School run

I get off the train at Paddington and walk down Bishop’s Bridge Road towards my office. The weather is normally dry (London rains less than people think); rush hour traffic is stacked up at the lights. On the way I try Clara on her mobile. If I have caught the 7.18, and the train’s on time (it’s usually a few minutes late), I’ll get her in the car, driving the boys to their primary school. I can hear them in the background. Jake shouting out questions: “what are you having for breakfast, dad?” Fred shouting at him to be quiet: “I can’t hear” (Alan Bennett narrating – gratingly – Winnie the Pooh, Roald Dahl’s cigarette voice purring through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

“Shut up Jake!”

“I had cereal dad”


“I made a rescue helicopter”.

I can’t hear Poppy, who is strapped into her car seat in the front, staring far out to sea, or back at her brothers. Poppy is 8 months and blond haired, blue-eyed and heaven without anyone else there. Jake is 4; young for his school year, small for his age, red-haired, freckled, fearless and incapable of staying quiet for more than a few seconds. And there is Fred, olive-skinned, 6 going on 18, compact and hard-muscled. Fred can already chip a golf ball for me to catch and he knows the call of a green woodpecker and he loiters on our garden swing (it is called a Sky Rider) like a fairground blade.

Clara is in the driving seat, where she always is, and always has been since I married her. She is a bright-shining star, and better than me in every possible way. On the phone she comes and goes because the reception in the valley is poor. I listen to her telling me about breakfast, about what she is doing later. She fades out. I call her back.

This image of my family driving to school – crossing the bridge over the river, past the farm and the just-ploughed fields, turning north towards pewsey down, the car full of talking and three pairs of eyes looking ahead, one pair of eyes looking back and around; Jake cuddling his smelly, care-worn dog, Fred listening carefully … this is a marker in my day. It feels like a tick of a clock. It feels like progress. It is fleeting because they won’t be these children for long, but age will bring new things, more possibilities for all of us. These are my people and I will see them right. This is my politics – this is everyman’s politics.

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