Did you know that 6th October was Silver Sunday? ‘A celebration of older residents and their contribution to communities.’ Well, hurrah, recognition at last – for starters there’re over four million grandparents in Britain helping out with childcare. So when my daughter rang to say that the new head teacher at the primary school was holding a Grandparents’ Harvester do I assumed this was what it was all about. In the seven odd years I’ve been involved with the school, inviting only grandparents to something was a first. ‘You mean a do at the local Harvester pub?’ I asked, liking the sound of this new head teacher very much. I pictured a merry group of sherry-sipping Dot Cottons and twinkly Clive Dunn lookalikes with pints. ‘No mum,’ said my daughter, patiently. ‘I said a Grandparents’ Harvest Tea. At the school.’ Oh, I felt a bit crestfallen. So a cup of tea and a custard cream then – and maybe a cox’s orange pippin to take home.
Singing was mentioned on the invite – the school is Cof E and so did that mean a couple of harvest hymns and a vicar? Oh dear, religion is not my thing and hymns a distant memory – ‘la la la la gathered in, something something the harvest home.’ But maybe there’d be a couple of rows of sweet little Reception class cherubs piping ‘Grandad, and hopefully, grandma, we love you’…and a chorus of ‘aahhhs’ from us oldies would be all that was required.
A bit late, I was the only adult approaching the school entrance – not a good sign – this was going to be embarrassing, I thought. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong – the loud hum of voices hit me as I opened the school door and, glory be, the hall was packed to the gunnels with grans and some granpas too and, hurrah, they were sitting round round tables each with a laden cakestand in the middle. And the cakes! Cupcakes with two inches of icing, crumbly fruitcake etc. etc – and not a custard cream in sight. Polite pupils, girls and boys, were moving about carrying cups of tea and yet more cakes on plates. And wow! I’ve never in my life been in a place full of so many oldies like me. It was like straying into the waiting area for auditions for a new over-60s category of the X Factor.
People quietened down as a few teachers ushered lots of little fresh-faced tinies into the Hall. Aaahhh. Well, they looked so small and sweet… A smartly dressed woman appeared and welcomed us – the new head teacher. A little girl started crying, overwhelmed by the sea of expectant faces. The head spoke reassuringly to her and knew her name (apparently she has promised to know all the children’s names by Christmas and had obviously begun with the Reception class – how great is that!). There was to be a song about a scarecrow and one about a combine harvester, said the head, who was conducting the singing. So no thanking god for the harvest home, thank goodness. But, oh dear, I worried, there can’t be too many songs about combine harvesters. Hopefully it wasn’t going to be the 1970s one about a Brand New Combine Harvester with its dodgy lyrics. No, this was an altogether wholesome Big, Red Combine Harvester ‘chug, chug, chug, chug chugging along’ cheerily in a field in the autumn sunlight – and the little ones had memorised all the words.
Having waved at their grans and grandads (aaahhhh), the tiny tinies filed out and the other half of the school, a lot bigger and a bit less orderly, arrived. These, of course, included granddaughters 2 and 3 who were at last reaping the benefits of their years of training me in the grandparent stakes. I now know that a gran’s place is to keep a seemly low profile and not to leap up, call their names and wave manically at them when they appear.
Ok, was this where we were expected to join in a hymn or two? Up went the arms of the Head to conduct and out came the song. And what a song – it raised the roof! It was called Build up: ‘You can build up your brothers and your sisters, we can build up, yes we can!’ Aspirational and inspirational, it was a winning mixture of Bob the Builder and President Obama. And the words of the song were inclusive – a good omen for granddaughter 2’s campaign to get Black History Month on the school calendar. Then, like the conductor on the Last Night of the Proms, the head turned towards her audience. uh-oh, now we were for it – but Build up was a song I wouldn’t mind singing. But no, she wanted us to copy her hand movements and, groovy grannies and granpas all, we joined in doin’ a kind of handjive, baby, like granddaughter 2 in Grease (at the Harlow Playhouse on 31st Oct, 1 and 2 Nov. Open for bookings now).
So the concert closed with not a whiff of a hymn. We clapped and clapped, applauding the children, the new head and ourselves. What a triumph! Us oldies left the hall on a high turning to each other and saying things like ‘Wasn’t that great?’ and ‘That was fantastic!’ I bet more grandparents will want to come to all kinds of activities now too. It felt as if we had been acknowledged as an important part of our grandchildren’s lives and included in the life of the school – about time, but better now than never. Let’s hope that similar events are happening up and down the country, including as many of those four million grannies and granpas helping out with childcare as possible. And the school seemed a happy place – granddaughter 3 told me later that the new head is a fan of Emili Sandé and plays her tracks in assembly. Better and better! Full marks, new head teacher! Give yourself a big gold star and a Well Done sticker!