Father's day

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Why does our weather have to blow so hot and cold, asks Michael Cook

Winter draws on. Well, not winter exactly, but the chill winds of autumn are blowing and the summer sun seems a long way away. It's the kind of great British weather that means my children are continually wrongly dressed.

Every morning, I struggle to select the right combination of jumpers and coats, and every afternoon discover how wrong I got it. Dress them for warmth and they tumble out of school in glorious sunshine glowing like a five-bar heater after playing an entire playtime football tournament in fleecy anorak and gloves. Dress them for comfort, dazzled perhaps by a chink of early morning blue sky, and they have to trudge home, shivering and sodden, as the heavens open to make a mockery of their flimsy "showerproof" jackets.

But if second-guessing the climate is a struggle for parents, it's a nightmare for teachers. Forget farmers and sailors. There is only one important question the television weather forecasters have to answer: is it going to be a wet playtime?

Wet play is best to be avoided. It's not just the 15 minutes or so crowded together in the hall that's the problem. It's the hour or so afterwards, and the afternoon beyond, in which cooped-up, cramped-in, stir-crazy children fizz with the energy they should have burned off outside. So, anything less than a Force 10 gale, and the children take their chances in the playground. But even then, the weather determines what they can do. Is it too muddy to run on the grass? Too wet to play in the wood chips? Is it coats on, or only if you're feeling cold? Is that drizzle or spitting? Infant teachers have more feel for the gradations of wetness than Eskimos have words for the varieties of snow.

These infants crave their time outside. They are lucky to share a huge green playing field with the juniors next door, with the kind of slopes and trees and goalposts that give play more value than a thousand elaborate jungle gyms.

I look at the grass with some envy. Hundreds of children tramping it down and it's lush, thick and green. Not like our miserable patch at home. I have dug. I have raked. I have returfed. I have reseeded (with stuff that the packet said was the same grass that graces Wembley stadium. Hah! Presumably, that's Wembley as it is now, half-built and ploughed up by JCBs and builders' boots). And still you can stand on our patio and count my blades of grass.

One of my proudest moments of the summer was seeing Alfie playing football with a friend on our lawn, and hearing him persuade his mate to dribble only round the edge, to protect the bald patch in the middle. That's some self-control for a seven-year-old. He must think of me as the anti-teacher: don't waste your energy running around! You don't want to be outside on a nice day like this! Keep off my grass!

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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