"Just do your best - it's really not at all important. Well, apart from the pounds 42,000 it will save us in school fees ..."

No, this wasn't another BBC2 documentary about pushy parents, this was us, setting off for the first entrance exam of the season: the neighbouring borough's grammar school. To get in, according to local legend, our child has to come in the top 1 per cent. However, the fact that they only measure IQ in the form of reasoning tests is a good let out for parents like myself. "You see, they take no account of creative intelligence. Now if only they would interview him, or preferably us, we could tell them all about his completely untutored love of ancient history ..."

At the gates children were cruelly ripped from their parents' arms and placed in marching lines by spotty Gauleiters. "Mum," called mine in plaintive tones as he was led away. I fought my way through to him, thinking he'd had a last minute attack of nerves or wanted to check out the difference between a rhomboid and a parallelogram, but no, his final request was that I look after his Tamagotchi. The other parents looked at me with undisguised disdain, but actually I think it a very good sign that he wasn't looking all pale and anxious and that his nurturing instincts were still well to the fore. Anyway, I'm not at all sure about this school - the prospectus has a photograph of a group of boys in the playground peering earnestly over each other's shoulders at a textbook. It is clearly a school without a sense of humour. And that is why we shall not be sending our son there - it has absolutely nothing to do with him not getting in.

With two hours to kill, I decided to indulge in a bit of retail therapy, and went to test my fashion sense in Marks & Spencer. It was much more exciting when M&S stuff was completely ghastly - it was then a real achievement to find something that was nice by mistake. Now about 20 per cent of their stock is really great, 60 per cent is almost there and the rest is for your mother in law. But it requires the nose of a Conde Nast fashion hound to distinguish between the really great and the almost there. If you find yourself hovering in front of racks of Alpine-style sweaters, desperately trying to remember whether snowflakes are new-nerd and communing with the signs above them - "yes, that really is Outstanding Value" - then you are in severe danger of getting it wrong. Or possibly going through a middle-age crisis. In my case this was confirmed by finding two huge pairs of alien knickers in the bag with the school trousers that I had bought. This is what happens to women of my age - the slightest stress and they start shoplifting undesirable things like Royal Doulton figurines and size 18 knickers. Fortunately, I remembered seeing the knickers at the till - the assistant must have swept them into the bag with my legitimate purchases. That very same day a friend of mine walked all the way down London's Kings Road with a Marks & Spencer velvet body still on its hanger attached to her coat. Nobody said anything to her, just in case it was a new fashion and commenting on it would make them look stupid. She was mortified of course ("It was a horrible colour, and the wrong size"), but it does make you wonder how much involuntary shoplifting goes on.

We've solved the Gulf crisis. My son briefly emerged from his teenage torpor the other day to ask if the UN sent weapons inspectors to America. Feel this sense of playground logic may have evaded Clinton and Blair in their effort to exhaust all diplomatic routes. A peerage will do nicely, thank you.

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