Thou shalt reap...or weep?

If that woman says "Well, the way we always do it here is . . .," I shall scream and scream and scream. This is my school now, and we'll do it my way.

Good Old Frank. Harvest Festival? No problem. Tone. Mood. Respect. Symbolism. I've briefed them all, and each class will do part of the Service. That Minister seems a bit pushy, and I know his wife is a teacher somewhere. He keeps dropping words like attainment and outcomes into the conversation. I'll do a deal with him. I won't take funerals if he doesn't interfere in the curriculum.

I've been given the warning about Mark, our little "challenge". He'll create havoc in the church and spoil the day. Accepting this opportunity to establish my credibility as a pioneer in child control, I informed them that Mark would sit by me.

Cometh the day, cometh the gifts. That plant looked suspiciously like a banned substance to me, although Kenneth said his uncle grew it in his allotment. Kenneth had several "uncles", who often featured in the local paper.

Jean, the Depute, assured me that all went well in the rehearsals for the service, although Mark had been absent on a mission to purchase a new pair of shoes. His absence note referred to a head cold.

The long march to the church was fairly orderly, but I did clamp down on the impromptu chorus of "Sex Bomb" from the primary 5 girls, as we passed the local chippie. I held tightly on to Mark after we entered the church. He was agog. His eyes were everywhere. "Are there dead bodies in here?", he asked in eager anticipation. I tried to calm him down, and started to tell him about a church. He calmed down.

The assembled throng fell into a perfect silence, as the first few bars of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" started up. Then it happened. The most embarrassing moment of my life. The Minister had appeared silently through a side door. He was in full ministerial garb, and as he opened his arms in welcome, a wee voice shouted out "For ****'s sake - it's Dracula!" The place erupted as 450 children, and a fair few adults who should have known better, broke into gales of hysterical laughter.

I wanted to leave. I felt terrible. This was my school. The indignity, the embarrassment. I examined my shoes for the next five minutes and kept my little friend quiet with a mix of Maltesers and threats.

The procession of class contributions went off without incident, although I hadn't bargained for the over-enthusiasm of Miss McGregor's class. They had adapted "Hey Baby" into a harvest thanksgiving song and, I must admit, had done well to express real feeling in contemporary lyrics. But I nearly died when the chorus was accompanied with a series of pelvic thrusts, which were distinctly lacking in reverence.

This was a mere prelude to the real business of the school traditional harvest festival - the distribution of gifts. Several odd-looking characters came to the hall to ask for some of the "plants" Kenneth's uncle had brought in. One lady arrived in a new Mercedes to receive her gifts of tinned fruit and flowers. The complaints started.

Two octogenarians turned the air blue as they fought over the last remaining tin of mandarin oranges. The primary 1 class stood, open-mouthed, as two old ladies complained that the other had got more than she had.

The real battle started when Mrs Norrie arrived in the hall. Casting a sneering glance round the last few remaining gifts on the trestle tables, she remarked: "Is that all there is?" I was seething with rage. "It's well seeing there's a new person at the top. This wouldn't have happened when Mr Smith was here."

My depute came to my rescue, and informed me that the director was on the phone. I hurried up to the sanctuary of the office, only to find it was a ruse to get me away from Mrs Norrie. I swear I saw Mrs Norrie walking out of a side door with a basket of fruit I knew had been set aside for her.

My first Harvest Festival had been a disaster, but my agony was to be prolonged. After I had sipped my third gin of the evening, and tried to relay my indignity to a snoring husband, I switched on the evening news on the TV. The third story featured an outbreak of food poisoning at an old people's home. The cause had been identified as a tin of salmon. I knew it!

Bridget McElroy

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