I sometimes think that if it were not for Open Day I would have very little idea what goes on in my daughters' lives between 9 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. every weekday.
not for want of asking either; but the answers I receive to my diligent "What did you do at school today?" depend entirely on their mood of the moment. Often I have to be content with an airy "Oh - things!" as they race off with Jane or Julia or the latest
Even if I catch them in a more talkative mood there's no guarantee that I will understand what they are talking about: For instance:
"We had operations today" - from Hilary, importantly.
"Operations?" Accustomed as I am to Hilary's particular brand of malapropisms, I cannot figure that one out.
"She means apparatus," Anne explains in her best elder-sisterly manner, "Her class had PE in the hall." Thank heavens for an efficient interpreter.
still plenty of questions I would like answered. What does Hilary mean by "jumble work", why does Anne have an obsession with Australia these days and who is this mysterious "Sam" they keep talking about, who was taken off to prison one day last term?
For all I know my daughters have befriended an old lag, Hilary is running a rummage sale and Anne is planning to emigrate! I am seeking solutions this Wednesday - Open Day at the Infants School.
It almost seems like prying to wander round their classrooms without them. It's the small revelations which fascinate me - where they sit, what books they have in their class library, the way they have decorated the windows
with gaudy painted butterflies and monster flower blooms.
I cannot see much point in investigating their progress too critically at this early stage - I haven't much patience with the father next to
me, worrying over the fact that his five year old can't tell the time properly: "I've promised him a watch when he can, but anything more difficult than half past or quarter to and he's completely stumped..."
Nor do I feel inclined to follow the example of the mother who plans to give her son 10p for every star she finds in his work books. To me the star should be reward in itself - but perhaps I am just mean.
I learn a lot about my daughters from their school work. Hilary has a colourful drawing of a long, thin, pig-tailed nurse pinned up on the classroom wall. "I want to be a nurse and make sick people well," is scrawled hopefully across the top of the
paper. I wince at the thought of my Hilary, who only has to look at a breakable object for it to crash, obligingly, to the ground, among the thermometers and bedpans. I fear she would break more bones than she mended. I take comfort from the fact that, to
judge by the rest of the drawings on the wall, all the girls want to be nurses and all the boys policemen.
Those puzzling questions are answered too. "Jumble work" is, in fact, a set of jumbled words
to be put in order. Anne's class is in the middle of a full-scale project about Australia; "Sam the convict" is a character from a schools television programme entitled "Sam of Both Island" which frankly sounds decidedly like a re-run of Gulliver's adventures
in Lilliput to me.
I open Anne's News Book with well-justified trepidation. Every detail of our family life is recorded faithfully, with many cunning elaborations.
"This morning as Mummy was putting on her coat she saw the awful mess in our hall, even worse than normal, and she said in a cross voice "Who made this mess?" I said no and Hilary said no and Little Nan said no. But Mummy said it couldn't
be Steven because he is too young. And we all knew it was Little Nan."
For this piece of fearless reporting, Anne earned a silver star which spurred her onto further, mostly misleading, descriptions.
Later entries place her unsuspecting father among the ranks of the unemployed - "When my daddy finds a new job we will all move to a new house" - and the whole family in dire financial straits - "Mummy still can't afford to buy us any shoes."
Whatever views Anne's teacher may have formed with regard to her pupil's family, she has plenty of praise for my daughter. "Anne is very good at managing the other children," she tells me.
"She can be a bit bossy," I agree. Miss McNeill is horrified: "Not BOSSY, Mrs Ball," she exclaims, "Anne is a born leader!" I must remind myself of that the next time she starts ordering me around.
I can forgive her everything for the last entry in her book - even though it was obviously written for my eyes to see.
"My Mum is middle-sized and very beautiful."
Well, what better time than Open Day for a bit of shameless flattery!
Slough Evening Mail - 1973