This was us the other day: school playground, 8.50am. The bell rings. As I bend to kiss Miss P the younger farewell, I notice out of the corner of my eye that her friend Miss M’s mum has just handed Miss M a £1 coin. Panic floods through me. ‘What’s that for?’ I demand to know. Miss M’s mum appears pained. She’s looking Miss P the younger up and down and winces as she speaks. ‘It’s non-uniform day,’ she says, apologetically. Bad news indeed for my daughter, who - fully kitted in grey tunic, school cardi, black tights and all – has overheard, and is now looking at me accusingly. ‘It’s non-uniform day,’ she repeats, slowly and unnecessarily. I can sense tears welling.
Feck, feck, feckity, feck. Since when was it non-uniform day? ‘WHY DIDN’T ANYONE MENTION THIS TO ME?’ I shout, in a general way, across the playground. No-one answers. They just shuffle by, avoiding my glare and pushing their casually-clad offspring towards their classrooms. I know, in my heart, that it was on the last school newsletter. Somewhere down the bottom, in the minuscule 8pt font they use to test us. I get to my knees, and clutch at the younger Miss P’s lapels. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know....’ I begin. But her devastated eyes are boring into me. ‘Bring me clothes. Please. Go home and bring me clothes,’ she whispers. Then she's gone.
So I run. I run like the wind. Like the clappers. I haven’t run like this since the 2009 10K that did for my knees, permanently. I cover the 15 minute walk back home in five minutes. I race up the stairs, rummage in drawers, grab the first pair of skinny jeans I can find, and a Hello Kitty jumper. I shove them in a carrier bag and push a pair of trainers in, too. But it’s not enough. I need the mufti money. I need a quid. There’s nothing in my purse, so I run upstairs again and ransack the older Miss P’s money box. It’s mainly full of IOU notes, signed ‘Mummy’, but mercifully there’s some chunky gold coinage in there, too, and I help myself. I’ll write the note later.
I begin the run back to school. My good friend Theresa approaches from the opposite direction, making a more sedate lap home from school. ‘Didn’t….realise….mufti….’ I puff by way of explanation as I jog by. She smiles. Apologises. She didn’t know we didn’t know, or she’d have said something. ‘Not…your…fault…’ I puff back, accelerating past her. But then I’m hit by a horrible thought. I turn, and shout down the road: ‘IS THERE A THEME?’ Theresa stops, nods. ‘YES. IT’S KENYA DAY,’ she shouts back, adding, by way of explanation: ‘GREEN, BLACK AND RED.’
I return home. I find a red top. Black leggings. But there’s nothing green. Not a single green garment in the house, except for a felt elf hat from three Christmases ago, which I consider briefly before returning to the dressing up box with a sigh. Just the black and the red, then. I pelt downstairs, exit the house, pound the pavement back to school. ‘Forgot…Kenya…Can I…?’ I puff at Mrs B the school secretary, shaking my carrier bag weakly at her. She waves me through benignly (I know it's a front: she's already turning to log my name in the Cretinous Parents wallchart behind her), and I knock at Miss P’s classroom door. ‘So… Sorry….Forgot….’ I puff at kindly Mrs P, the teaching assistant. She takes the carrier bag and the pound coin with a smile. ‘That’s alright,’ she says.
Anyhow, people, just so you know….It’s International Book Day tomorrow. Don’t forget your costume. And your quid.