The dark side of the whiteboard - When push comes to shove

7th January 2011 at 00:00

Like the Bloomsbury set, my English department is renowned for its intellectual rigour. We spend our lunch hours deliberating weighty philosophical questions. A favourite among these might be, "If you had to do it doggy style with one member of the SMT, who would it be?" and more importantly (because we are a school that likes to stretch and challenge), "Why?" Or we might spend half an hour debating who would make the best lesbian. It's a title I share with my glamorous head of department, whose claim is strengthened by her Territorial Army past and her butch dyke sibling, whereas mine rests on my admiration for Sandi Toksvig and a preference for flat shoes.

But since my department returned after Christmas, there has been no craic at all. That's because my colleagues are suddenly more interested in babies than banter. Instead of telling dirty jokes or making disparaging remarks about the principal's latest dim-witted proposals, they spend their lunchtimes drooling over photographs of the latest new arrivals in the "Staff Babies" folder on the extranet.

It's not a pretty sight. Depending on their birth weight, these infants could be body doubles for Jabba the Hutt or Dobby the house-elf. No one is going to pick up the bonny baby prize unless it's out of sympathy. Between them, our teachers seem to have given birth to the entire Star Wars cantina band. But even this hasn't deterred my colleagues from cooing. As a result, my HoD has had to resort to some emergency damage limitation. Yesterday she pinned a pregnancy rota next to the milk rota in an attempt to scotch any plans to synchronise our stretch marks. We are now under firm instructions that we can only take maternity leave when it's our turn on the schedule.

I'm not sure my colleagues will hold out that long. I'm OK as my breeding days are over. But my workmates are driven by an unstoppable genetic imperative that will ultimately result in them throwing all-American baby showers (without any sense of irony) and spending #163;1,000 of their hard-earned cash on top-of-the-range buggies. One colleague is in the process of taking out a loan to buy a Bugaboo Cameleon. She could get a Ford Ka for less money, although granted it might be a bit pokier.

New fathers are to blame for this rise in Top Gear toddler transport. Twenty years ago, when men had jobs to keep them out of trouble, women happily stayed at home minding the bairns. When we ventured out, we used collapsible McLaren buggies made of umbrella spokes. But when men took over the childcare they started pimping up baby's ride. Now you can't move in Sainsbury's car park for dads off-roading it with rugged all-terrain models or racing you to the checkout with their sports edition buggies.

I'm glad I'm not joining these baby boomers because the competitive parenting would drive me insane. One colleague is convinced that her baby is gifted and talented. Apparently he is on the 97th centile for height, head circumference and posting shapes in boxes. Call me old fashioned, but getting both his eyes to look in one direction might have been a more auspicious start.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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