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Found: a real pen and ink

Bob Aston tracks down a strange smell

The stink coming from outside my office door was worse than even the most nervous boy awaiting my attention could generate, and it was too early for school dinners. It wafted down the corridor with the subtlety of a skunk with halitosis.

It was powerful and intrusive. But despite the combined efforts of head, caretaker and secretary, it could not be located. As a last resort we tried to mask the awful odour with a spray, without real improvement. Moments later our deputy located the source of the nasty niff - the lost property bin.

The bin had been put outside my room, so it was freely available to wandering children and irate parents. It was also a reminder to me to put on lost property exhibitions. Despite this, the mounds never seem to diminish.

As in all schools, the big problem is unlabelled clothing. Claiming ownership on the shape of a mudstain lacks conviction when trying todecide which boy to send home with trousers and which in his PE shorts. Who has the angriest mother can be the deciding factor.

Lunchboxes and sweatshirts are the most frequently lost items - together they create an odour to rival the most foul, cabbage-laden school dinner. But the most interesting are the exceptional items - such as the dubious magazine found by a shell-shocked dinner lady in the music room.

And the lost underpants are a constant mystery - how can a boy go home without noticing that chilly feeling? - but these sad garments crop up as often as headlice in Year 3, never to be claimed.

Lost property will always be with us. It gets up your nose and causes a stink, but one item we haven't lost is our sense of humour. One child recently waited for delayed parents next to the lost property sign, which says: "Please take if yours." Eventually they did.

Bob Aston is head of a junior school in Medway

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