Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: The bouncy castle is heaving. I hear screams but can’t make out features

A mother's weekly dispatch from the pre-school frontline

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The Independent Online

There was a form stuffed into my daughter's book-bag when she came home last month. I signed without reading and swiftly forgot about it.

A few days later I got an email: "Thanks for offering your help with the summer fair. We'd love it if you would man the bouncy castle for an hour from 1.30pm". This was exactly the opportunity I'd been waiting for: a chance to bond with other mums at the three-year-old's new school while demonstrating my parenting prowess. I could already see it: me, gatekeeper to an inflatable palace; beautiful children bouncing in slow-mo like a real-life Instagram filter.

Saturday arrives. At 1.29pm I stumble through the school gates, both children wailing in unison. As my husband makes a beeline for the Pimm's and curry stand, I present myself at my guard-point, which, truth be told, is more Peacehaven bungalow than Versailles. "There's nothing to it," the lady I'm relieving of duty smiles. "It's been very quiet... 50p a child... if there are smaller ones, try to stagger them with the older kids as they can get quite boisterous. That's all really!" She beams once more, then vanishes.

Excellent, I say. Whereupon a plague of children lob themselves at me, proffering fistfuls of change like Dickensian beggar-boys charged on Red Bull. Before I have time to react, the castle is heaving with bodies. I can hear screams but I can't make out features. Just as my eyes focus on the mother beside me, her eyes bulging with fear, I hear a voice: "Quick, evacuate, puncture! IT'S GOING TO GO!!!!!".