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Have a cigar, you'll go far;Opinion

WHEN Iwas born, the doctor kept my father waiting downstairs. The first time I set eyes on him was several days later, when he proudly popped a cigar into my mouth.

That was how things were done in the early Fifties and Sixties, the days before free love and Filofaxes turned society upside down.

I don't want to start sounding like dear old Alistair Cooke but my childhood was spent in a world that is almost unrecognisable today. The only person who was PC round our way wore a blue uniform and said "What's all this then?" and visibility in the school staffroom, come lunchtime, was down to a few inches, thanks to a dense cloud of carcinogens.

Top violinists didn't wear wet T-shirts and pop stars preferred perms over politics. Trains stopped rather than terminated carrying passengers, not customers.

In my peculiar youth, only people in shops were known as consumers. Medicine, law and order and education were considered services rather than products.

So much has changed but nothing more dramatically than what seems to have happened to parents' evening. I can remember, aged 11, waiting anxiously outside the classroom until Mum and Dad emerged, my father warmly offering me another large cigar.

Boy, how the barriers have been broken down. Not only are dads in the delivery room with their video cameras and satellite links these days, but children get to sit in on parents' evening too! Last week at Sarah's school we seemed to be the only couple waiting for Mr Hipflask without our daughter.

And a good job too, in my opinion. Sarah-Jane does not respond well to criticism. It would be a brave man who tried to get away with a C-plus in her presence.

But Mr Hipflask wasn't really very interested in talking about her strengths and weakness. Teachers these days have a mission to sell the school and its product. The report was quickly passed to us in a brown envelope while Mr H explained how GCSE results A to C were up by 10 per cent and, following the last inspection, the school's action plan was now 45 per cent complete and 100 per cent on target. The governors were very pleased with progress at all levels.

But what about my daughter? I asked. Oh, she thinks we're doing pretty well, too, Brian Hipflask replied.

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