We’re on our way to Dulwich Picture Gallery for the Year 3 school trip.
“What’s got molars and a crooked nose?” says Youngest’s classmate, L, sitting next to me on the coach.
“Molars? What, like teeth?” I say.
“No!” Says L, making little imaginary dots on his cheeks. “Molars, like this, on your face!”
“Yes. That’s what I said, molars on your face.”
I let it go. He’s half French. “I don’t know, what has moles and a crooked nose?” I say.
Incomprehensible riddles aside, I’ve landed on my feet here. No public transport (hooray!) so no tube changes with no herding six unruly boys (they always give me boys) on and off the Northern line. And no sweaty-palmed anxiety either, as one of my party runs ahead, turns a corner and is suddenly, albeit temporarily, lost.
No, this is the crème de la crème of school trips, the Thompson a-la-carte, rather than the day trip to Butlins. Metaphorically. They don’t actually take children to Butlins, although having said that…
Going back a few years there was a trip, when Eldest was in reception, that, even after all this time I haven’t expunged from the memory. Like some sort of post-traumatic school trip stress, it’s seared in there.
It was very hot, like today, but unlike today there wasn't an air-conditioned coach to waft us to and from our destination, nor fresh, green manicured lawns with mature oaks to sit under for a snack when we got there.
For some baffling reason we set off by train to a funfair in Battersea situated on the baking, featureless, tarmac surrounding the old power station. Upon arrival each adult was given tokens, for rides, and that was it. Just me, my group of boys (of course), the baking sun and about four hours to kill.
Of all the horrific moments that day - and there were many - two people’s expressions stay with me. Eldest’s stricken little face when he came off a huge bouncy castle at the entrance, rather than the exit, and for several excruciating moments couldn’t see me through the crowd. (I could see him, but getting to him, while shepherding four others, was another matter.)
And the unflappable reception teacher. Slim, tall, elegant, her smooth grey bob still as smooth and grey and bobbed at the end of the day as it had been at the beginning. It was just her smile, while every bit as firmly attached, which was rather more ruffled.
But, as I say, Dulwich Picture Gallery is nothing like that. There’s a café-stop built into the schedule (despite word on the street that coffees for parents are now strictly forbidden), and lots of parents too, so groups are small and manageable. What with clean, fresh loos and plenty of opportunity to sit down, every box is ticked.
There is, alas, still the obligatory getting involved, as Lois, actor-turned-drama-teacher (all smock dress, rounded vowels and hair scooped-up sixties-style), enlists our help on the bongo drums. But apart from that, it's a lovely day and a perfect end to the year.
On the way back, I sit next to L again.
“What has more molars and a crooked nose?” He says.
“Don’t know.” I say. “What has more MOLES and a crooked nose?”