Thank God it's Friday

8th September 2006 at 01:00
MONDAY It's my first day as the only male lunchtime supervisor at my son's primary school and I am looking forward to the experience. As I take up my position in the canteen the first indication that something is amiss is an encounter with my son's class teacher. She catches my eye but brushes past me with only the most begrudging of acknowledgements, a pattern repeated by other staff who have previously taught my son.

TUESDAY After the lunchtime shift, I join the other five supervisors in the staffroom. The conversation momentarily halts after which my presence is treated with polite indifference. An exchange ensues which seems to encompass the tiniest minutiae relating to lives of staff and pupils. I wait in trepidation but ultimately in vain for them to direct their attention to me.

WEDNESDAY My boss asks me to oversee the older children's playground. After a flurry designed to gain my attention, the girls lose interest in my presence. In contrast, the lads' interest gradually increases and I find it oddly moving when several of them appear to treat me like a surrogate father. They contrive to initiate a wrestling match with me - until my colleagues point out that such intimacies are verboten. I decide to minimise any potential accusations by joining in with an appropriately "distant" game of football.

THURSDAY I happily accept the less physical option of the younger playground. The children are adorable and affectionate but are transparently confused by my gender. "Are you a boy or a girl? Why do you have long hair? Why are you a dinner lady?"

The boys grow tired of trying to figure me out but the girls eventually conclude that I must be a man after all and compete to hold my hand or use me as a human climbing frame. I am reminded once again that such contact could be misinterpreted so I persuade the girls that some skipping might be fun: a suggestion which refuels the gender debate.

FRIDAY I am beginning to accept that as a male "dinner lady", the staff have unconsciously awarded me solitary membership of the school's underclass. Midway through lunch, the headteacher enters the canteen, greets me warmly and loudly asks how my novel is progressing. The incident seems to prompt an urgent reappraisal of my status. After lunch, my son's teacher approaches me smiling broadly as if she has only just recognised me. "Your little boy is doing so well in literacy," she gushes. "He must take after you."

Martin Harley, school meals supervisor and aspirant author, writes under a pseudonym

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