My daughter thinks that I do not stand trendily at the school gate. 'This is how you've got to do it,' she says, buckling my right knee with one hand and swivelling my toes together so that my left hip slews out and jabs Dillon's mother. Then she rotates my arm into a teapot spout, unfurls my index finger and instructs me to dangle my car key from the end of it like Summer's mum does.
We both turn to look at Summer's mum. She stands there in a floral maxi dress, flesh bronzed at the Tantastic tanning salon, a Peugeot key swinging from her fibreglass nail extension. Then we look back at me. It doesn't help that I don't have a car key. If I did, I point out, it would be a Skoda key. It also doesn't help that I'm wearing my customary school uniform of corduroy stuffed into wellies. 'You look like an old countrywoman,' my daughter says. I find I mind this. Not the countrywoman bit. I nurture the usual urbanite fantasy of marshalling regiments of marrows in a cottage garden. I mind the 'old' because it's very nearly true. My husband's shaving mirror told me brutally so this morning.
So when I return for school pick up I've put on a denim skirt my mother bought me when she wanted me to get out more, my Moment of Madness from Barratts ten years ago (glistening black knee boots with a two-inch heel) and I've brought the Skoda. I gingerly arrange my left hip in one direction and my right arm in another and hang the car key from my forefinger. I'm buffeted, in this precarious position, by the backwind of fleeing school children.
Then my daughter appears, dishevelled in her school track suit with a smear of school dinner on her forehead. 'Mum!' she hisses, 'You're so embarrassing!' Through her wilderness of hair I see Summer's mum craning swan-like over her daughter from her Louboutin-style wedges and I see Summer ducking crossly away and I realise that shortening my skirts and lengthening my nails and cocking my contours like Lily Cole will serve no purpose. Mothers are, just by dint of Being, an embarrassment.