School's out, and so is the dustbin

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Indy Lifestyle Online
End of term at last. And the immediate problem is not what to do with the children but what to do with all the "work" they ceremoniously bring home with them and which sits around in Tesco carrier bags for the next academic year, while I wonder how to bin it without fatally wounding my children's self-esteem. First warning of the deluge came at my four- year-old's "leaving presentation" at nursery: each child came up to receive a large folder of their output reviewed in extravagant language by their impossibly nice teacher. Here was a "lovely watercolour" (large splodges of paint), "a study of feet" (four pencil lines), "a very interesting charcoal composition" (scribble). My despondency deepened as the piece de resistance emerged - an enormous mobile made from lavatory rolls and bits of polystyrene: I could see it would be vying for place of honour in my office with the large cornflake packet and kitchen-roll sculpture my daughter had lovingly bestowed on me the week before. A whispered consultation with other mothers relieved my guilt about surreptitious trips to the dustbin: one kept all the work in the boot of the car so that it was handy for the tip. The other - an old hand at motherhood, and a teacher to boot - heartlessly confided that she always ordered a skip for the end of term. The general consensus is that, like leftover food, you feel better about throwing it away if you've kept it for a few days.

End of term was preceded by the ritual humiliation of mothers' race at sports day. I don't think it was unsporting of me to suggest that it be divided into Over 40s and Under 40s - it's hard to shake all my private- school indoctrination that it is the winning, not the taking part, that counts. And why should I, with my dodgy knees (actually it was the stress incontinence which proved more of a handicap) have to compete against nubile young things in G-string leotards? You would have thought my own daughter would support me, but she felt it wouldn't be a good idea because I would be the only one in my race. Huh! Anyway, despite undergoing a rigorous training schedule at the gym in preparation, I only managed to improve my position from second to last to third from last. It was no consolation to be told by Mr Brooker that I had an "interesting" running style (particularly as he was smirking - "like a castrated camel" was clearly written across his face - when he said it).

I would love to have been there watching that football match at Chequers between the Blair boys and Princes William and Harry. You know what it's like when your children are playing against other people's and you have to keep shouting words of praise and encouragement to the other children to hide the fact that your own offspring's victory is of life-and-death importance. Private-school versus state-school encounters are invested with extra significance (I've found casual spelling tests over teatime particularly gratifying), but imagine when you add royalty versus commoners to the equation. I bet Tony Blair mentally punched the air and hissed "Yesss!" when his boys thrashed the opposition. But to Princess Diana, he probably said terribly sporting things like "Well, that was a terrific shot! William and Harry's ball skills are really coming on. I suppose Eton's more of a rugby school. And your boys will probably do much better than mine in their GCSEs ..."

It was difficult not to feel left out last week if you weren't Scottish or Welsh and you weren't invited to any parties at Downing Street. (I hear Gordon's throwing one next week - I may not have much to say on the economy but, as unofficial president of his fan club, an invitation would have been nice). But the sheer eccentricity of the scheme from the Great Eastern rail company to recruit train guards from regular commuters makes you proud to be English. Imagine the childhood dreams this will fulfil - frustrated bankers and accountants will be able to act out all their Thomas the Tank Engine fantasies, complete with a dramatic Clark Kent costume change at Liverpool Street Station. Why stop at guards, I say. There are a lot of little boys out there in commuter-land who would still love to be a train driver.

Aren't Labour clever? If Dearing's proposals for the end of free university education had been delivered by Gillian Shephard, I would be up in arms. But instead I'm just consumed with guilt about the free education I had, paid for - in David Blunkett's words - out of the taxes of badly paid cleaners. Instead of thinking ahead to how I would pay off loans in the future, I chose my university purely on the basis of the Harry Bertoia chairs in Exeter's student bar, and the good-looking men sitting in them (not realising they'd be gone by the time I got there. Duh! So much for private education).

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