Michael Cook's ready to move into a tumbledown shack if it's next door to a good school
As anyone who's failed to produce a Wayne Rooney bicycle kick at Sunday league football, or a Gordon Ramsay meal in their own kitchen, will know, things are not always as easy as they appear on TV.
Watch Channel 4 mid-evening and you would think that selling your home is as simple as painting it in neutral tones, re-hanging the shower curtain and watching the offers roll in. We are living proof that this is not the case.
My wife got a new job in the summer and we have been trying to move house since. We have tidied. We have decorated. Our walls have seen more beige than the inside of David Attenborough's wardrobe. In fact, David could walk through our downstairs in his sandy safari suits and we'd only be able to see him if he opened his mouth. But despite showing a good dozen viewers around our lovely 45 bed family home in a desirable conservation area close to all the amenities of central Nottingham, no one wants to buy it.
(If you're interested, please get in touch co Friday magazineI) Our estate agent puts the lack of offers down to the state of the market.
He is sure that things will pick up now we've got to the new year. But this is the same estate agent who described our "Edwardian semi, tastefully decorated" in the local newspaper as "Edwardian, semi-tastefully decorated".
All this has not stopped us looking for a new house. In order to fit the cliche of the modern middle-class parent, much of this search has centred on league tables, Ofsted reports and catchment areas. Of course, the result of all this hand-wringing is that the best we can afford in the right part of town is a cramped shack without mains electricity or basic sanitation, but at least our status among our peers will be retained because we are "doing it for the children".
Buying your way into a catchment area is, of course, a socially unjust but common way of enrolling at a good school. I wish it could be otherwise. I have mentioned on visiting potential new schools what a very supportive and dedicated in-classroom dad I have always been. It has made no difference to how our transfer applications were treated. Maybe I should have taken some kind of volunteer's CV: a list of all the storybooks I have read, model vehicles I have constructed and paper hats I have worn helping in school.
I am not asking for any special treatment for myself. I am just asking for special treatment for my children. OK, Poppy and Alfie have been admitted to their friendly and popular new school anyway. But how much prouder I would have been if I could say it was the 27 cardboard spaceships I sprayed silver last March that got them in.
Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend