When I was nine I took my atom bomb to school. It was an interesting bit of kit, consisting of a small metal ball sliced in two and held together by a hinge. You put a cap-gun pellet inside, swung it around on a string, and tossed it into the air. When it hit the ground the cap made a satisfying bang. Today's health and safety fanatics would have had a fit.
My friends were impressed, but my teacher wasn't. She held out her hand for the offending device, told me I knew toys shouldn't be brought to school, and said I could have it back at the end of term. I complained loudly to my mum. "Serves you right," she said. "If you hadn't taken it to school you'd still have it now." And that, as far as she was concerned, was that.
Cut to the 21st century, and the ubiquitous Beyblade. They're a sort of miniature spinning top. You wind a strap round them, pull hard, and let them spin. You can have competitions with your mates, and they're much more fun at lunchtimes than having fights. Until, of course, somebody nicks one, which is what happened to Samuel.
I'd set out the Beyblade ground rules in assembly. As long as I saw them only in the playground, I'd be happy. For a while, the children stuck to the rules, then the toys began appearing inside, mainly because they spun wonderfully on the stone staircases. Samuel had already been told three times not to play with his in class, and in desperation his teacher took it from him and put it on her desk, then forgot about it. When Samuel asked for it back, she realised it had disappeared.
She spent a lot of time trying to track down the toy. It didn't reappear, and it was discussed with Samuel's mother at an open evening. The teacher explained that although, naturally, we didn't condone the theft, the children had been told clearly they mustn't play with them inside the building, and even though exhaustive enquiries had been made, we couldn't take responsibility for the toy. The teacher assumed that was the end of the matter, but the queries still came. What did the headteacher intend to do about the missing Beyblade? I got the feeling I was expected to buy the boy a new one.
Eventually, the mother arrived at my door. I had two teachers off, a class was waiting for me, and the whistle was about to go. Nevertheless, I agreed to discuss the matter briefly. She asked why the Beyblade hadn't been locked away safely in a drawer. I was astonished. The fact that Samuel shouldn't have been playing with the thing hadn't, it seemed, entered her reasoning. She folded her arms and settled in for a long argument. I pointed out that the discussion had finished and I had a class to go to, whereupon she strode off down the corridor, pausing only to ask my admin officer how to make a formal complaint.
Soon, the chair of governors was on the phone. Ignoring its own complaints procedure, the LEA had passed the matter to him. The parent was demanding an explanation, an apology, and a replacement, and the matter became an agenda item for the next governors' meeting. With the education system creaking everywhere, it seemed odd that we had a group of adults sitting around a table discussing Beyblades. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and I banned Beyblades within a day.
My mother must have been gazing down in astonishment.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.