Father's day

29th October 2004 at 01:00
In the first of a new series, parent-helper Michael Cook reveals the dubious pleasure of mixing it with Year 1

Mrs Lewis seems surprised to see me shuffling in with the Year 1s. "We don't get many dads in Class 3." Maybe dads don't imagine themselves as parent-helper material. My own area of expertise might lack relevance in the primary classroom, unless they are planning on shooting some corporate training videos before break. But my wife insisted and Alfie seems keen, so here I am, ready to help.

What could be easier? No, I'm not some Neanderthal who thinks a teacher's life is one heady playtime of short days and extensive vacation. I am in genuine awe of anyone who can entertain 29 infants for seven hours a day.

But me, I'm a simple helper. I'm sure I can tie a few shoelaces. I can be kind to some poor soul with a grazed knee, although I'll let the experts deal with any actual blood.

But Mrs Lewis hands me a task better suited to the skilled professional with four years' training and a vocation.

Teachers, I bring you news from the outside world: powder paint, like powdered egg or Gareth Gates, is history. It is lumpy. It is unmanageable.

It is a solid trying to do a liquid's work. Today, if we want to "mix up enough shades of green to paint our rainforest corner", we take swatches to the local DIYsuperstore and have them scanned by laser, mixed by robot and overcharged by Saturday girls.

Is this a kind of initiation, I wonder. The educational equivalent of sending the apprentice for a tube of elbow grease. Or is this new Intel-inside digital powder paint? No, and no. I pop the lid and send clouds of vivid and possibly toxic sherbet billowing through the art area, and my respiratory system. Sat on a tiny chair, knees round my ears, sweating like a horse with something to hide, shifting more pigment than Jackson Pollock respraying the Forth Bridge, I shovel and mix, shovel and mix.

Twenty minutes later, I stagger up to teacher, Technicolor splashes in my hair, a murky selection of interchangeable dishwaters in my palettes.

Children cower. Alfie looks frightened. I cough up an emerald smoke ring.

Mrs Lewis explains my presence. "This is Alfie's dad. He's supposed to be helping us this morning."

I understand why they don't get many dads in Class 3.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy attend

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