My wife has a cold, so I alone am tasked with the mission of checking out a local primary as we prepare to send our four-year-old to school.
I arrive at the agreed time, because it turns out you have to book these things, and there are now rules about just allowing random men in their thirties to show up and wander around the corridors on their own.
There are some other parents already there, and we all smile at each other as we stand around silently waiting for some kind of state authority figure to arrive and show us around. I decide I must look mysterious and dignified – a brave single father trying to do right by his son, rather than a bloke whose wife’s got a cold.
“Right, if you’d like to follow me?” says a lady, slightly rushed and suddenly there, and I hope she’s affiliated to the school in some way and not just a local madwoman, because who knows where you’d end up agreeing to follow one of those. Probably spend all morning drinking Special Brew round the back of a Lidl or something, and that is not going to help my child one bit as I struggle to raise him singlehandedly.
We set off down a corridor.
Truth be told, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be looking out for in this school. I suppose books and tables etc. If my wife was here I guess we’d just sort of look at things and compare notes. But I do my best to look stern and thoughtful, and as we walk down a hallway I take in some of the art on the walls and nod appreciatively, which is kind of me, because the artistic styles of the featured children is very naive.
“This is our library,” says the lady, and with a sweeping arm gesture she reveals the library behind her. She’s absolutely spot-on. And it’s perfect. They have books and tables. I can do all my checking at once right here. I reach over and flick through a short book about aubergines. Did you know that the Italians call an aubergine a “crazy apple”? That’s so them. And this is precisely the kind of thing I want my son to learn.
And look! There – on the wall! A huge poster of Sir Trevor McDonald, holding a book! Well, I guess that decides it. Call off the search! No more school visits for me.
“Does anyone have any questions at this point?” says the lady, and I stick my bottom lip out and shake my head slowly. I suppose if this was a job interview or I was on The Apprentice, I’d have to ask something insightful, or say ‘what do you love most about your job?’ to flatter the interviewer and allow them to blather on. But I don’t need to do that here. I don’t need to do anything. It’s not like they can put me in detention.
“Can you tell me a little about how you encourage the development of children in terms of extra-curricular activities?” asks a forthright lady to my left, and I kick myself, because yeah, I guess there’s loads of stuff you can ask. I try to look interested in the answer, and then she asks if they do formal debating and so on, but I’m not sure how useful that is in the under-fives community. Also, there’s no way she thought of that just then. She came prepared. She’s a swot. I guess I need to come up with something. “Do you teach maths? Are these the only tables you have? Are there buses here?” I could ask about the pictures on the wall!
“What criteria are used to determine student placement?” asks a dad, and that’s loads better than asking about the pictures, so I make my frowning face to show everyone how intently I’m listening to the answer as if, yes – I was going to ask that too. Quick. What’s my question? If I don’t have one, that means I don’t care. Why don’t I have one? All I want to know is that the kids are nice and none of the teachers worked on Radio 1 in the late Seventies. I watch in awe as questions flow… how does the school handle discipline and what are the stages it goes through? How structured is the environment? How do you create a sense of community in a school this size?
These people are all much better parents than me. We’re nearly back at the entrance. They’ve moved on to healthy eating and exercise now. Of course. Why didn’t I ask about the crazy apples?
“And that, I suppose, is that,” says the lady, and there is a moment where we all stand together in the lobby and enjoy the sounds of a school, which you can only do when you’re a grown-up and can leave whenever you want. “Any last questions?” asks the lady.
Come on, Dan! This is it! “I was just wondering…” I say. “What do you love most about working here?”
It’s a bold move. It’s off-grid. But it might just work! And then the woman breaks into a huge smile and begins to talk warmly and beautifully about what a great school it is and how she loves the kids. All the other parents look a bit sheepish. We all know I’ve won.
That said, I realise on the way home I didn’t really take in the answer. Still – I asked the question, and maybe sometimes that’s what matters the most.
When you want a man to dump all your stuff
I couldn’t help but notice this lorry the other day.
If I’m honest, I’d probably have chosen a clearer font if my business had a name like that.
The latest food trend
Claire Goodey was in Brussels recently and in the mood for a Chinese restaurant. But she is very picky about where she eats, so was delighted to find somewhere that had focused all its marketing efforts on making people aware of its very delicious floor.