I don’t know when children started seeing church as a sort of alternative Wacky Warehouse, but it was very different in my day. Why, you’d hardly have time to give the underside of the pew in front of you a swift kick, thereby waking up Mr Green with the sticky out ears, before you’d feel a stinging slap on your leg for your pains.
These days, if you manage to keep them seated while the vicar is reminding you that we’ll be having sticky buns with coffee after the service, you’ve done your job as a mother, and you’ll be doing a sight better than most of the other parents, hiding behind Mission Praise while their children hurtle down the back of the church to demolish the flower arrangement in front of the font.
Last Sunday was the Toy Service, and I’m afraid to say my family brought disgrace upon itself. Subjudice was taking part in the St Wilfrid’s Circle of Life adaptation of the Lion King, a dance group made up of obscenely thin girls (they can’t all be dieting already, surely?). Perhaps the dance tutor weeded out the fat ones, a sort of Lion King natural selection process which ensures that only stick children go on to stage school and pop stardom.
Apart from the skinniness, the uniting factor was their cripplingly shy body language, all hunched shoulders and chins stuck to their breast bones, which rather hampers you when you’re trying to express the glory of life with only a black leotard and 40 denier black tights between you and the world.
Subbie, on the contrary, is her father’s daughter, and has inherited his life-enhancing confidence, which allows him to elbow small associates out of the queue for the last baked potato in the canteen, and to threaten: “You’ll cancel this clause if I have to rip off your arm and cross it out in blood.”
So while the others were imitating dying swans up by the altar, my daughter was throwing out her arms and leaping across the aisle, blinding the curate with the sharp edge of a tambourine and knocking over the lectern, which came crashing down on the smallest members of the choir.
I was unable to help as I was charged with looking after a pew full of Brownies, preventing them from picking their noses or text messaging their friends, while the Lawyer was deputed to look after our two younger children.
Liability took advantage of the commotion further up the church to escape the surveillance (he was probably playing with Deminimus’ Game Boy at that point, anyway) and recruited all the loose children in the church to collect the spare hassocks, carefully cross-stitched in 1963 by the Mother’s Union. Before we’d got to the third hymn she’d built a blue cross-stitch fortress at the foot of the nave and was sending out raiding parties.
Three elderly ladies were terrorised into handing over their collection money before the sidesmen realised they’d been cut out of the business.
Deminimus, meanwhile, had discovered that three hassocks piled on top of one another make an excellent trampoline, especially if you clamber up on to the font first.
By some insane twist of fate the managing partner lives in the same parish as us and was in church with his princess-line twin daughters Sophia and Saffron, who go to the same school as Subbie.
“Who are they?” hissed the managing partner at his daughters, staring aghast at my children, now hurling hymn books at each other. “They live down the hill,” they replied. “Their daddy works for you!”