Thank God It's Friday

12th May 1995 at 01:00
Monday: The Pharoahs might have approved. Mummy-shaped skipping rope handles, hieroglyphic pencil cases and cardboard cut-out pyramids. These ancient Egyptian symbols of eternal life are inspiration for 20th century children's toys here in the British Museum's children's shop.

Roman emperors, on the other hand, may well have objected to our fake Roman coins and lapel badges transforming Julius Caesar's words Britain, "Vini Vidi Vidi" (I came, I saw, I conquered), into the more homely "Vini Vidi Museum Brittanicum" (I came, I saw the British Museum).

But today I wouldn't mind swapping a Roman gladiator for the 1,000 schoolchildren who troop through the shop. The leftover debris of 27 school parties includes six clipboards, two exercise books, one plimsoll and a Jurassic Park lunchbox filled with an unidentifiable sticky substance.

Tuesday: Since working here I've come to appreciate the organisational skills of dinner ladies everywhere. Several school parties descend on the shop at once and I am triggered into canteen mode. "Form a queue," I bark. "Have your money ready and make sure you've got enough."

This warning does not prevent the first child putting five hieroglyphic badges, some colouring-in papyrus, four mummy masks and a pencil on the counter, before confidently producing 32p to pay for it all.

The glare on his teacher's face has no effect, but gives me a shiver I haven't felt sinceIwell, since I was at school.

I've heard that teachers get special pay allowances for taking on responsibility for particular tasks; if there's a Hard Stare Allowance this one should make the shortlist. And is there something called a Compassion Allowance? If there is, she could get one for subsidising most of her pupils' purchases.

Wednesday: I speak to another candidate for a Compassion Allowance - compassion for us this time. A teacher from the ominously named Charge Junior School telephones to order a parcel of 140 scarab beetles and 140 souvenir badges for his school party. "It'll be a lot easier than taking the kids round the shop," he tells me.

I'm so impressed I nearly ask him to marry me. Could school visits by telephone be part of a code of good practice?

Thursday: One of the pleasures of serving children is their frankness - they often tell you which members of the family they're buying for. "These coins are for my grandad and grandma," explains one little girl. "We've got a cat like this, he's called Bouncy," pipes up another, showing me a postcard of a 3,400-year-old Egyptian stone cat with a ring though its nose. "Bet it wasn't a punk cat like that one," says the boy behind her.

Friday: A schoolchild with "Evin" on his name badge (did a K get knocked off?) interrupts my attempts to describe an Egyptian scarab beetle to a German tourist (Me: "It lived in dung and was supposed to bring good luck." Him: "Er - what is 'dung' please?") "My friend's just been sick on the floor," announces Evin. I suddenly find that it's my lunch break, and in the staff cafe consider a new product line to be sold in the shop - punk cats. "Bouncy the punk Egyptian cat" could be popular. Next time Evin comes in I'll ask him whether he's thought of product design as a career.

Rebecca Reynolds is a postgraduate student working temporarily at the British Museum.

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