Anyone who looks down their nose at stay-at-home mums should get along to a school class tea. These women are an extraordinary lesson in organisation, team work, graft and generally just getting on with it and getting stuck in. No fuss, no rows, no power struggles, no politics. Just results.
In my wife’s previous life before she and I swapped roles, she was, amongst many other things, a class rep, whose duties, amongst many others, included helping to organise the Class Tea. Don’t be misled by the quaint Englishness of the phrase. This isnt cucumber sandwiches on the lawn, watching cork on willow. This is a bun-fight. Literally. But more of that later.
Class Teas are a weekly event. Each class-year’s parents (mothers, more often than not) takes a turn at organising them, with the aim of raising as much money as possible. This then goes towards new equipment and school trips. I’d never been to one because I’d either been working, or for the last six months of last year, looking for a job, but when my wife returned to work, I inherited her voluntary school duties.
‘Do you need me to wirte you a list of what to do?’ she asked, on informing me.
‘How hard can it be?’ I replied. ‘Make a few cakes, sell a few cakes, make a few cups of tea. Doddle.’
And so the time came for my First Class Tea. I designed a poster and Blu-taked copies around the school. I baked some cupcakes from a Dr Oetker packet. Then I went along to the school hall, as instructed by my wife, on the dot of 3pm to put out tables and chairs, lay out food, brew pots of tea, dilute cordials etc. But when I arrived, the hall was locked.
‘Must be early,’ I thought.
I waited a few minutes, then tried the door again. Still locked. Ten more minutes passed. Still locked. And where were the other ‘helpers’? I didn’t expect to be doing this on my own, but that looked like the case as I sat, and tapped my fingers and my watch.
After 15 minutes, the headmaster walked past.
‘What are you doing out here?’ he asked.
‘Waiting for the bloody doors to open so I can get on with this Class Tea. It starts in five minutes and it looks like I’ll be doing it on my own.’
The headmaster looked nonplussed.’Everyone’s inside,’ he said. ‘They have been for half an hour.’
He showed me the way to the kitchen attached to the hall, via the staff room, and I sheepishly slinked in without murmuring so much as a ‘Hi.’ Not that anyone even noticed me, anyway. Eight women were in logistics’ mode, nattering away as they brewed up, laid out tables, arranged sandwiches and cakes, pies and pizza on plates.
In my last job, I was in charge. I led from the front, dictated the terms, organised the troops. Here, I felt, well, redundant. I should be getting used to it by now.
And then, as the clock approached 3.30pm, the women took their places behind the tables piled high with goodies and waited. There was an eerie calm about the place. It was as if the women were waiting for Zulus to appear on the horizon. They braced themselves, look at each other, nodded. And then the bell rang. And the doors flew open. And the hordes charged forth, clutching pennies and pounds, swarming over the tables like locusts in a drought. And all I could do was watch and gawp, a rabbit caught in the headlights, my mouth open in awe at the flexibility and speed of the Mums’ Army who were taking orders, despatching treats and receiving payment on in the blink of an eye.
I left the experience shellshocked and ashamed. What kind of man was I? I couldn’t even hold my own at a Class Tea – a Class Tea, mind, that I was supposed to be organising.
‘The next one will be different,’ I thought. ‘Lessons learned. Onwards and upwards.’
And it would need to be, because one of the things that
And with good reason. An extra dimension was about to be introduced to the proceedings. My first Class Tea had been for my eldest son’s class in Year 1. The parents’ effort then – of which mine was negligible – had raised £127. The parents were delighted with the haul, but they hadn’t reckoned on the efforts of the Reception Class mums a week later, who clocked up £142. Now it was Nursery Class’s turn. My youngest son’s class.
The day before, I’d beenm on a class trip with him and 20 of his classmates to the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square. The trip was exhausting – both for the kids and especially for me (self-inflicted: I’d been out the night before!!) and the last thing I needed was the Class Tea. I thought the other parents on the trip would have felt the same way – but these women are made of sterner stuff.
‘We’re going to beat them,’ went the rallying cry.
Tasks were dished out, roles assigned. I was on pizzas and cupcakes. Others were on lasagnes and shepherd’s pies; samosas and pakoras; upside-down cakes and right-way-up cakes; sausage rolls and pork pies; traybakes and flapjacks.
‘I’m going to need your help with this,’ I said to my Successful; Other Half as she walked through the door after a Hard Day At The Office.
She didn’t complain. Once the kids were in bed, she rolled her sleeves up, retrieved her mixing bowl from the back of the cupboard and went into action. Mum Mode. Meanwhile, I grabbed my coat and popped down to Aldi and bought a couple of pizzas – tomato & mozzarella; mushroom & cheese – for the princely sum of £1.49 each.
Then the next morning, after my usual gruelling Man About The House duties, I went to the pub to stiffen my resolve. Unfortunately, I got embroiled in a conversation about the rate of inflation and the mysteries of the universe (‘How many stars are in the galaxy? One hundred billion? And how many galaxies? THREE hundred billion? You’re having a laff arentcha?’) and I totally lost track of the time (which in the great scheme of universal things, was a mere grain of sand on the beach). I had to get back to cook the pizzas. This was my duty, my moment.
I raced back home, turned the oven on, shoved the pizzas in, emptied my bladder, washed my hands, checked my emails, replied to my emails, read the replies to my emails, re-replied to my emails. By the time I got back to the oven, the pizzas were done – well, to be accurate, one half of each was overdone; the other half was underdone, steamed, really. But by the laws of physics, two halves made a whole, so they were, in my terms, done.
But it didn’t matter. My pizzas weren’t going to win this war.
Vegetable samosas by Mum A; applecake by Mum B; foiled-packed lasagnes by Mum C. These were the competers for the rosettes.
The doors opened and the thunderous hordes stormed in. I was on ‘drinks’. Tipping and pouring, milking and sugaring. Ten, I was buzzing.
At the centre of all this was my son’s classroom assistant, rallying the troops, pushing them onwards and harder. She counted the money as it rolled in.
We sailed past the £127 mark within 20 minutes. But reaching £145 seemed to elude us. Then someone had a brainwave. It was a sunny day. Everyone was sitting outside. If Mohammed’s mum wouldn’t come to the mountain, then we’d have to take the the mountain to Mohammed’s mum.
Plates were piled up with cakes and fancies, hotdogs and snacks. Even my pizza got a look in.
Then this army mobilised into the playground, blackmailing other parents to part with their 10p’s and 20p’s all in the name of a good cause i.e. our victory.
Before not very long, the £145 figure was a distant hurdle. We raced past £150, £155, £160, but it went onwards and upwards from there. £180, £200. £220. £240. This couldn’t be happening, could it? I could hear the theme to Chariots of Fire playing in my head.
When the last butterfly cake had met its new owner, a grand total of £266 had been raised. Not just a victory, but an emphatic victory. Not just a triumph but an annihilation. Not just an annihilation but a RECORD! An all-time record at that.
In years to come, I will tell my grandchildren that I was there – there at the Battle of the Class Tea!