Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'Please apply suntan cream before you leave!'

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The Independent Online

It's 5.30am and music is blasting full volume. It could be worse. It could be Eminem rather than Tchaikovsky, but at such an ungodly hour the artist seems immaterial. Bleary- eyed, I storm into the twins bedroom to switch off the blasted CD. Once there, however, anger quiets to pianissimo, because I'm greeted by a performance worthy of the Bolshoi junior corps. Claire's interpretation of The Nutcracker Suite, limbs swaying in graceful slow-motion, is a beauty to behold.

And as for un-sporty, un-coordinated Oliver, his pirouettes and arabesques are sublimely expert. Progressive parent that I like to think I am, for a split second (actually, longer) this budding Billy Elliot act sits uneasily. "Oh, hello Mummy," my son finally looks up. "Can I do ballet lessons?"

"I'm tired," says Claire when we arrive at school. "That's because you got up too early," I snap. There's an odd orange ball in the sky, a rarity in this wishy-washy spring, but sadly these UV rays are nothing to celebrate. The playground is still empty – no equipment, no toys, and crucially, no shade.

Problem is it's a south-facing sun-trap, no good for the fair-skinned and freckled. Stuck in the classroom window is a sign: "Please apply suntan cream to your child before you leave in the morning". "Why are they telling us that?" I ask another loitering mum. She shrugs. "Apparently teachers aren't allowed to put cream on pupils."

Is this litigiousness gone mad? Cream applied in the morning will have rubbed off by lunchtime. If Miss Perry can't reapply, then who can? The twins are aged five and, if they did it themselves, the chances are that by the end of a scorching day they'd resemble burst tomatoes. I attack the keypad on my mobile with an agitated finger.

"Hello?" answers my best friend who is a primary school teacher.

"Are teachers really not allowed to put suntan cream on pupils?" I cry. "What, are you all so scared of facing assault charges that you'd have the children fry instead?" My tone is unfairly threatening, because if this is the truth, it certainly isn't my best friend who is to blame. As the phone crackles I sense her brain ticking over. "It is true," she admits, "but it has absolutely nothing to do with assault. It's just that new regulations consider suntan cream to be medication, which means, if we apply it and the child has an allergic reaction, then we're to blame. Besides, look at the practicalities. One teacher can't possibly cream 30 children."

I calm down, in tone as well as pace. "I'm sorry," I apologise, "But you must see how ridiculous this is. Claire and Oliver are whiter than porcelain." "Well then," my friend advises, "give them a sun-hat and tell them to stay in the shade." My fists clench on reflex. "That's the whole problem – there is no frigging shade." "Well, ok then," says my friend (a regular Virginia Ironside when it comes to problem-solving), "ask for the twins be kept inside at break."

Children should breathe fresh air when it's not raining, although Oliver, it seems, has other plans. Back at home, Tchaikovsky gets a reprise. My son listens intently. "This sounds like soldiers marching," he says at one point. The music turns lighter, more flowery. "And this," he adds, "sounds like snowflakes falling." Such intelligence; such an ear; not necessarily Wayne Sleep here-we-come. Oliver could be a composer, a conductor, a concert pianist even. "Mummy," pipes my son the mind-reader. "I wasn't joking this morning. I really would like to do ballet."