Falling into stranger danger;Opinion

29th May 1998 at 01:00
GOING to a new school is always tricky. There's no one to talk to, cliques exclude you and total strangers turn hostile for no apparent reason. It is not too easy for the children either, but my main concern is with parents. After all no one is assigned to show us where the lavatories are. Nobody stands up and announces: "Now listen everyone, this is Sarah and Ginny's Dad. I want you to give a real friendly school-gate welcome."

I was talking to my younger daughter about this only yesterday. Ginny always tries to keep on the right side of authority. Moving to St Jude's, she has been shocked to discover that she has become an equal shareholder in the withering scorn of the teacher, Miss Firebrand. "We did the British Empire today Dad, and you know what she said? 'Of course you lot probably think the Redcoats were people who work at Butlins'. And that's not true. I've seen Zulu twice."

As I explained to Ginny the danger of joining any group is that we cease to be judged as an individual. Total strangers who might have liked us in person start hating us simply because we belong to the enemy. It happened to me only last week. Tom and I were taking a back route past the local Catholic school to collect Ginny and Sarah-Jane from St Jude's.

I was just about to escort Tom across the road when a woman in a white coat began to blacken my name to two smirking schoolboys on the pavement. "Don't you take any notice of him. He can get killed if he likes. You kids stay there!" Politely I asked this lady if we'd been introduced but she clenched her crossing attendant's lollipop angrily and declared that she'd had enough of parents like me. "You wait till you get an articulated lorry up the backside!" she snapped. "That'll wipe that smile off your face. I know what you folk say about me behind my back but don't you realise a child from St Dunstan's was nearly killed last week? What kind of example are you setting to your son?" "He doesn't go to St Dunstan's." I stammered. "We're just walking down to St Jude's to pick up his sisters." The red-faced lady did a double take. Clearly I wasn't one of the enemy after all. "Oh, well sorry to trouble you, sir."

Mind you, as I said to Ginny, it was even worse joining the British army. There, perfect strangers didn't just hate you, they chucked spears at you too.

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