E Jane Dickson: Staying Afloat

'My charges surge on, improvising ever more wildly on a theme of farts and bums'

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Eight little girls dance along the road, performing the show stopper from the school's forthcoming nativity play. "Hallelujah
rock!" they chant, with outstretched arms and shining faces, "Glory to God!"

Eight little girls dance along the road, performing the show stopper from the school's forthcoming nativity play. "Hallelujah rock!" they chant, with outstretched arms and shining faces, "Glory to God!"

Passers-by are startled by such enthusiastic, alfresco evangelising, but most smile encouragingly. I smile back, trying not to look too much like Cliff Richard. When the spirit moves the girls to a fantastically loud and mildly lubricious version of "We Three Kings of Orient Are (Wearing Knickers Tuppence a Pair)", I stop feeling like Cliff Richard and turn into Miss Clavel from the Madeline books, remonstrating feebly with my charges while they, like junior Bacchantes, surge on down the road, improvising ever more wildly on a theme of farts and bums.

"Girls!", I call, as Miss Clavel morphs seamlessly into Miss Jean Brodie, " Girls! That's enough of the bums, thank you." But eight little girls in full cry are more than a match for one mother. They know and I know the time-honoured rule of birthday parties: You Cannot Shout At Other People's Children.

Clara is nine and, to celebrate, we are having a tea-party at home followed by a trip to the theatre to see Anne of Green Gables. Four o'clock sees me muttering over allergen-free pinwheel sandwiches and stabbing bits of melon for fruit kebabs with more than necessary ferocity, while my friend Emily stuffs the party bags, and my mum does her trick of wrenching ill-finished dishes from my hands and making them look nice. Reaching for the bottle of elderflower cordial, I grab a wine bottle by mistake and narrowly miss sending out a decanter of "fairy champagne" that is six parts Pinot Grigio.

Not that the girls need stimulants. By the time we reach Sadler's Wells, excitement over who will sit next to whom in the theatre has reached fever pitch, and I momentarily forget the no-shouting rule. "Everybody must sit in the seat with their ticket-number on it," I bark, causing a hunted-looking man and his granddaughters to slink back three rows in case the bossy woman with marshmallow in her hair singles them out for public humiliation.

The play, however, is a palpable hit. Clara and her friends thoroughly approve of Anne's cracking Gilbert Blythe over the head with her school slate ("the only way to deal with boys") and weep appropriate buckets at the death of Matthew. I always used to cry at that bit of the book myself, but this time it's Marilla's "Jest look at our girl, all growed-up" speech that gets to me.

I look at my girl, carefully balancing the box of Ferrero Rochers (her interval treat of choice, chosen for its heady sophistication) and find that, like Marilla, I have something in my eye. The sleeve of an M&S Supersoft Washable is all very well, but at times like these a woman needs a calico apron.

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