It is that time of year when otherwise respectable chaps disappear from their workplaces for the afternoon, returning a couple of hours later glowing with emotion. And they haven't had a sniff of alcohol.

The season of school carol services, nativity plays and, if you live in Hackney, celebrations of the winter solstice is upon us; events at which parents shed tears of pride when they discover that they own the most up-to-date camcorder in the school.

Yesterday afternoon was my son's annual event. In a crowded north London school hall, confident little girls with gaps in their teeth belted out tuneless versions of 'Away In A Manger' while, behind them, boys performed embarrassed shuffles, hoping not to be associated with the parents waving cheerily at them from the front row of the audience.

Although the gathering consisted mainly of mums and grannies, who dabbed hankies at the corners of their eyes, there was a sprinkling of fathers, including one who arrived, panting, just as the children were leaving the hall. 'You've missed it, as usual,' said his wife. It has to be said he didn't look too disappointed.

A special Independent opinion poll (respondents scientifically selected from my address book) revealed that when asked: 'Will you take time off to attend your child's school Christmas activity?' most fathers answered yes.

'I always try to go if I can,' said Michael, a comedian, whose daughter has been slated to play a shepherd this season. 'I went last year and I was quite moved, although I had had a long lunch beforehand. The only drawback was that I was well shown up in the camera department. I only had a Sureshot, and it looked like an advertisement for Dixons in there.'

'I'm going along, for sure,' said Mike, a City treasury manager. 'Danny's been cast as a dog in his nativity play, and it's news to me that there was one involved. I'm going because I want to see how a dog fits in to it all, frankly.'

Nick, who commutes to the BBC, had to take a day off to attend both his sons' functions this year. 'I missed Christopher's major acting debut as narrator last year,' he said. 'Frankly, I was more disappointed than he was.'

Not everyone can make it. Simon, a barrister, was too busy to speak to me on the phone. His wife doubted that he would be in attendance next week, when their daughter will be singing in a service of nine lessons and carols.

'He did come to her summer show, to be fair,' she said. 'He walked out once she'd done her bit - he had to dash. And he wasn't the only one. But nine lessons and carols represents far too much chargeable time for him to spare.'

Tim, who works in insurance, said that he could only justify attending one school event a year, and it won't be the Christmas one. 'In truth, at this time of year it is more a question of reserving favours at work for time off for the more important things,' he said. 'Like the Varsity rugby match.'

Firms are more sympathetic to requests for time off for school events than they used to be. In one City shipbroking firm, picked at random, more than half the men with school-age children will be taking time off, including one who will be going to performances by all four children.

'A lot of blokes at our place say they're going to carol services,' said our source. 'But I think they just fancy a day off playing golf.'

How did he know?

'Well, how many carol services are there in October?'