Father's day

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Michael Cook's all for seizing the day, but good things come to those who wait

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Poppy's Pop Party 3 CD is never off in her bedroom.

The floorboards thump to infant-friendly chart nonsense day and night.

Partly she likes it because it allows her to tell her favourite "joke", a highly comical play on words transposing her own name with the name of the CD, which never gets at all tired the more you hear it ("Shall I put on my Poppy Party 3 CD?").

Her favourite track is Gwen Stefani (pictured) singing "What You Waiting For?". I'm not sure if Poppy has even noticed the song's lyrical carpe diem assertions to embrace your opportunities (with the less than infant friendly line, "Take a chance, you stupid ho" - I try to cough over that bit) or if she just likes the catchyannoying pounding tick-tock rhythm that continues throughout the track.

It's a rhythm that I am tapping out involuntarily this morning. Because we are waiting too. What we are waiting for in school is the mysterious transformation of a tubeful of Smarties. Not, you'll note, the mysterious transformation of the tube itself. Chocoholics may have noticed some months ago that the familiar round tube has been hexagonally reshaped. But that is hardly a subject for scientific enquiry. That is more suited to A-level economics, where clever sixth-formers could work out how many hundredths of a penny must be shaved off the manufacturing cost of each cardboard tube for everyone in the marketing department at the sweet factory to get a bigger company car.

No, our Smarties experiment involves each pair of children placing a sweet on a piece of blotting paper which is dangling into a cup of water. Being real scientists, they have to watch and wait and record changes that occur.

Their pencils are poised. The wonder of this lesson for me is that none of them has any idea what they are waiting for. If you are six and you balance a wet Smartie on a cup, anything could happen. The Smarties might catch fire! Levitate! Turn invisible! Sprout wings and fly away!

So they wait. Quietly. Patiently. It shows an amazing trust in their teacher that something interesting is about to occur. A cruel teacher could abuse this, and ask her class to balance a penny on a piece of damp blotting paper and have them wait half a decade before the coin started to develop a teeny tiny patch of rust.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. And then slowly, slowly, would you believe it, the paper changes colour. A little bit of food colouring leaches out of the sweets. Red Smarties leach red. Blue Smarties leach blue. But brown Smarties make the most spectacular transformation of all, bringing forth red, green, purple and yellow, in a flower-shaped rainbow vivid against the white. That's what we were waiting for. Patience rewarded.

Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend

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