I suffer from an unfortunate inability to interact socially in a casual and carefree manner with the parents of other children at my son's school. While others hail each other and embrace lovingly, I stand by wondering if they are not all siblings in the world's largest family. They seem to know not only each other intimately, but also each other's husbands, other children, parents, friends, share portfolios, and where exactly in Norfolk their holiday homes are located.
Of course I do know a few of them. I have joined a book club (or a "read-the-blurb-on-the-back-of-the-Penguin-and-wing-it-club as Matthew refers to it) through one mother, and been on holiday to Italy with another, and now count both these fabulous women as my closest friends. But the rest are strangers to me, and as I watch them hugging and laughing and telling heart-warming anecdotes about how Horace scored a hat-trick for the football team, and how splendidly Petsy is doing in decoupage club this year, I stand against the wall with my hands in my pockets like a sulky sixth-former. For me every afternoon is like a drinks party where I know no one and no one wants to know me.
I was whingeing about this a few months ago, not for the first time, when an eruption from the sofa gave me an idea. "In the name of sanity, woman," roared Matthew, "will this infernal bleating never cease? If you're that bloody bothered about making new friends, why don't you become a parent rep?"
And then, after pausing a moment to ponder what he had just said, he burst in to such a prolonged and violent bout of laughter that for a moment I thought his life might be in peril. So did he, judging by the hoarsely whispered: "Tracheotomy... give me a tracheotomy."
I waited for the fit to pass before asking him what was so funny and Matthew said: "Please tell me you're not serious. Please tell me you would never seriously consider becoming a parent rep."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because for one thing you are so antisocial you make Howard Hughes look like Christopher Biggins, and for another, you have the organisational skills of a retarded crane fly. You couldn't organise a bell-chiming display in a leper colony." I listened carefully, mulled it over for several hours and then applied to become a parent rep for Louis's class.
It is fortunate that I share the job with another mother whose experience in the field, not to mention her appraisal of my organisational skills, means I've been given very little to do, just man a hairspray and tattoo stall at the school Christmas Fair for an hour and remember to bring two plastic bowls and a second-hand sponge (for applying the tattoos.)
I also tried to contribute to a meeting at which such issues as security within the school grounds and the lack of space in which those in year eight could put their sports bags were raised. The reason I said nothing was that I don't have a child in year eight, while the security two socking great electronic metal gates, obviously programmed to respond only to the larger and more expensive 4x4s seemed fine to me. I had been planning to ask for more bike racks but another mother got in before me. She was quite a way away from me but I think that her suggestion involved moving the bike racks altogether and relocating them at the furthest end of the playing fields by the compost heap, thereby making more room for the larger vehicles dropping off the smaller children at the pre-prep.
Louis had asked me to raise the possibility of organising a school dog show, since many parents bring along their four-legged friends at pick-up time, but again someone beat me to it with what sounded, from where I was sitting, like a suggestion that money could be raised selling poop-scoop bags (bearing the school emblem perhaps) that would serve to diminish the risk of stepping in something nasty on the way to the ballet class.
Indeed it seems that being a parent rep has had exactly the opposite effect to the one I had hoped for. So hopeless was I at organising the International Relief charity gift-filled shoeboxes for children less fortunate than our own (Louis, in a tone uncannily similar to his father's, wondered who these people might be), I was under the impression that at one stage I was being shunned. As Louis pointed out, it wasn't as if I had been asked to mastermind the entire project, I only had to organise his shoe-box and I got that wrong by providing him with a receptacle that was too big; it had once contained Wellington boots.
And then came my chance for redemption when I heard that Veronica, a popular child in the same class as Louis, was leaving. It was my masterstroke to invite everyone for a pizza at a nearby restaurant by way of a farewell gesture. Louis set about making a card, which involved photographing the class holding up placards saying "Good Luck" and "We'll Miss You!" and I sent emails arranging for the photography to take place and inviting people for the pizza. Unfortunately, owing to a glitch in my emailing I sent all 20 emails to Veronica's mother, which meant that she was the only one featured in the card and that hers was the only child, other than Louis, who turned up for the pizza.
Louis says that he hopes I won't be offended if he starts a petition to have me demoted from my parent rep post. I told him he didn't have to bother because I intended to fire myself. I did it last week with a round robin email but I have yet to hear back.