If you live in one of those streets that are so posh they have residents' parking for their wheelie bins, you may have noticed some strange children in your neighbourhood this week. Don't be alarmed - that couple unloading their new Land Rover Discovery don't make all their money by kidnapping children. Believe it or not, those kids are their own; they've just been to pick them up from boarding school.
This week, thousands of children will have returned to their "homes" for the first time since Christmas. They'll be seeing their pets, playing with their toys, sleeping in their own bedrooms and, for a few weeks, experiencing something approaching normal family life. But just when they start to adjust, a few belongings will be packed into a trunk, and they will be exiled to snobs' Siberia all over again. Whenever I worry that I may produce screwed-up kids, I console myself with the thought that at least I'm not spending thousands of pounds a year just to make really sure.
The fact that it is routine practice to separate children who are as young as seven from their parents should be a national scandal. Call the police, call social services - a child has been abandoned. However, somehow it is unacceptable for a penniless refugee to keep her child with her as she begs on the street, while it is considered a social status symbol to be able to dump your children in a posh borstal for eight months of the year. Call me a wet liberal, but there is more to parenting than sending off a parcel containing a Dundee cake and an Airfix model once every term.
Just as children who were beaten may themselves become violent parents, so Daddy will put his son down for his old school on the day that the poor child is born. I don't see why these parents don't just dump the baby in a telephone box and have done with it. In Aztec society, children were occasionally sacrificed at the age of seven. On the given day, they were taken to the top of the pyramid and then hurled to their death. And the Aztec dad pompously told his wife that it was for their child's own good, while the mum tried to put a brave face on it by saying to herself: "Well they do have splendid cricket facilities in the Kingdom of the Sun God."
The range of activities they offer is the most common defence of these institutions. Well they may have more rugger pitches and their own theatre and a brand-new science lab and 12 computers for a class of 12, but, without wanting to sound like a country and western song, what they don't have is love.
When children are at boarding school there is no one there who loves them. There is nobody who will be on their side no matter what and whom they can just go to and cuddle whenever they feel like it. They may have a boy for whom they fag, of course, and there is no one you would want to put in charge of your 11-year-old more than an abandoned 16-year-old who has been bullied for the past five years. What better way for a young boy to learn respect for his elders than being buggered by them?
By sending away your children, you are separating them from the most important thing in their life, the most crucial factor in their development as a fully rounded human being. I have never understood why posh people always feel the need to own so much stuff - horses, boats, holiday homes - yet, when it comes to their offspring, prefer to lease them on an occasional basis.
Of course, there are plenty of children who go to boarding school who may not be emotionally scarred. One of my best friends had a father in the RAF who was constantly having to move and so, from the age of 11, she shared a dorm with eight other girls. She is one of the most balanced, warm-hearted people I have ever met and, apart from the fact that she likes the Carpenters, does not seem to have been psychologically damaged in any way. But for every person like her there are countless dysfunctional adults who were denied proper role models, who have problems communicating with the opposite sex or, worse, have grown up believing that the boat race is an interesting sporting event.
If you have just brought your children home and this is the first that you have seen of them since Christmas, don't send them back to boarding school in four weeks. Don't send them the subconscious message that you do not want them around, that they are not welcome at home. Tell them that you love them so much you want to see them all year round. Tell them that you will undertake to teach those important social skills such as talking too loudly and throwing bread rolls around in restaurants.
And think of the money you'll save; you can put it in a savings account for your children. They'll need it when it's time to dump you in an old people's home.