My school run has become a cloak and dagger affair in the last few weeks as I duck and dive to avoid the PTA press gang who loiter with intent outside every classroom. They stand in an impenetrable formation, barring your way with cajoling smiles and formidable lists snapped to their clipboards.
I am sure this scene is familiar across the nation as we are at the height of the summer fete season, when no mother of school age children is safe. Every morning as I run the gauntlet to get my son to his class I am assaulted by requests for my time and money.
Will I buy raffle tickets for prizes I don't want? Would I be able to hunt around in my loft to find unwanted items to give away as prizes to other parents? Can I bake fairy cakes or stuff cups for the Jarbola stand? Could I give up my Friday evening to heft tables around the school gym in preparation for the fete? Or perhaps I could devote a Saturday afternoon to manning the class stall?
It's not that I mind helping out at the school. In fact I quite enjoy whipping up a batch of fairy cakes coated with a garish icing and as many sprinkles as my boys can squash on top. I can even be persuaded to trail around the fete itself, dropping vast sums on lucky dip and smack the rat games. But as far as I am concerned that is as far as my parental duty extends.
The trouble is that I find if you give the PTA an inch, they are soon signing you up for a mile, if not a 10K race to raise funds for a new wildlife garden or hutch for the school rabbit.
Perhaps for some mums the PTA is an outlet for their frustrated inner fundraiser, some may miss the cut and thrust of work and this is the closest they are likely to come to it now that they are stay at home mothers, for others I know it is just a question of wanting to give something back. But for all of them it appears to be a full time job.
Those of us who already have jobs, be it working for money, or simply running around after our children in a less efficient fashion than the PTA paragons, find it hard enough to squeeze out enough time in the day to wash our hair, let alone pressure local businesses into sponsoring the tombola or catering the fair for free.
I am in awe of the PTA's efforts and I admire their tenacity in the face of parental apathy. I just don't want to sign my life away on one of their ever-present clipboards.
Five tips to avoid the PTA press gang:
Arrive late. These women are organised, their children are dropped off before most of us are even out of bed, giving them more time to plan their assault on the school run.
Feign illness. If your child is off sick their chances of catching you with their clipboards are dramatically reduced.
Bluff. If you have two children in school tell each set of class reps that you are helping the other. You might get found out in the end, but hopefully by then it will be too late.
Think small. Agree to bake cakes, bring in a prize, or flog a few raffle tickets. That way you can avoid helping out on the big day with a clear conscience.
Give in. If you can't beat them, join them. After all, it's for a good cause.