By the book

Nice Mummy bounced up to me in the playground the other day at collection time. ‘Chloe’s just finished her entrance exams, so do you want her past papers?’

Having recently (last year, but it often seems like a minute or two ago) moved back from Abroad, this sentence meant nothing to me. I knew, from the kindly smile bestowed on me, that an incredibly generous offer had just been made. I could also see that a response was urgently required, but I wasn’t sure what on earth it could be. Luckily, other nearby year 5 and 6 Mummies, sensing action, zoomed in. ‘The exams! How did Chloe get on?’ one asked Nice Mummy in tones of deep concern, as though the poor girl had an incurable illness, with hours, not days to live. ‘And how many did she do?’ Just then, Pushy bustled up. ‘Well, if you don’t want the past papers, DD, I’ll have them for young Sophie, she’s doing the exams in two years’ time.’

That decided it. Of course I wanted the papers, and I wanted them now. Whatever the hell they were.

The next morning, Chloe staggered over to me. ‘Mummy said to give you this,’ she panted, and she dropped a huge sack at my feet. ‘Er, thanks,’ I said, hefting it over my shoulder and tottering back to the car. On the kitchen table, later, I spread out the contents. Book after book of practice papers, mock exams in English and Maths, extra-curricular project ideas, rafts of guides on punctuation and spelling …..

Excuse me, but isn’t my ex-husband shelling out a fortune every month to the school to teach my child and drag it through SATS? And shouldn’t said child, therefore, breeze through entrance exams to other schools, assuming I can get it together to fill in the forms (by no means a certainty) and square it with the ex-husband that the child may move to a more expensive school (almost definitely a negative)?
What on earth is going on here?

Of course, it didn’t take me long to find out that Nice Mummy, whom I for a second or two started regarding as an insane hot-houser, would actually be considered incredibly lax by almost everybody I know. What I should really be doing, or should have had in hand months ago, is additional tutoring, at vast expense, in any weak spots. Trudging through books is so the easy option.

When we arrived home later, the books were still there, in threatening piles. ‘Are you seriously expecting me to do any of that stuff, Mummy?’ said the child in question. I hummed. On the one hand, most of me was screaming no. On the other, a little part of me was thinking, when in Dulwich ……’We’ll have to see,’ I hedged. The child gave me a look of deep loathing and went off to fry its brain in front of the telly.

Next day, Nice Mummy confided that Chloe had been called in to do an extra test for a scholarship, for a delicious ten per cent off the fees (which is a vindication of the books method, versus intensive individual tuition, I might add). There had been 20-odd nervous girls there, including a handful from the junior school, and she had been one of the first called in. ‘She breezed out when she’d finished and headed straight for her friends, still waiting to go in, and I could hear her saying, ‘now, don’t worry, the answer to the first question is this and then they’ll ask you that ….’ Honestly, she was telling them the whole lot. I almost felt like shouting, ‘Noooooooooooooooo!’ ‘, she said.

Poor Nice Mummy. But Nice Mummy, Nice Daughter.

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