Children love dirt. The washing powder adverts say so.
But last week, a head teacher from Somerset hit the headlines by making it very clear that she didn’t.
‘An increasing number of children are coming to school in a shocking state,’ wrote Judith Barret, in the weekly newsletter issued to parents’ at St Michael's Academy in Yeovil. ‘They are dirty, unkempt and not in appropriate school uniform. In a country where there is plentiful running water and washing machines, and shops like Tesco offer entire school uniforms for £10, it is a pretty poor indictment of the parenting skills of some of our families.’
Most of us would agree that getting your child to school looking like they’re not harbouring listeria under their fingernails is in chapter one of the parenting manual.
But knowing you simply have to do it – and making sure you always do – does not mean it’s easy. Essential, yes. Straightforward, no.
I have three boys for whom to wash and iron uniforms and multiple PE kits.
They leave the house at 8am looking as close to immaculate as I can get them. There might be a milk moustache on someone’s top lip, the odd toothpaste drip on a school jumper, but basically, they’re clean and good to go.
But there is a perilous walk of three or four minutes after we’ve parked the car in which it all comes horribly close to being undone.
If there’s a puddle to be jumped in, my kids are the first in line. If there’s a tree to climb, they’ll aim for the top branch. If there are sticks to trip over, it’ll be mine who are flat on their face. All of which means that it’s a miracle they don’t turn up every morning looking like they’ve crawled out of a skip.
Children’s magnetic capacity to attract dirt cannot be underestimated.
Something particularly mysterious happens to my kids between the school drop off and pick up.
I couldn’t say precisely what it is but it almost certainly involves a tornado, a wheelbarrow full of soil and a competition to eat a plate of spaghetti Bolognese with their hands tied behind their backs.
They emerge nothing less than filthy.
Overnight, the Cleaning Fairy gets to work and makes sure that spotless, sweet-smelling uniforms are ready the next morning - for them to begin the process all over again.
So while I’m with Ms Barret in principle – keeping kids clean is all part of the job – I don’t think this particular job is a doddle. And, as ever, the pay and conditions are terrible.