Rotten in the state of satchel;Opinion

24th April 1998 at 01:00
A strange calm attended the walk to school. Having just moved hearth, home and catchment area, I was taking my daughter to her first day at St Jude's. How blessed it felt to be spared the inevitable "Miss Lewis will murder me" panic.

House-moving is hell but I have discovered its redeeming feature. A new school means your 10-year-old has not yet been given any homework and therefore cannot possibly have forgotten to do it.

Neither could she have forgotten to inform me that we had to come up with 12 egg boxes, a ripe avocado and two safety pins for one of Miss Lewis's more recherche scientific experiments. Or that I'm being sued by the saxophone teacher for non-payment of fees because his letter - and my cheque to settle the original bill - have been languishing at the bottom of Sarah-Jane's school bag, next to that strange furry toy that looks a bit like Robin Cook.

The surest sign of this morning's brave new world was the empty school bag slung across my daughter's shoulders. By the time Sarah left her old school the regulation-issue backpack was so weighed down by unread books, unread copies of GirlTalk magazine and undelivered letters that she staggered along like a Sherpa with a hangover.

Why is it that with every generation the school bag seems to get bigger? Have we not entered the micro age with computers, mobile phones and even foreign secretaries getting tinier by the minute? So why does the school bag grow relentlessly more gargantuan? St Jude's markets its own with the school crest picked out in blue and a natty Latin motto that probably translates as "none can fathom how much has been lost within".

Personally I believe it's all part of a bureaucratic plot. I reckon only one in two notes ever makes it home. The rest disappear inside the cavernous bag until the day when we discover that Sarah is booked for a pound;2,000 field study trip to the headmaster's villa in Tuscany which leaves tomorrow morning.

"Mr Mourby, you were given the opportunity to indicate that you didn't wish her to attend," says the school secretary. "It was on that note your daughter tucked inside that copy of GirlTalk, next to the uneaten sandwiches and the toy that looks a bit like Robin Cook."

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