I shifted on the chair, the green plastic making my legs sweat and itch and the hot afternoon sunlight doing little to alleviate the discomfort. The tables in the canteen had been pushed back and somehow I had managed to find myself in the front row of seats, a couple of feet from where the headmaster stood, giving his speech to new parents.
I glanced up, trying surreptitiously to read the hand-written notes on the back of the piece of paper he held, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t mention the fact that parents shouldn’t park in the school bus lay-by. My face burned at the thought.
My daughter had started secondary school that morning and I had decided to drive her in. The Collège was up the top of a steep lane and I was amazed at the amount of people and traffic – a far cry from her Primary school where there had only been 14 pupils.
The piece of paper flew tantalisingly close to my face, as the headmaster launched into a discussion about discipline, accompanied by much Gallic gesticulation. I managed to fix on it, and imagined that I could just make out the words “transports scolaires” scrawled under point number 5. My skin crawled and I looked quickly down at the floor.
I wasn’t the only one who had decided to drive their offspring to school for “la rentrée”. All the parking spaces were taken so I had parked in a lay-by in front of the school, pleased to find a spot. As we approached the school gates, I omitted to shake the hand of the man who I belatedly recognised as ‘Monsieur le directeur’ and watching the other parents I cringed. My daughter wasn’t even through the gates and I had already committed my first blunder.
It was 8 am and almost time for classes to start. In my peripheral vision I saw the first bus arrive and draw level with my car. Unable to park it came to a standstill, and the driver threw his hands into the air and honked the horn. A hundred eyes swivelled and a teacher ran towards me. “Madame, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to move your car.” I ran down towards it, cheeks burning.
The headmaster turned his notes over and scanned down the page. I sneaked a look around the room. It was full of people I didn’t know. I was over-reacting, surely I wouldn’t be singled out for this morning’s faux pas with the school bus? I glanced back up at Monsieur Le Directeur as he continued. My stomach knotted then relaxed in a wave of relief.
“….which brings me to my last point. Homework….”