Tuesday It's a sunny spring day and a local resident, who works from home, takes a lunchtime walk along the path that skirts our school field and down the unmade road alongside the playground. He takes photos of the children.
Wednesday A few mothers call in about the suspicious character spotted lurking around the school. I know nothing. One mother swears her daughter has a photographic memory so I go and ask. I learn the man had a camera and that he walked along the road and took some snaps. Further detective work with the dinner ladies reveals the "prowler" is well known to them - and his two daughters were in the playground. Reports arrive from teachers about worried children. I send a note around the school to explain what has happened, and ask staff to allay fears.
Thursday Our school secretary fields more panicky queries from parents. They say their children have had sleepless nights about the prowler. I ask the staff to repeat their reassuring act, but it doesn't work. Panic levels rise suddenly at lunchtime; children crowd the edge of the playground seeing men with guns and knives in our bramble patch. Rumour is rife. A man in a milk float is said to have driven across the playing field and abducted a child. A black dog is let loose to distract attention from the abduction. Children see camera flashes. Anyone pictured is about to be kidnapped.
Friday The school office is besieged. At morning assembly I struggle to find words to explain how worry can turn into panic; how panic can make people see things that are not there; that there was no dog, no milk float, no men with guns, knives or cameras; that it is all right for a resident to take a walk on a sunny day. The children, miraculously, understand. Lunchtime is back to normal. But I am still talking to parents after school closes. I sympathise. But I would never have believed a case of mass hysteria could happen in our ordinary, suburban, Berkshire primary school.
Rachel Roberts recently retired as a primary head in Berkshire