Sickness fills the school. A rampaging bug that the local news calls a "vicious viral epidemic" is knocking out children left, right and centre.
Mind you, our local news would call two cats stuck up a tree a "vicious feline epidemic", so you mustn't take these things too seriously. As it is, the bug appears a fortnight after the school's Healthy Living week, which must have given us some protection. Without our few days making fruit smoothies and skipping a lot, the school might look like one of those army field hospitals you see in disaster movies. Instead, it just looks like a school with slightly fewer pupils in it. And a bit more coughing.
When Alfie succumbs to the "vicious viral etc", I have to abandon my plans to come into class and help, and instead stay home to look after him. While I'm ringing the school, I shout up to his sickbed to check out a few details. I know, I really should remember this stuff myself. Even in his feverish delirium, and from behind a pile of comics, Alfie can tell me he is eight years old and in Class 9 in Year 3. Poppy is six years old and in Class 11 in Year 2.
Now if you are a teacher, and have read this column before, even once, several weeks ago, while simultaneously marking 32 Sats papers and trying to text your vote to TV's thrilling Dancing On Ice contest, you may well remember this information. Teachers appear to have the ability to commit to memory in an instant the names, faces, ages and birthdays of my children, and a school full of others. I am just their dad, and find it impossible to recall any of my children's vital statistics, including which class they are in, without writing it on the back of my hand. Even when I am about to walk along the corridor to that class to help. Even, in fact, when I am in the classroom myself, staring at the "Welcome to Class 11" sign.
I don't know if the reason for this is that I am a father, a man or simply an idiot. I do know that when I was at school it was much simpler. We were in the "first year" first and the "second year" second. When we started at a new school, we were in the "first year" again. So I was in the first year infants, and then the first year juniors. Although strictly speaking I was never in the first year juniors, because our schools at that point changed from infants and juniors to first schools and middle schools. I was, in fact, in the first year at infants school, the last year of first school (its first year), the first year and a half of middle school (which is now a junior school again) and then, when we moved house, the second half of the third and then the fourth year of junior school. It all made perfect sense at the time. Although I bet my dad was confused.
Of course, there was more time to commit these things to memory back then.
The years lasted a lot longer in the 1970s. Something to do with inflation.
Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend