Father's day

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Ever done the school run with 30 children in tow? Parent helper Michael Cook has

It's the last week of term and I've been looking forward to Christmas more than Noddy Holder's accountant. I remember what an infant Christmas is all about. Sticking cotton wool on to a sugar-paper Santa; sorting illegibly addressed envelopes from the painted cardboard post box in the foyer; wastefully shaking a whole tube of glitter across a gluey winter scene, just so I can scoop it all up in the newspaper underneath and pour it back into the pot.

Christmas is a big deal for the parent helper. It's our primetime, our Oscar night. So this week I'm not in class. Instead, can I help walk the children to St Mark's for the final rehearsal of the nativity play?

This should not worry me. I have experience of walking children to and from school. But usually I walk mine from front door to car door, and from car door to playground, missing out most of the tricky "walking" part altogether. And most days there are not 30 of them. So what might have been a festive morning of comfort and joy becomes a major health and safety exercise. Everyone must take black school plimsolls from trickily drawstrung shoe bags and transfer them to plastic Asda carriers. All must wee. Then the caretaker locks the classroom behind us and we leave the sanctuary of the playground for the Outside World. Immediately, I brace myself for brandy-soaked, binge-drunk joyriders ploughing through our meandering crocodile. Realistically, though, the greatest chance of misfortune is someone treading in dog poo. Or an 8ft multi-bulb reindeer plummeting from a bungalow.

But to me, right now, the world is a death trap. I picture Volvos reversing blindly out of driveways, manhole covers left carelessly open for children to tumble down. The weight of responsibility that Teacher must take for granted hangs heavy on me. Even in the bleak midwinter, I am sweating like a donkey carrying a pregnant Madonna to Bethlehem.

Twenty minutes later and we've made it. A quarter of a mile through a subway, a bus route and the church car park, with no injuries, and no one missing. I counted them all out, and I count them all back in.

I relax at the back of the church to enjoy carols and good cheer. Until I realise we've still got to get back to school.

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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