C'est Carnaval! C'est quoi? Carnaval! Ill-defined Belgian holiday in which:
1. Your children must go to the gulag in fancy dress. However possibly not on the same day as each other. Noone will explain to you precisely how or why this works.
2. Headmaster sets fire to a large wooden effigy in the exercise yard and the pupils stand round behind crash barrier to watch it burn. Effigy is referred to as Monsieur Hiver (Mr Winter). Ceremony often ends with mad dash for fire extinguishers and mass evacuation when wind turns.
3. There may or may not be crêpes. Noone will tell you when.
Fancy dress discussions start thus:
"What are you dressing up as Fingers?"
"Oh? Ok" [secret rejoicing]
"How about you Lashes?"
"A robot, no a dinosaur, no a bat, no a monster, no a Dracofeu, no a velociraptor, no the Loch Ness Monster ....."
Days pass. The issue becomes pressing.
"Fingers, it's Carnaval tomorrow. Are you still not dressing up?"
"Of course I am dressing up. As a parrot".
"[Bollocks] Oh. I'm not quite sure how we will do that. But, er, we'll have a go. Lashes? You don't dress up tomorrow do you?"
"Yes! I do! Of course I do. I am going as a monster robot Pokémon".
"Are you SURE? Because usually it's not on the same day as Fingers. And there wasn't anything in your journal de classe".
The evening gets off to a bad start when psychotic tram driver #518 drives into a car and I am stuck on tram as they fill in eight thousand forms, making me late for school. Then on returning home, realise Oscar Houdini has escaped from his room and has spent the day careering through the house eating Anya Hindmarch shoes and pissing on carpets. The remaining hours pass like a sadistic scavenger hunt, with children sending me this way and that to look for false fingernails, glasses of water, crepe paper, soft toys and bat masks. We eventually retire to bed. Several bodies join me in the course of the night. There is lots of wriggling and fidgeting and the dog tries to bite a hole in the hot water bottle. I wake up drained.
No rest, however, for the exhausted, as the team that gave you Tuesday night are here to present Wednesday morning! More requests, running around, pleas to put clothes on under robot suit, or at least pants, abandoned bagels underfoot. I must find the end of the sellotape, and the robot mask, and make shoes shiny. The dog, apparently, must also be "déguisé".
"But he's not going to school Lashes".
"C'est Carnaval! Everyone has to dress up! Help me put these bat wings on him".
Differences between the children are highlighted in this process. Lashes is all overkill, hysteria, more is more. Here, I must have this box of nails to carry with me as my food, I must talk like a robot, where is my oil to drink, how can we make this bigger, better, more spectacular? He is like me. Fingers plays it cool. He has confidence. I am trying to work out how to attach his wings to his 'body'.
"They don't need to be attached. I can just hold them like this" he says, calmly.
He accepts my offer of tail feathers graciously, but is not carried away. I warn him they are likely to fall off, which does not cause hysterical sobs. Refuses beak as overkill. He is like his father. Who has the great good fortune to be in Stockholm at the moment.
Finally everyone is ready. I am the only one not wearing pants. Photo time!
The photo is awful, but too late, the robot has already run away, off down the road. The parrot and I set off at a more sedate pace. The robot comes running back to us, crestfallen.
"Noone else in Primaire is dressed up!"
We reach school. He is right. We take off and shove the robot costume in his bag before anyone sees and laughs at him. Kiss. Goodbye robot, er, Lashes. Noone need ever know. Presumably we will find out in some oblique fashion that the whole sorry business must start again for you tomorrow. Why did we not know this? How could we not have known that page 83, subsection (f) of Vol 4 of the Gulag Rules stipulates different days for dressing up for maternelle and primaire?
Goodbye parrot, standing out in a sea of Spidermen and pirates and princesses. The parrot shines with inner satisfaction at his costume. He is parrot. The parrot's mother wonders if it is too early for a small Scotch.