Released from the tyranny of the school bus, by driving to Hornton to collect children at 4.30.
Hornton considers itself rather more posh than Horley, as it has less bungalows, a bistro pub, and a green full of limes and weeping willows. And famous people.
It also has a tennis court, dominated by strident navy-knickered ladies and suave, very tanned men in cream poloshirts. They call ‘love’ to each other with ever deepening inflection.
The tennis court is next to Hornton Pavilion, which is where the children are, practising May Day dances. Last year Jessica came out of the first practice saying she was very disappointed. ‘I’m not even a hand-made, Mummy.’
All of the children are desperate to be the May King or Queen, and be driven up the high street in a taxi.
Hornton is tucked like a tawny jewel in a dowager’s bosom, and I’m always struck by how beautiful it is. Today I’m particularly envious of the aubretia, falling from the golden stone walls in perfect lilac and green ovals. The gardens here are very different from Horley – the topiary glossed-leaf-perfect, the lawns clipped to fuzzy felt.
I park at the end of Bell Lane, too early, as usual, and wander down the very steep lane to the Pavilion. The Sports field has begun its recovery from the football season and looks the cool, dark green of a Rosseau painting. I want to run onto it and turn a few Spring cartwheels, but I don’t, because the school-gate crowd make me nervous and awfully shy. It doesn’t help that I can never match children to parents, and I never know which year groups they all belong to.
I sit on the Pavilion steps in the sunshine, listening to Pop Goes The Weasel and thinking about an article I’m writing about booksellers. I idly run my hands over my bare shins and freeze in horror. Like pig-skin prior to singeing. I should be wearing a smock and reading Germaine Greer. I jump up and eye the knee-long grass to the side. Consider planting myself in it.
An athletic grandfather (presumably) comes striding down the hill. ‘Are they here?’ he demands.
‘Yes,’ I say, to his departing back.
Other parents are filtering down now, the sun-frocked mummies gathering in knots of chatter, ignoring their manic pre-schoolers. The daddies stand to one side, leant nostalgic glamour by their open-necked shirts, ties poking from trouser pockets.
My Pan legs are making me self-conscious, and I’m grateful when another mother speaks to me. She is the only one of the whole crowd that I can match with children, year group and name.
I really need to make more of an effort.
‘Oh look,’ says A. ‘Here they come.’
The doors to the Pavilion open, and I step sideways, trying to see through the sudden scrum.
‘Mummy!’ Jessica is in front of me, grinning fit to burst. She hurls herself into my arms. ‘Mummy!’
‘Oh,’ I say. Hand made at last?
Ellie emerges and dumps her rucksack at my feet.
‘Ugh,’ she says. ‘So unfair. Jess is only the bloody May Queen.’
‘Are you?’ I say in delight, lifting her up.
‘Yes,’ she says, in tones of huge satisfaction. ‘I’m going to be going in the taxi.’