Thank God its Friday

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Monday: Down in Suffolk to do our duty as grandparents: we've agreed to hold the fort while Mum and Dad go swanning off to Italy for a much-needed off-peak holiday. Suddenly we're back in the organised world of strident alarm clocks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sandwich boxes, PE kit, reply-slips and Are-you-sure-you-haven't-forgotten-anything?

There's a list of instructions by the front door. Nine-year-old at middle school stays for piano on Tuesday, seven-year-old at first school must take her recorder on Thursday, and four-year-old has to be taken to play-group, improbably known as Chuckles.

Tuesday: To the village church for the first school's harvest festival, in support of the seven-year-old. On the way we overtake the excited crocodile, protected fore and aft by teachers' cars with hazard lights flashing. Fruit, veg and supermarket tins are loaded on to the altar. The sound of music and poetry, so carefully rehearsed in the confines of the classroom, disappears into the distant gothic roof. Our seven-year- old holds up one of the S cards that spells out "Harvest festival". Choreography is faultless as children and cards change places to spell out "Feast" and "Starve" to compare our plenty with the needs of others. "Eat tea" bids us to be eternally grateful for every plateful. The vicar, approaching his own sell-by date, announces that he's going to address the grown-ups and does just that. The children switch off, teachers eye them nervously, parents politely pretend to listen. When Ofsted visits church schools, I ask myself, do they inspect vicars?

Wednesday: Peace is rudely shattered when the nine-year-old sweeps in at four o'clock proclaiming she's lost one of her shoes. Last lesson was PE, so she wore her trainers home and the errant shoe must have fallen out of her bag.

Could she have dropped it on the bus? A phone call to the contract coach company brings no joy: no lost property today. Will have to ask at school tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we dig out an old pair, polished up by long-suffering Grandpa.

Thursday: Off with four-year-old to Chuckles, held in a mobile classroom at the edge of the first-school playground. Stuck on the window there's a message telling us that Chuckles is closed due to sickness. The lady in the sweet shop has had a stream of downcast children and angry mums. Why couldn't the staff have taken the trouble to phone round?

Friday: Something to celebrate when the seven-year-old returns home with the nine-year-old's shoe. A good citizen found it in the street and took it into the first school (it's quite a small shoe), where staff brandished it aloft in assembly.

Bronzed and happy, Mum and Dad return in time for tea. Haggard but happy grandparents are relieved of their responsibilities. In an excited babble of young voices, the week's tales are recounted. Only when four-year-old explains that Chuckles was closed "because someone had been sick" do I realise she'd pictured a mess on the play-group floor.

Michael Smith and his wife are retired teachers living in Norfolk

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