The scene in the junior boys toilets at Chesham Primary was shocking. ‘It was drug paraphernalia all right,’ said teacher Patricia Smythe. ‘But on a bizarrely large scale. Huge rolled up newspapers lined with white powder. Deep hoof scratches on the porcelain surfaces. We're used to monkey business in here, but not donkey business. And it wasn’t year three.’ Teacher Patricia Smythe is not the only primary schoolteacher to be disturbed by the growing problem of drug mules in schools. How they get in – to schools and the country - is also a matter for conjecture. At Chesham, the Mule’s handler, who is still undetected, remains a mystery. ‘Who was that woman with the big ass?’ she asked him. ‘Nigella Lawson?’ replied the head teacher, unhelpfully.
Many mules find their way into the UK from South America by air, but they’re hard to spot among crowds of donkeys travelling to nativity gigs worldwide. ‘A lot of them travel Virgin,’ said a Richard Branson aid. ‘They’re attracted by the seasonal symbolism of the brand. And they love our cocktails. They run up thousands of air mules. Many travel business class from South and Central America. Trouble is, they interpret ‘business class’ to mean something different to other passengers, as our cleaning staff have witnessed, post-flight, on many occasions. But we can’t cast suspicion on individual passengers on the basis of their species alone.’
Confronted at school in Chesham with the evidence, Muffin (not his real name) was stubbornly silent. Pro-mule campaigners say the animals are unhappy, because they are denied a family life. People stereotype them as sad victims of fate. Last year, the performer who played Eeyore in the Chigwell Theatre production of Winny the Pooh blamed depression on his drug offending, made worse by adopting method acting techniques. He did admit to trying to groom a pantomime horse in a neighbouring panto. Meanwhile the bear who played Pooh was arrested for offences committed in nearby Epping Forest, which he blamed on bear-stereotyping.
A new kind of donkey sanctuary is a growing phenomenon, and a sign of the times. Part rest-home, part addiction clinic, the aim is to address the problem of the drug mule with the slogan ‘just bray no’.