PANIC is sweeping the streets of Crouch End; rumours are spreading daily, whispered at the sandpit, passed on at the greengrocer's, twisted in the cafe: 'There is nowhere for our children to go to school in September]' We're all doomed, doomed, doomed . . .
These are the facts. Last year we moved to the neighbourhood, a pleasant north London suburb, unremarkable apart from the fact that Bob Dylan nearly bought a house here. One of the reasons why we moved a mile or so up the road from where we used to live was Crouch End's reputation for good infant schools. One of them, Rokesly Infants, is only two streets away from where we live - about three minutes' walk. 'Can't go wrong,' we thought smugly. 'We'll be guaranteed a place.'
Lots of other people clearly had the same idea, for this year - which is when my eldest child, Jamie, is due to start school - there are far too many applications for the available places. Hence the fear, loathing and rising panic.
Calm, I decided this week, is what is called for. So I rang Haringey Council's School Admissions Service on Monday morning, using my best, calmest voice. Unfortunately, all the other mothers had been doing the same thing. 'You're the eighth call I've had this morning,' said a harassed man, and it was only 10 o'clock. Still, he patiently explained the situation to me - which is simple. Too many children in the catchment area, no room at the inn, that sort of thing.
'But where will you send them?' I asked, meaning mine in particular. He said that maybe - only maybe, you understand - Jamie might end up at another school, beyond Crouch End. Oh my God, oh my God . . . not that school. That school, which shall remain nameless, is the School From Hell, according to local middle-class lore. 'No child of mine is going to that school,' say the mothers as they gather in the playground. That school is surrounded by a council estate, where drug dealers lurk and terrible things go bump in the night.
Anyway, the whole thing is making me very anxious. I rush downstairs every morning, hoping to find an official-looking brown envelope containing some good news. But according to the harassed man at the local council, no one is quite sure what is happening at the moment. It could be days before the matter is settled . . . or it could be next week. It all depends on whether our local school can be persuaded to take an extra class this year.
If the school says no, there might be a revolution on the streets of Crouch End . . . marches, banners, voices raised (and maybe Dylan might do a benefit concert - he's a father, isn't he?). It's unlikely, I admit. We're too polite around here. But you never know . . .-
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