When I was 11-and-three-quarters I was for one brief moment the fairy on the Christmas tree. It happened during the school concert, when I fell off the stage, landed on the Christmas tree and took it down with me. Actually, our school hall didn’t have a stage, so the enterprising teachers decided to build a makeshift one out of slippery plastic tables stacked on top of each other. On top of the tiers of tables they put chairs and benches. It looked pretty good. This was in the 1970s, when no-one had heard of OH&S. Being tall, I was seated in the back row, right at the end, next to the rather magnificent Christmas tree.
Our music teacher was fierce. He was passionate about music and about one of the other teachers, who he would send notes to throughout the day. He always sent them via one of the students, who would read the note and tell everybody else what was in it. So we knew he liked music and Miss R, but we were pretty scared of his temper and of the spit that would fly out of his mouth when he got cross. We practised hard for the concert. I knew all the words to the songs and had my part for the recorder group down pat as well. At the final rehearsal the music teacher looked at us sternly and told us nothing was to go wrong in this concert.
On the night, the hall was full. There was excitement, anticipation, in the air. We stood up to sing and it was magnificent. We went straight into the next carol and it sounded good too. I think we did one more, then the teacher motioned us to sit down. As I went to sit, my chair slid sideways off the shiny plastic table, taking me with it. I sailed off the makeshift stage onto the Christmas tree, with its sparkling lights and prickly pine needles. Time stood still. I felt as though I was suspended on the Christmas tree for a long time, then it gave way and I fell to earth with a crash.
I wondered if I was dead, then I realised that pine needles were sticking into my back and the legs of the chair were on my neck. There was no sound, except perhaps the shocked inhale of all the parents and students in the hall. I lay there, unable to believe that I was lying on the Christmas tree with a chair on top of me. I remembered that nothing was to go wrong in this concert. Oh dear. This wasn’t part of the program. Then I heard running, from a long way off. Like the Bionic Man (a popular TV character at the time) the PE teacher was sprinting towards me, down the aisle between the rows of parents. He used his superhuman strength to get the chair off me, lift me off the Christmas tree and take me into the classroom next door.
I had never really liked the PE teacher. He wore nylon shirts—not a good choice in that profession. But now he was my hero. He had saved my life, or at least cut short my embarrassment. Back in the hall, the choir had begun to sing again. The PE teacher made me sit down. I was shaking but nothing was broken…except the Christmas tree. The door opened and a boy came in who I had a bit of a crush on. He was supposed to sing a solo next, so he was getting ready for his big entrance. “Was that you I saw with your legs in the air, lying on top of the Christmas tree?” he said.
A bit later, it was time for the recorder group to play. I went out with the group, as a way of easing back into the concert without being obvious. I was shaking so much that I mimed all the recorder pieces, every single one. I couldn’t blow a note. Then I climbed back up on to the stage. My chair, I noticed, was now tied to the one next to it. I mimed all the songs in the rest of the concert. Each time I sat down, I practically sat in my neighbour’s lap. “Move over!” she said once. No way.
My parents weren’t at the concert so I got a lift home with a friend. (Hello, Judith, if you’re reading.) “That went well,” said her mum, “except for the poor girl who fell off the stage.” She didn’t realise it was me. My friend held my hand and shook her head and we said nothing. The next day at school I thought I’d be in big trouble. All morning kids came up to me and asked me if I’d got into trouble yet. Then someone asked if I’d have to pay for the Christmas tree lights. I hadn’t even thought of that. How much did they cost?
Eventually the music teacher came to find me. Amazingly, he wasn’t cross. He asked me if I was all right and he seemed really concerned. I asked him about the Christmas tree lights. “Oh, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. At lunchtime, when I was outside, I saw the deputy head walking towards me, his hands in his pockets, bellowing at the boys to take their hands out of theirs. He was a ruddy-cheeked Welshman who shouted a lot but never lost the twinkle in his eye. This was the moment of truth. How much would I have to pay? Would my pocket money cover it? “It’s the fairy on the Christmas tree!” he said, laughing. I started laughing too, from embarrassment as much as relief. “Don’t worry,” he said, “We won’t charge you for the lights.”
Merry Christmas, everybody!