With her entrance into the Sans Souci reception centre, the head of the sports department brought with her a whiff of Weimar.

“The tux is very Sally Bowles,” said the member of the English faculty who had begun a deep inventory of each and every teacher’s peccadilloes.

“Do you think, perhaps, our sporty friend is reinforcing stereotypes?” said his fellow wag.

“I hope so, don’t you?” came the arch rejoinder and there was a snicker.

For its revelation of character, normally hidden under bulky jumper and floral print, the annual staff association dinner dance is not to be missed. Chief among the prizes for the student of human nature is the opportunity to clap eyes on the partners who up to this time have existed only in name. So there, made manifest, is her Barry and his Jan and, omygod, the Pat you always assumed was Patricia turns out in fact to be Patrick, well you knew it all along (no, mon hypocrite, you did not!).

Not for the first time you wonder at the biological imperative which brings such disparate types together. Novels are written, brilliant in their depiction of the comedy humaine, between the contemplation of the fourth beer for the evening and the fifth. Alas, all forgotten in the wake of the fifteenth even if next morning fragments resurface unexpected with each crapulous belch.

But that is many hours away as someone on the social committee hitches their iPod to the sound system and the strains of Madonna rouse the primped and prinked, the optimistic and the frankly desperate, the exhibitionist and the shy made bold by drink — all take to the dance floor and become one pulsing peripatetic organism bound and determined on having a good time.

It’s what they deserve. They work so hard. They’re underpaid and largely underappreciated. The slogans of complaint are almost tangible in the air above their nodding, bobbing heads. We matter, their funfair mouths seem to scream as their voices compete with Nutbush City Limits and Band of Gold. So for now the universe can go f-ck itself. For which hubris they will pay dearly with the mother of all hangovers the next day. The intuitive among the students will recognise the signs immediately and give to the suffering the widest possible berth.

As the lights come up in the reception centre and the faces made mask-like by booze look bewildered, the English faculty cynic stubs out a last cigarette in the potted cumquat at the entrance and quotes, “I had not thought death to have undone so many.”

Taxis are filled and designated drivers smile patiently as their passengers tumble in and grapple with their seatbelts as if they were anaconda. Around a corner, meanwhile, the head of the sports department is locked on to the face of another like the thing in Alien. Someone will have seen, of course, and all the others will dine out on the details for months to come believing in those snatched moments at recess and lunch that they have, however briefly, lived the life.