Saturday, 10 November 2007

My Life in Their Hands

There are many terrifying things in this world. War, famine, poverty, right up there at the top. Violence, drugs, disease. Heights, spiders, the dark.


Do you know what doesn't appear in this list & yet is so obvious? So terrifying that I'm surprised they don't make films about it?

School Fayres.

Yes that's right. School fayres. And more specifically, children at school fayres.

I am a good mother. On a good day. Today, I think I was good. Although today was also the day when I wondered if I was stark, staring mad. I had volunteered, AGAIN, to run a stall at the school fayre. I have done this every year I think that my son has been in school. Bonfire Night, Christmas, Summer. This year, in a terrifying break from tradition, not a Christmas Fayre, but an Autumn one. Every year, I emerge beyond the school gates, blinking as if released from a maximum security prison & muttering that I will never do it again. Muttering to myself.

And twitching a bit.

My first experience of a school fayre was a Bonfire Night celebration. I was but a novice parent & the more experienced mothers could smell my naivety. I arrived early to help set out the stalls, to prepare, to assist. At the allotted time, they kindly pointed me in the direction of my stall.

The sweets stall.

There are 3 distinct bands of children who frequent the sweets stall.

Firstly, The Inquisitive. They start at one end of the table, where the sweets are displayed in sickeningly technicolour glory, the fluorescent lights glinting off the sugar. 'How much is this?' '10 pence'. 'How much is this?' '5 pence.' 'How much is this?' 'Ten pence.' 'How much is this?' '10 pence.' 'How much is this?' '5 pence.' And so on, until they have exhausted the tables with the forty different types of sweets, and exhausted my patience too. And before you tell me we should label the boxes with the price, THE PRICES ARE ON THE DAMN BOXES. RIGHT THERE. IN FRONT OF THEIR EYES.

Secondly, we have The Trusting. These tend to be the younger of the children, who approach the tables in a shuffling gait, usually assisted by a helpful push from an older sibling. There will be muttering and conferring, and eventually a louder, exasperated uttering. 'Go on! Ask her!' I always smile at them, encouragingly, although I suspect they can see the fear in my eyes. The fearful tend to recognise each other, I think. Finally, hesitantly, they reach out their arm, and splay their small clammy fingers, their palms filled with the treasures of their money box, one pence pieces dully glimmering. 'What can I have for this please?' They look up at me, faces shining with trust. And I work my way along the table with them, working out what they can have for their 97 pence.

Finally, we have The Unreasonably Optimistic. We have been known, in the past, to provide bags for the children to put their sweets in, imagining for a moment that we are a grand Pick & Mix outlet, instead of amateurs. Many children don't see the need for this, instead preferring to help themselves from the boxes & clutch the spoils in their hands. The girls usually have a small, glittery, beaded purse, the boys rummage in their pockets for change. After consideration and deliberation, they have chosen their favourites and present them for purchase. 'That's 72 pence.' They examine their purses, their pockets, their other pockets, their friends pockets. 'How much?' There is surely some sort of problem. This cannot be right. There must have been a misunderstanding. They will show me their money, all 46 pence of it. 'That's 46 pence' I will say, helpfully. They will look at me to see if there is room for negotiation. They are met with impassivity. So they reject the ones that they can most do without, and stuff them back into the boxes, now with the added benefit of dirt & pocket fluff.

I thought that the sweets stall was the most terrifying of all. Until today.

Childrens Tombola.

No, not win a child. Goodness, there are probably laws against that, I'm not even sure if you can offer goldfish as prizes any more. But 2 tables (Count them! 2 tables!) filled with toys and labelled with raffle tickets, ending in 0 or 5.And a tombola drum, for spinning. The school doors opened promptly at 12, I watched as the Book Stall, the Toy Stall, the Bric a Brac stall, were swamped by children and car boot sale dealers. This will be easy, I thought.

How very foolish of me.

I was approacched by a young girl, clutching her money. I bent down, to help her spin the drum, to help her reach the tickets. And for the next hour and a half I stayed there almost constantly, occasionally stretching my groaning knees if a taller child approached. I smiled, I laughed, I asked the children if they wanted a lucky spin of the drum. I handed them their prizes, telling them how much I had wanted to win that very one with the coloured pens, the glitter, the beads or the dominoes. I remained smiling, even when one very keen little boy spun the drum without shutting the little door first, leaving the tickets to fly into the air. necessitating some scrabbling around on the floor to rescue them. I oohed and aahed, crossed my fingers for them, cheered when they won & told them 'Never mind, that was bad luck, wasn't it?' when they lost. I sold out after 90 minutes, & felt like I had run a marathon.

Today, I have been a good mother.

But if you see someone in the street, looking dazed and confused, stop them & check to see if they are OK. If they answer '30 pence for a ticket, or 4 tickets for a pound', then that will be me.

I wonder if we will have an Easter Fayre this year?


Manic Mother Of Five said...

Morning honey. I am very impressed. I'm afraid I fall into the category of mother who is normally working or looking after one or several of her brood when occasions like the school fayre arise so sorry, souldn't possibly get there!!! Oh dear, I'm not going heaven am I!! See you soon!

belle said...

I remember the horrors of the school fair. Sometimes I still wake in the night screaming. But one of the upsides of being ostracised from the school community has been not having to suffer them any longer. Just one word of warning. Never, never volunteer for the school disco ...

Anonymous said...

I know only too well what you are talking about! Our Christmas Fayre is on soon and I am not even going. I'll send in a few Raffle prizes and make a donation but I won't offer to help because Amy needs watching all the time. My excuse anyway.

Crystal xx

Swearing Mother said...

On one hand, I miss all that sort of thing now my kids are grown. On the other, HOO-BLOODY-RAY!!!

Been there, done that and have worn the tee-shirt out.

But you are, indeed, a good mother.


Rainbow said...

The best thing about having an older child as well is that, at least for the first couple of years of high school, they think it's great fun to go back to junior school, in our case to run the bottle stall (and no, it's not at that stage to snaffle the stray bottle of sweet white wine). So I fulfilled my duty without having to do it myself!

But never, never, never volunteer to go on a trip with 8 year olds to the National Gallery. Not if you don't want the gallery attendants (warders?) to shout at you in every room, that is...

Mid-lifer said...

Oooh yes - I've been there Tina. The last one I foolishly volunteered for was 'Guess the weight of the cake'. You can imagine the shining eyes, inquisitive proddings, experimental liftings. By the end of the Fayre, the cake was a shadow of its former self with half the decorations broken and in disarray. But it attracted a lot of interest.

After several noble years of 'doing my bit'I've now instructed friends to slap me if I EVER volunteer for ANYTHING to do with school again. it's just too exhausting.

ps If you haven't discovered it already, I beseech you to avoid school trips.