A frosty week, particularly for parents …

Image of Robert Shrimsley

The week began with heartbreak. To look into the faces of the spawn was to see hope extinguished, dreams crushed. They had woken early and logged on to their school websites only to face the mortifying news that lessons would be continuing as normal.

The sheer injustice of it all; they had seen the cancelled flights at Heathrow and witnessed reports of transport chaos. Surely if really important grown-up business was facing such havoc, it stood to reason that Monday school would be cancelled. Alas, in the time it took to load a webpage, the cruel truth presented itself: “School will be open as usual.” There was to be no reprieve. Worse still, the forecasts offered no hope that conditions would deteriorate.

“Hundreds of schools are closed,” whined the girl in that angry, comparative “Jessica’s got a pony” tone we always enjoy. Their indignation was total. The boy was simply astonished at the recklessness of the authorities; didn’t they understand that the weather was a national crisis (albeit not enough of one to persuade him to wear a sweater or some boots)?

There had been no reason to justify their optimism and we had warned them so. The girl’s school is a small local primary where 90 per cent of the children live within walking distance and where the staff have a record of defying hostile elements. The boy’s school, likewise, is made of sterner stuff. Yet the spawn clung to the notion that this extreme sprinkling of snow necessitated some sledging, followed by a day spent at home watching YouTube. They had stockpiled a playlist for the occasion, much as we might build up our tinned salmon supplies, and were understandably frustrated that their disaster-relief plans were to go untested. After all, it is only through real emergencies like this that they can hone their resilience schemes for total catastrophes like rain or a cancelled birthday party.

To put oneself in their shoes, they already feel ill-served by their schools, since neither doubles as a polling station either. It is, frankly, a complete swizz. How can they understand the importance of democracy, appreciate the right to vote, if it doesn’t even come with a day off? Don’t we understand that across the globe, people have died for a child’s right to skip a day’s school?

Naturally they blame us. As parents, they expect us to take these sort of issues into consideration. Surely there’s a league table that sets out a school’s record on unscheduled closures. When they think of all the time we waste researching such piffling matters as grades at GCSE and A-level, university acceptances and ease of journey, they simply cannot comprehend the gross negligence that led us to overlook this more fundamental issue. They also suspect that this is something to do with working parents.

If parents stayed at home, then schools would face less of a backlash when they closed and be more relaxed about prioritising health, safety and snowballing concerns.

It isn’t that they dislike school – but who is not seduced by the idea of a stolen day, especially one with the added lure of snow? Those of us lucky enough to hold jobs of sufficient interest to make weather disruption irritating can only scratch our heads as we try to remember how they feel.

Of course, we get the concept of the joy of a snow day, but we soon succumb to thinking about the things we have to do and the people we have to see and, in any case, we can probably carry on working from home. It simply isn’t good for one’s self-esteem to think the world will cope without our output. So our heads fill with the horror of cancelled events and whose turn it is to take a day off this time.

For an ordinary executive, the best approximation to the joy felt by the kids is the sudden moment of rapture that sweeps over you when a long meeting is suddenly cancelled just before it is due to start and you suddenly find an empty hour in your diary. You have been presented with the gift of time – and for a few tantalising moments your day is golden and rich with possibilities.


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