I've given up making new year resolutions. After all, I stopped smoking 20 years ago and I eat sensibly, so what's left? Perhaps I could persuade those of my parents who don't collect their children on time to make a resolution instead. Take Clyde and Raine's parents, for example. Clyde and Raine come bounding into the office. Clyde is Year 1, Raine is in reception. Clyde clutches a crumpled animal mask he's made that day. His sister holds a painting. Sandra, our secretary, rolls her eyes and mutters, "Not again..." You can't help liking Clyde and Raine, but an hour of their company can be pretty wearing. We wonder if that's the reason their parents don't collect them. They run to Sandra's desk, as usual, and the Pinteresque dialogue begins.
Me: "Wow, that's a good mask. I reckon it's umI a tiger."
Clyde stares at me, astonished. "Yeah! 'Ow did you know that?"
Me: "Headteachers know everything."
Raine: "I bet you don't know my nan's name."
Me: "Yes, I do. It's Ermintrude."
Raine giggles uncontrollably. "No, course it ain't."
Me: "Go on then, what is it?"
Me: "What's your nan's name, Clyde?"
Raine. "'E don't know much. My nan says 'e's thick as two short planks. Can I go toilet?"
Sandra: "Hurry up then." Raine runs along the corridor. When she returns Clyde looks at her quizzically.
Clyde: "Where did you went?"
Clyde: "Can I go toilet?"
Sandra: "In a minute. So why isn't Nan coming to meet you? Or Mum. Or Dad? Where's Mum today?"
Clyde: "In my house."
Me: "Where's that?"
Clyde: "Dunno. Can I do some colourin'?"
Sandra: "Where do you think Mum might be?"
Raine: "She might 'ave gone to me nan's."
Sandra: "I'll try ringing your nan."
Raine. "She got cut off. Can I have a biscuit? I'm starvin'."
And on it goes, until, at 5.20pm, I've had enough and attempt to phone social services. I get the engaged tone. I try 10 minutes later. How did I guess it would still be engaged?
Suddenly, there's a commotion outside. Mum has arrived, sheepishly beckoning to her children from the corridor, hoping she can get away with it one more time. I hear her apologising to Sandra.
"Sorry," she says, "me and their dad was asleep. We just woke up."
Sandra, very cross indeed, demands that she waits and sees Mr Kent. I draw myself up to full, tired, smouldering height. It's been a long day.
"Do you realise, madam, that it's half past five, my wife is waiting for me to visit her in hospital, my daughter's car has broken down on the M1, and I'm supposed to be taking the cat to be neutered? Once more, just once more, and I won't let your children inside this building."
It's all bluff, of course. But she hasn't been late since.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org