Wednesday 10th January 2007
I’ve become the pushy parent horror I never thought I'd be - I'm researching schools for my little (pre-school) daughter Angel. I phone one called ‘Sacred Heart’ (Holy Grail comes to mind), the one where Bollywood mum Pinki’s elder daughters go. The lady tells me I’d better fill in the application form pronto or I won’t get a place, and please don’t forget to enclose the registration fee: 100 pounds for a chance in the lottery. What?! I thought I’d heard wrong! My daughter’s future’s now a Butlin’s trick? But, no,apparently the scolastic powers-that-be have instigated a ballot system where they pull names out of a hat (how about the kids whose parents are benefactors of the new library, I wonder, are their names sellotaped onto little yellow post-it notes to the inside of the hat in advance? or do they have a talking one a' la Harry Potter's Hogwarts hidden below the burser's desk?!) As for my son’s school, we’d paid a full term’s fees one whole year in advance to guarantee his place in Reception class: a nice lot of juicy interest, I’m sure. I was fuming. A year is quite long enough for many people to change their plans, but parents are held to ransom. True that some might just pass their invoices nonchalently to the secretary/ accountant, others may have paid en bloc in advance. But mere mortals like myself (ordinary mum, no high-net-worthiness attached) have to read the numbers in black and white and blink to confirm to the brain that there's actually a pound sign preceding these randomly large figures (and bloating almost term by term). I admit I'm sometimes tempted (at invoice time) to throw in the towel and give up the whole bloody private school system. Except… the whole thing’s a point of principle, a commitment, it's not supposed to BE about the money! All we really ever want is the best for our progeny, give them a leg up if you will, away from the media reports of knives and assaulted teachers...maybe there's an economic equation out there somewhere for school fees paid, versus stability in later life...
Just as I placed the phone back in its cradle it rang again. My budding buddy hedge-fund-wife-extraordinaire, Natalia, back from skiing with news. Star city-garch hubby Mark had twisted his ankle on the second day and remained laid up for the rest of the holiday: laid up in front of his screens and private server in their (luxury) chalet in Courchevel, that is! The same chalet that they'd been renovating for the best part of a year, drilling 200m down into the rock to install ground-source heat pumps (usually used for government buildings and hospitals, so I believe), so as to keep the entire place cosy for about 50 quid per annum (yes, 50): I love Natalia but still cannot quite twist my head around the rarified world she lives in, which I'll visit soon enough, on Friday afternoon, for a 'play-date' (hate those Americanisms) and tea. Friday's half-day at our private school, by the way, just to get your money's worth...
‘Of course I’d love to come, Natalia, are you sure?’I reply (understatement, like tea at a 5 star hotel with childcare thrown in for a couple of hours).
‘We’ll be waiting for you anytime from two thirty! I’ll get Paloma to make a cake, what do you like?’
‘Oh honestly, Natalia, please don’t make too much effort! Actually I’m trying to go easy on the calories after Christmas. I’ve put on half a stone!’
‘Rubbish, Helen, you always look fabulous!’
Natalia would say that, she’s charm personified. But against her model height and size zero, I do tend to feel like the one who ate all the pies, I can’t help it! Female competitiveness doesn’t even come into it. Faced with Natalia's Russian heritage, statuesque figure and money, I’m not even in the running!
It's decided that Paloma, faithful Philippino housekeeper slash gourmet pastry chef, will make a stunning Amaretti sponge to further fatten me up. And that Pinki, Bollywood mum, a neighbour of Natalia's on Millionaire's Row, will also attend with her twin girls, to give my daugher Angel a chance of playing rather than simply being carted by her mother from pillar to post whilst I socialise (so says my husband Martin). Natalia, rushing off to Pilates, puts down and, feeling pretty upbeat about girly tea (rather more glamorous than application forms), I decide I won’t eat those biscuits after all: the ones on a glass plate in front of me on the kitchen counter just ready to be demolished. I wasn’t fibbing about the half a stone - in fact before Natalia’s call I’d been so bored with this whole school registration business that I’d been about to comfort myself with thick continental cookies: “more chocolate than a biscuit” (YEAH BABY!) I figured the expiry date was coming up soon and I might as well finish them up, conveniently ignoring my schedule in Paul McKenna’s “I can make you thin! 90-day success journal” which I keep stashed behind the microwave out of sight of my husband although Tanya, my cleaner, had sacrilegiously assumed it had fallen down by mistake and put in back on top in full view last week. But now, thinking of Natalia, I look at the cookies with suspicion and pop them straight back in the box: the box into a Ziploc bag, and the whole thing lobbed to the back of the cupboard: I’ll offer them to Tanya when she comes later on, as well as warn her to leave 'Paul' behind the appliance: Phew!!