Last week a terrible thing happened in a school assembly.
On the 4th December, a Reverend went into a school assembly and delivered the line “Of course, we all know Father Christmas isn’t real, don’t we?” Well, no, not every child knew that (although it would be fair to say that several more do now). Immediately after the event, parents, teachers and clergy were sent into a tail spin.
My response to this event and the ensuing drama is somewhat more complex than I had anticipated. Firstly, I am a mother. Secondly, I am an academic. Thirdly, I am a church goer.* But before we get into such complexities, let me set the scene.
A soon to retire, well established Reverend Canon entered a school with a view to taking an assembly on St. Nicholas. Somewhere along the line, the words “not real” were uttered. After the assembly, an email was sent to parents to inform them that the reality of Father Christmas had been ‘called into question’. Initially, on seeing the title of the email ‘This Morning’s Assembly’, I panicked thinking I had forgotten a class assembly and assumed the email was merely a reminder of how bad mother I am. On closer inspection, I realised the problem was not me. I immediately phoned the school whereupon I got through to a panicked receptionist. Whilst asking about the contents of the assembly, I could hear another mother in the background asking the perfectly valid question “What am I supposed to tell my kids now?” After being told no further information than was contained within the email, I asked which Reverend was in question. On hearing the Reverend’s name, I was not surprised. Previous experience had demonstrated the unrelenting lengths the man in question would go to in order to appear important.
On request, my son’s supply teacher called me back and discussed her finely executed damage limitation plan, and for that I will always be grateful. However, it was increasingly obvious that my mothering skills were about to be tested in a manner which required both planning and serious consideration.
Texting all my friends, and being simultaneously barraged by their texts, I and all other Charter School mum’s, leapt into action. Ready to defend, to deflect, and to gloss over the ‘lies’ which the Reverend Kill Joy had spread about Father Christmas not being ‘real’. Surely a dangerous and naive declaration for someone that believed fervently in something equally unknowable and inconclusive? It was unfortunate that I was not collecting my son that evening and I was a little worried that I had to rely on his father’s blokey style of management (which went something like “yeah he’s fine, he’s watching telly”).
These events took place on the Wednesday.
Thursday was fairly nondescript, uneventful even. The only things of note to occur were a bright pink sky (Shepherd’s warning no less – how ironic) and the phone call a friend made to the vicar whose voice first quivered, then denied.
Friday was more problematic, despite beginning with two slices of toast. As I was stood buttering the second slice of toast, the statement was launched. Not gently like one would do with a baby frog on the edge of a pond in the heat of summer, but launched like a scud missile. Direct, straight for the innocent, the unprepared (the half asleep mummy stood square between the kettle and the toaster).
“I don’t think Father Christmas is real, mummy, and I don’t think he’s the one that brings the presents”.
Gulp. I thank God (or perhaps Father Christmas) thatI was facing away from my son whilst I continued to spread the butter. “Why not? Who told you that, my little bear?”
“Reverend Tatton Brown”.
And so the conversation proceeded, with various platitudes, reassurances and cuddles. And a great many tears. The one consolation being that this particular Reverend had told me only last summer how my education was sub standard and how I proved Michael Gove’s theory about education right, and did I know who Martin Luther was.** This had not only put me off the man in question but perhaps explained why I was compelled to use the Basil Fawlty line of “I’ve told you about him” during our Father Christmas conversation that Friday morning. That summer meeting with the vicar had seriously tested my red headed temper, and as I thought back to the day I had sat in the vicarage, I mostly remembered wondering whether or not you would go to hell if you told a Reverend to f ck off. I didn’t, so I am safe.
Despite my son’s protests about the Reverend’s character and his continued support of the man, it was a known point of difference between us. My son liked him, I did not. However, tears were wiped and toast was eaten and as soon as my son was calmed and reassured, he was delivered safely to school. Late but in attendance (and for reference, I refused to sign the ‘I am late again book’ on this occasion).
Pondering the events and tears of the morning, my mood was not good. My week had so far been somewhat trying: my car was still at the garage, a parcel I was expecting was now lost with one ‘C. Walker’ of Swindon (of all places!) and more significantly, someone had made my son cry.
As the day continued, I decided my only option was to pay the vicar a visit. He needed to know exactly what damage he had caused. As I have already stated, my previous visit to the vicarage had been a somewhat demeaning one where the vicar had insisted on belittling me in order to impress upon me which of the two of us was the more clever (and in case you’re wondering it was not me). All I knew was that he was a self centred fool, particularly if all he could offer me in terms of academic or spiritual advice was condescension. This time was sure to be different though.
This time he was nervous and twitchy, and dare I say, even a little tearful. I pointed out how unfortunate this revelation was, particularly as he was due to retire in two weeks time. I made sure to tell him that it was “An unfortunate way to end a career” although I sensed he realised he’d irreparably damaged his reputation as well as the children’s dreams. He sat before me, anxiously ensuring he said all the right things. This time.
I left the vicar that day, knowing that I had done all I needed, and on the plus side I had managed to convince him that attending the school meeting to discuss the matter with parents, was asking for trouble.***
That meeting was my next stop (after a much earned cheese sandwich).
*I would not be entirely happy identifying myself as a Christian but prior to this episode my feelings were a little warmer to the church than they are presently.
** I wish I had thought to respond “The black man?” Sadly, I was too slow.
*** The trouble in that instance would presumably have involved tar and feathers. Or drowning. We agreed a letter of apology was more fitting (and safer).