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Hitting the right note is not easy;Opinion

SEVERAL notes have been struck in our house this week. First there was the note of pathos that reached the breakfast table Wednesday morning. My younger daughter was having great difficulty getting the enormity of her ailments recognised. Sniffs from a nose barely red were augmented by heart-rending coughs and, when those failed, an inexplicable limp. Even girls with spelling tests get ill sometimes.

This pitiful display was followed by a note of dissent between my wife and me, battling over whether a day away from school was truly justified. Given that I write from home a child off school is a child on my patch. I can easily be distracted by the sounds of sniffing, wheezing and daytime television being watched from under a tartan blanket.

But dissent gave way to notes of resignation on my part, and relief and suppressed triumphalism on Ginny's. Somehow the argument that our conscientious younger daughter hardly ever has time off held sway, as if being ill were a treat that should be shared out equally within the family.

Yesterday, however, the invalid returned to school and a note had to be written to Mrs Firebrand, the woman whose scorn for the latently dyslexic had done so much to convince Ginny that Tuesday's lead just had to be swung. Like many parents, Iunthinkingly wrote a bald, dull, nondescript statement along the lines of "was absent yesterday because of a bad cold". Unfortunately Ginny saw me typing this and she wasn't very pleased. Couldn't Isay something about her temperature? About how she is never off normally. About all the pressure of work this term? About how Tom got four days off last term with a funny toenail and Sarah had a whole week after Christmas just to go skiing.

Writers should always respond creatively to criticism, so I sat back down and considered exactly what kind of note we were trying to strike here. Explanation? Self-justification? Accusation even? "Dear Mrs Firebrand, Ginny has a rotten life. Her brother and sister get far more time off school than she does, her parents definitely prefer them and you don't make things any better with your smelly spelling test. The least you can do is give her the occasional day off and not ask any questions."

Ginny screamed. Somehow I don't think we were looking for a note of authenticity either.

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