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Driven to distraction

For the first September in 60 years, I am not returning to school.

It's a strange feeling, but I'm glad I took the decision to retire at Christmas. I knew I would miss the job enormously, so I balanced that against the pleasure of not having to rise early on winter mornings. Being able to spend whole days sitting in the warm, reading, writing and listening to music certainly had its attractions.

Nevertheless, retirement brings constant reminders and memories of school. Take the simple activity of driving up the road to post a letter. If I do this in the morning, I must remember to go before 8.40am or after 9.30am.

Our local primary school sits at the top of the hill, and during that time it's impossible to manoeuvre up the road. Mothers drive along looking for a parking space, can't find one, and then unload their offspring after stopping right in the middle of the road, as near as possible to the school gates. It's a nuisance if it's a Mini, but a thorough pain in the neck if it's a 4x4, which it usually is. And once the child has been unloaded, the delay is extended while satchels, books, games equipment and artefacts to show the teacher are searched for and piled into tiny hands. If the family dog sees its opportunity and leaps out of the car during this period of delivery, all hell can break loose.

The sound of horns from frustrated boxed-in drivers breaks the peace of the morning, and on several occasions I've seen parents get out of their cars to argue with each other rather than just move on to the next street and park there instead.

But the pleasure of retirement is that I no longer have to deal with parking problems. Although my school was surrounded by blocks of flats and virtually all the children lived within walking distance, many parents still chose to drive their children, often parking right across the fire gates or along the double yellow lines that we insisted the council painted. I sent regular letters to the parents, which only worked for a while, and on one occasion a parent governor offered to "have a few words" with the offenders. Unfortunately, she declined when they offered a few words back, some of which she had never heard before. When we called a traffic officer, the cars magically disappeared, but he couldn't come regularly and the problem quickly resurfaced. Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that defeating the daily school run would have caused even Churchill to hesitate.

We did have success in one area, though. Parents had taken to driving right into the school car park to drop off their children, and for our premises officer this was definitely a step too far. One morning, when three cars had driven in one after the other, Dave shot out of his house, shut the gates when they weren't looking and disappeared back into his house for an hour. Word got around very quickly that if you parked in the school car park, you were likely to be very late for work.

But yesterday, as I stood in the front garden watering the roses, I watched a mother wheeling a baby in a pushchair towards school, her daughter skipping happily by her side and telling her all about the book she was reading at school. Mum was listening intently, thoroughly enjoying the morning conversation with her child.

Now that, I thought, is the right way to travel to school.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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