Miss Perry opens the classroom door, brandishing paper and pen. An innocent enough manoeuvre, only you'd think she was Britney Spears being mobbed by the paparazzi for all the fuss that's made. Mothers, nannies, au pairs all bulldoze towards the piece of A4, and I (shamefully) join the pack.
Why the urgency? We are all desperate to be "parent reader", and with the opportunity arising just once a week, on Tuesdays at 3pm, slots are few and far between.
Mission accomplished, slot secured. Not for me, though – for Claire and Oliver's daddy, who made me promise to get him signed up. With the chance to play teacher for half an hour by reading a story or two, it was my contention that taking along books would be a good idea. My husband, however, had other plans. "Pah! You can talk," he snubbed. "Your last attempt was hardly a rip-roaring success." Harsh, yet true, demonstrating my 14-piece musical-instrument collection to a class of 30 as part of International Arts Week was a damp squib. "You should have prepared better," my husband chastised at the time. "You didn't think it through properly."
Meticulous preparation for the twins' father, then. "Do you have a list of all the kids' names?" he asked, before burrowing himself in the garage with his guitar. Song duly composed, an audience was in order. An original track (the class register put to music), his composition had an edgy rock beat and cunning chorus. Brilliantly rhyming 30 names in couplets, with lyrics like this, Coldplay had better watch out:
Claire and Oliver, Luke
Marcus, Maya, Jackie too.
Claire and Oliver were delighted. "Isn't that brilliant, Mummy?" Begrudgingly, I agreed.
The day arrived. "Daddy," said Claire, munching toast at breakfast, "I heard you practising the guitar last night when I was in bed." Jeez, The Spice Girls probably didn't do this much rehearsing for their comeback gig. And it didn't end there. My husband came back from work early, for some last-minute practice.
"I'm a little bit nervous," he admitted, poised to leave, guitar case in hand. "You'll be fine," I reassured him, and indeed he was. Big hit, the twins gushed about how wonderful it was, and how Daddy also sang "Old Macdonald", only the farm was unusual thanks to a group of budding palaeontologists naming everything from tyrannosaurus to pterodactyl. All well and good, until Claire was asked, "Did you prefer Daddy coming in to Mummy?". Not a moment's hesitation. "Daddy, of course," she said.
Daddy this, Daddy that, and the next day the full daddy impact became clear. "He was so funny," said one little boy. "He brought in loads of books (incorrect) but he never read one of them," said another. "When's he coming again?" asked a third. Even Miss Perry commented on what a refreshing change Daddy had made.
At the gate was an assortment of large paper bags. "What are they, Mummy?" asked Oliver. "They're filled with organic fruit and vegetables, and for every person that buys one," I reluctantly admitted, "the school gets some money." A lady wielding a clipboard was poised to sign me up, only I don't want one of those paper bags as I already have my weekly shopping delivered. My son turned imperious. "You know, you really ought to get one of those bags. Our school needs your help."
As I dragged the twins away, Oliver looked back over his shoulder. "Daddy would have bought one of those bags." It's official – Mum's on strike.