<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 134 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 19, 2003

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A Fair to Remember

Nadia Kabir Barb

I put the phone down having declined an invitation to go and watch a movie. Friday evening and there I was baking cakes and decorating dinosaur biscuits! Why, you may ask. Well the answer would have to be a pair of big brown eyes and an inability to say no to “pleeeeese mummy” when in fact I should put my foot down and say “absolutely not”. Let me rewind a little more. My son with all the good intentions in the world had very kindly volunteered my services to provide some cakes and biscuits for the tea room at his school fair. I use the word “volunteer” very loosely as this is the kind of volunteering where when they say any volunteers step forward, everyone except you steps backwards. So when he looked beseechingly at me, wringing his hands, dramatically making it clear how his reputation was at stake, I had to capitulate and hence we get back to me and the cakes.

If the power of the mind is as strong as it is claimed to be, then I think I must have stared at the oven on Friday evening and willed the cakes to rise and not come out looking like oversized biscuits. Luckily there were no major catastrophes. I finished icing the cakes and watched the kids design the dinosaur biscuits with green and red icing dots here, stripes there--palaeontologists around the world would shudder at the sight of the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex with multicoloured flowers on his back! Anyway, I went to bed satisfied that my 7 year old son would not have to hang his head in shame labelled “son of woman who can't even bake”.

The next day we piled into the car -- three excited children and two reluctant parents and headed for my son's school. We arrived promptly at 2 o'clock and made our way to the tea room to deposit the cakes and biscuits. This was where weary parents could sit and have a cup of tea and buy a slice of cake or biscuit to reinvigorate themselves before entering into a frenzy of activity once again. I might as well not have bothered--there were piles of cakes and pastries (all homemade) and some of them were, to my mind, confectionery extravaganzas. I felt like my cakes were poor relatives standing next to their rather rich and more opulent cousins. Anyway, all I could hope was that they would get eaten and not have to suffer the humiliation of being the last cake on the shelf, so to speak.

We were then free to roam around the school and partake in the various activities organised by the children and teachers. What always manages to impress me about my son's school is its ability to make people, i.e. students and parents alike, feel welcome and at ease. This kind of nurturing environment is, in my opinion, a perfect way for children to flourish. All the teachers are friendly and approachable and similarly the students are polite and pleasant. It was also amusing to see all the teachers donning funny hats and wigs to add to the mood of festiveness. Posters designed by the children were displayed on the walls and on the stairs and the school was bustling with activity--in fact it felt like it was about to burst at the seams. Our second port of call was to see what my son's class had set up as their game. It was a simple but entertaining game aptly named “Splat the Rat”! In other words, a makeshift tunnel had been created where a soft toy (the rat) was dropped into and the player had to stand at the open end of the tunnel and try and “splat” the rat with a wooden spoon as it came whizzing out! The sad part was, none of us managed to even touch the rat! However, my children were more than satisfied with the consolation sweets that they were given.

Next to the tea room was a little area where children could decorate their own cup cakes. It was lovely to watch them busy at work choosing an assortment of smarties, liquorice, golden and silver edible balls, coloured icing etc. to bedeck their precious cakes. I noticed that while the girls at the table were taking their time making their cakes look pretty, most of the boys were cramming as many sweets as possible on their cake. When the end products were presented to us, we “oohed” and “aahed” at them like most dutiful parents and watched the cakes travel swiftly into eager little mouths and disappear until only the cake wrappers were left. Those were of course put straight into our hands with the assumption that parents are in their multifunctional purpose also an instant waste disposal service. Interestingly enough in the tea room next to the pies and salads table was one with samosas, chicken tikka, etc. and the queue for the latter table surpassed the “pie” table by far. On our way up to the other games and stalls I had to take a quick peep to see if my cakes were still there and if so whether I should go and buy them myself (actually send my husband to buy them) but to my sheer relief they were nowhere in sight. There could only be one of two possible explanations. The first one would be that they had been sold to a cake connoisseur who recognised a good cake when he/she saw one or the second were the cakes committed suicide and hurled themselves into the nearest bin!

All the classes had set up different games and as we entered each room we were at times dragged in by the teachers to participate. The “Human Fruit Machine” was another ingenuous game consisting of three blindfolded boys, three boxes and an assortment of fruits. When the participant said the word “go” the boys had to rummage around the boxes and pick up a fruit. If the boys got two matching fruits you won a sweet and if they picked up three of the same fruits you won a prize! My favourite game had to be the one the senior boys had set up. It was called “Dastardly Darts”. They had pinned a dart board on one wall and on the wall next to it had stuck pictures of all the teachers under the heading “Hall of Shame”.

The teachers had entered into the spirit of things and had pulled their meanest faces for the camera. Even the headmistress had put on a school tie and school cap and was trying to look surly! The participants then got to choose the picture of whichever teacher they felt like and throw darts at it. Anyone able to get all three darts within the allotted circle won a prize. In fact the teacher supervising the game was egging the boys to choose one teacher or another. When I think back to my school days, I can't imagine any of our teachers participating in activities of this kind. There were the annual science fairs and sports days but they were all rather prescribed. Nor can I imagine that they would even allow students to make fun of them even in such a harmless and humorous manner. The student/teacher relationship was always very formal and familiarity was in no way encouraged. So, when I see the relationship shared by my children and their teachers, it warms my heart and in a way makes me a touch envious.

After a couple of hours of playing some more games and checking out even more stalls, we decided to call it a day. For the second time that day, we piled back into the car--three very happy children laden with sweets and prizes and two parents reluctantly admitting they had almost as much fun as their offspring.

Oh yes, did I mention my daughters are having their school fair next week and I believe I have been “volunteered” to man the lucky dip stall…


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