confirmed. It is now languishing at the end of the driveway awaiting the arrival of The Grim Chipper.
I am of the opinion that C S Lewis had it the wrong way round in his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The worst thing is not for it to be always winter and never Christmas, but for it to be always Christmas. For reasons that are entirely commercial, the festive season starts as soon as the summer holidays are over, jingles on interminably and ends in a frenzy of disappointment. It’s not cheap, it’s rarely cheerful and it doesn’t lead to spring; it leads to January.
If December is the cruellest month, January runs a close second. It’s too cold, too dreary and too much like the morning after the Christmas holiday ends. Sobriety and Remorse (like enforcers for a backstreet money lender) whisper dark threats into your shell-like ear. “Seasonal excess comes at a price, my son, and now it’s payback time.”
The chancellor might be satisfied that austerity is good for the nation’s finances, but, unlike Brianna, he doesn’t have to personally live with the consequences. I accept the argument that families in crisis should resist the temptation to choose bargain booze and a 72in plasma over warm winter clothes and decent meals, but how is that the fault of children?
Welfare cuts have consequences, and walking the high wire of bleak times without a safety net is a dangerous business. The latest police figures show that domestic violence is on the increase; something that inner-city schools are only too aware of. The rise in children prone to temper tantrums and violent outbursts is evidence enough.
We found Brianna in the nature garden, indifferent to the argument that she might catch pneumonia and die if she stayed out there much longer. “So what?” she snapped. “Life’s crap anyway. School’s crap; teachers are crap; Christmas is crap; everything’s crap. If I freeze to death, it’ll serve everybody right.”
Unfortunately, she’s started this term as stormily as she ended the last one and we’re not expecting the situation to improve in the near future. When you’re stuck in the middle of a bleak midwinter, it’s difficult to believe that spring is round the corner. For some people, it is always winter. The only good thing for them to cling on to is that it’s no longer Christmas.
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield