Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Christmas hols commence


Lily’s term ends with a candlelit carol service in the chapel. There’s a logjam of cars queuing to park at the end of a cowpat-ridden field. It’s like the Somme out there, black as night, teeming with rain, stinking slurry everywhere, figures looming out of the blackness and no clue as to whether they’re friend or foe.

Tweeded men and stilettoed women make their way like wounded moths towards the flickering light of the chapel. The Manor has a healthy disregard for Health and Safety. Some 200 parents and siblings jostle and cram into a space designed for 50. I loiter at the back along with some maverick dads, hoping to be allowed to remain standing. We take up position on the stairs, pressing ourselves into the wall as latecomers and girls carrying lit candles swarm past us to the gallery, which is already full to bursting.

Just as the jamming and shoving subsides and I find myself on a stair of my own from which to enjoy the novelty of being able to see my daughter sing, the headmistress fixes me with her unwavering eye.

‘Mrs Gray. Place up at the front here for one.’

Like a traffic police officer, she waves me to the front row of chairs which is practically in the orchestra. I put on my Jovial Parent Smile, breathe in as I edge past the first violin, try not to trip over the cellist and lower myself gingerly into a child’s chair that is being trespassed upon by a mother and wriggly toddler to one side and a tweedy grandfather to the other. Gracious smiles and pulling in of elbows all round.

To describe the view from the front row as ‘restricted’ would be economical with the truth. Within arm’s reach before me is a music stand with a blinding strip light that prevents me from seeing anything beyond. A hush descends. The strings take up their bows. Clarinet and recorder are pressed to lips. Mr Blackburn, head of music, is pushing his way past the choir and through the orchestra to take up position. He stops at his music stand, bang in front of me. All I see for the entire service is his ample posterior, so close that if I sing too enthusiastically I might inadvertently take a bite out of it.

After the service, when we finally disgorge onto the muddy bank and slither down to the drive, Lily and I are reunited.

‘Did you see me do my solo?’ she asks excitedly.

‘No!’ I cry. ‘I didn’t know you had a solo!’

‘It was meant to be a surprise,’ she says.

I feel like crying. We traipse in silence through the slurry to the senior cloakroom and over to the music room and back to her dorm and across the field to the car, gathering and dumping belongings by the light of my iPhone. We drive home in more silence. The much looked-forward-to start of the Christmas hols is an anti-climax all round.


Grasp the nettle and unpack Lily’s bags. I make two piles of washing, darks and whites, while Lily reads out the packing list.

‘White sports socks: three.’

‘Three?’ I query, rooting through to discover three solo socks of unknown provenance, but not one of the three pairs she started term with.

‘Knickers: three.’

‘But there are only about four pairs in your drawer. What happened to the other eight?’


I delve into the muddy black bin liner and pull out wellies, trainers, rollerblades and riding boots. Wait, there’s still something in there. Hmmm. Another riding boot. Unmarked. I arrange the three boots in front of me and gesture towards them.

‘Well I do have three legs, you know, Mum!’ laughs Lily.

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