First day back at school – what’s it like for you? From one Swindon mum.

Today many children went back to school – as a mum of three, I have three of these days to deal with this year as all three children are at different stages.

Today will possibly be the most long-winded and it reminded me of the trauma that many working parents feel when they are trying to do the right things for their children at school – and get to work on time. It’s a daily battle.

Being self-employed I’ve deliberately kept all three days as free as possible and I’ve not regretted it. After years of children at school, I finally found that it’s best to be as free as possible on days like today. It’s brought the stress down to a bearable level.
Last Friday it was first child to secondary school – getting up far too early, stressing about uniform, putting a tie on for the first time and the horror of my daughter in realising that she has to master this every day for the next few years! What a trauma. Then it’s the ‘what if’ period – what if I can’t find my friends? what if I get lost? what if I can’t find the toilets? what if I’ve forgotten my PE kit?

Notice that these ‘what ifs’ are not the same as us parents? Like, ‘what if the work is too hard? or what if my child gets bullied? or what if my child is naughty?’

What I did not have to do was take my child to school – no it’s now an early bus there and back, but that brings it’s own trauma about safety, on the road and on the bus.

Still we got over that day and today it was child number 2.


This trip is a move from Yr 4 to Yr 5 of a very laid-back child who is having a new teacher and some new cardigans but everything else is familiar.


However, what a parent so easily forgets over the summer is the hurdles one has to deal with in simply getting your child to school.

The traffic is worse and finding a parking space that a) isn’t a daft and unsafe place to park b) isn’t inconsiderate to residents. And then there’s always the risk that residents will simply object to you parking outside their house, even if it’s not unsafe or illegal to do so. I had this the other day (not on a school day) but on a new estate where there were no road markings at all. I was a visitor to the area, there were no yellow lines, no parking signs at all but a resident wrote me a snotty note and put it on my windscreen informing me that I should ‘park round the back or else’. Clearly he or she thought I was psychic and would know by osmosis that there were parking spaces elsewhere.


Back to today, my child gave me a quick kiss and disappeared, eager to see her friends and to find her way around a new classroom.


I then had to have at least five conversations with other parents about their particular experiences. Some clearly were parents who were short of adult company over the previous six weeks. I had the time, so it was no problem. But when you are working it’s so rude to say ‘that’s great, bye!’. Then I remembered her new cardigans and also the medical form for her asthma medication.


On entering the school office, there was a queue of mums waiting to do similar things.

I could see those eager to be away, hopping from one foot to another – knowing how they felt, I was relaxed about letting them jump the queue.

But then the form-filling – is it really necessary to fill out at least two forms saying the same thing? My child has asthma, she can self-administer her medication when she needs it – which is about once a week. She’s proficient at it, she’s learning to carry her inhalers herself at all times – but she’s not allowed to at school. This I know and accept. But there must be a more efficient way of dealing with this. There was one form and then another, both asking the same thing. This exercise took about 20 minutes and then I had to wait for her new cardigans – luckily that took about a minute.

So my youngest child was pretty bored by the time we left school at about 9.30am – goodness knows what it will be like on Friday when he starts for the first time. I’ll be lucky to get a coffee in before I’ve got to pick him up at lunchtime. Oh joy!

First day at school can seem like a long, uphill slog

Good news stories that stay with you – especially if you’re a bit soppy!

Some good news stories just stand out for a journalist – think unusual, heart-rending, human interest and ‘slow time of year’.

Coffee and networking

Coffee and networking

One I always remember, for me, showed the absolute key importance of contacts. In business speak, networking.

I was short of stories, as it was December, so I started calling my favourite contacts asking if they had anything for me. Most said no, but remember IT ONLY TAKES ONE TO SAY YES!


One was a man in Swindon who ran a credit union (brilliant organisations by the way). He said he didn’t have much but did have a woman who’d just borrowed £500 for Christmas as she was to meet her son for the first time in 50 years.

Unsurprisingly my ears pricked up and I asked if he would pass on my details. I then bit my nails for a day or two hoping that this woman would contact me.
She did.
I went round to meet this lady who told me her incredible story. She’d been married during the war and had a son. But her marriage had failed and her husband had taken her son to South Africa with him, without her permission. She knew her son was with her estranged husband but she had no idea what she could do about it. So she’d lived with it.
What she didn’t know was that her estranged husband had told the toddler that his mum was dead – killed towards the end of the war and he grew up believing that to be the truth.

It was only at the funeral of his father that he talked to visiting relatives who said ‘no, that’s not right, she lives in Swindon’.

When I popped up onto the scene, the son was coming to Swindon just before Christmas to meet his mother, a visit being paid for by a South African glossy magazine.

We ran the story, front page lead. It was just a heart-warming, good news story. Before I knew it, every national journalist was phoning me, lifting my copy and using it, buying our pictures. It’s known as the snowball effect.

All were trying to contact this woman – whose personal details I did not share with any third party without her permission.
The day of the reunion came. The photographer and I headed off to Heathrow at silly o’clock to be there where we met up with the woman waiting for her long-lost son. No one else would be stupid enough to be there at this time surely…
How wrong was I! There were about 100 other journalists, tv crews from the south west etc. Once they identified that I’d broken the story, they were over me like a rash. Could they have copies of my story etc etc. Quite enjoyed it, I have to say.
When the reunion took place, minders from the South African magazine rushed the son through trying to keep us awful UK journalists away.


But this was my story – or the Swindon end of it any way. So when the car came I pushed my way into the driver’s seat and got a comment out of the son – the only journo to do so.

Once the South African exclusive interview was done – I went around for a proper chat to find out more from this father and son. Just one of those stories which warmed the soul. I’ve often hoped since that this mother and son were able to make up for lost time.. Ahhhh.


Tip: you just don’t know when something small will catch the imagination of others, so when it does, be ready and capitalise upon it.

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