What am I bid for tea with teacher?

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Last summer I came under the gavel as lot 15 at a fundraising auction: an antique slotted between a crate of champagne and a weekend cruise for two to Santander. A persuasive parent at the local primary school caught me on the hop, twisting my arm until I offered an invitation for three children to come and play for an afternoon and stay for tea in the summer holidays.

The pledge went out of my head. So I was brought up short when I got a call from a mother wanting to arrange a date. Unfamiliar with auction etiquette, I was too cowardly to tell her she was not part of the deal.

In this neck of the woods a lot of children are brought up on organic chives and rice cakes, so I asked what hers were allowed to eat. What they would all love, she assured me, was homemade spaghetti bolognese. I am sadly lacking in culinary expertise and, on the day they were due, went to the supermarket feeling uneasy about whether I could come up to scratch - lot 15 (me) had gone for pound;50. I considered buying a couple of tins of sauce, but it looked like my cat's favourite duck and heart in jelly.

When the children arrived, they heaped their plates with crisps and fondant fancies while their mother picked at dried apricots and agreed, a touch diffidently, that she would have some UHT milk in her tea if there was absolutely no alternative. We played cards and word games, threaded beads and talked to the cat. We showed eight-year-old Toby how to make Vaclav, my string puppet from Prague, pick his nose, scratch his bottom and stand on his head, while Flora, who had given up trying to persuade their mother to go away, became absorbed in making patterns with Moroccan spoons and forks with fake jewelled handles.

Then the pair roamed the house with their mother in their wake and I became increasingly conscious of unmade beds and general squalor. I thought I had tidied the dining room but Toby pointed out that his chair was covered in cat hairs and his mother forbade him to sit on it.

They stayed for three-and-a-half long hours. Oh, I know all about jolly community spirit. But as a parent, would you not rather make a direct donation than go through the palaver of an auction? Or as a teacher, would you not prefer to laze in your backyard at the weekend rather than gad about as fun personified at a summer fete?

The mother confided that she'd had to shuffle work commitments as a journalist to come. She is probably now tapping out an article on deficit budgets and the hoops parents have to jump through to keep education financially afloat. There could also be a touch of colour about the unkempt state of teachers' houses and the unsuitability of their diet.

So, if you read it anywhere, don't forget you heard my side of the story first.

Gill Tweed recently retired as a nursery teacher in south London

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