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A surfeit of Zulus on the horizon

WHEN I worked in TV news, we used to have a picture on the wall of Michael Caine and Stanley Baker being menaced by thousands of guys with spears.

"Zulus!" was our warning cry in the production department because, just as you thought you were ready for transmission, a fresh story would break, overwhelming the running order and creating chaos in all directions.

Being a houseparent is a bit like that, only it's not bloodthirsty warriors that threaten to obliterate those left holding the fort but school holidays. No sooner was Easter over - and the children driven back into school under a hail of rifle fire - but the Zulu of May 1 was upon us and the buggers were back again, swarming all over the TV, treading food into the carpet and generally creating more than enough noise to stop the average parent thinking, let alone earning a living from home.

It was tough going but I survived that onslaught only to see, just coming over the horizon, the Zulus of half-term and Whit Bank Holiday. At this time of year, it never stops. And, of course, in prospect there's July and the great Isandhlwan, the ultimate defeat, when all civilised life in this household will simply cease.

Those of us in my own brave regiment, the Irregular Houseparents Brigade, manning the home front as we do through all these invasions, do not ask much, although the gratitude of our partners would be appreciated. I know that mine takes the view that I spend the day polishing my aphorisms, occasionally adding an elegantly turned sentence to the latest opus and then being taken out to lunch by nubile editors.

This is forgiveable. In 1879, the folks in England thought that the Rorke's Drift brigade were out playing polo all day. How could they be expected to know that Michael and Stanley were actually trying to prevent 13,000 Zulus dipping their spears in Welsh blood that day?

More VCs were won at Rorke's Drift than in any other battle during the years that Britain had an empire and it's about time a medal was struck for the Houseparents, too. On one side there would be a picture of Prince Philip, squeegee mop in hand, and on the other a simple inscription, "We Never Work - So That You Can".

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