One of the things that you get asked at your child’s audition is if you are willing to act as a Chaperone or Matron during some of the performances. This is essentially the woman or man who looks after the little performers during the actual show, helping out when necessary with costume changes, ensuring that they are quiet backstage, occupied, helping in emergencies (‘I need the toilet’), and making sure that the kids are genuinely enjoying the experience of being part of the show. All of us volunteered – we’ve all helped out at school and passed the relevant CRB’s – how much more complicated could it be than that? We were allocated a basic rota which was subject to change once the show run unfolded and extra bodies would be called in if necessary.
So far, so good. But what I hadn’t realised was that although the pantomime was to be run in Hampshire, the training depended on where you as a chaperone lived. So the mummies were then divided into the various counties from whence they came. You had a training session one evening if you lived in Hampshire or Berkshire, but if, like me, you are a resident over the border in Surrey, it becomes a whole different kettle of fish.
Caz, our Head Chaperone, and proud owner already of a shiny red licence , called me up to tell me that I would not only have to fill in a medical form, pass the CRB and submit two character references, but I would have to attend two 2 hour evening courses and pay £30 to do so. The good news was that she was sending her husband along to do the course too, and so it would not just be muggins sitting on my own in a council office in Woking.
I spoke to a very efficient woman from Surrey County Council who sent me the requisite paperwork and in a blind panic I filled in my character references, as she needed the forms back asap. It was only as the email pinged through to her that it occurred to me that I perhaps should have asked my referees if they minded being thrust into this role. I sent a quick email to the headmaster of Little Man’s school – he prides himself on his open door policy (after the fashion of ‘Call me Dave’) – which basically said ‘If a lady from the Council calls to ask about my suitability about looking after children, please don’t panic, and assure her that my kids are all in working order, if a little mad…’ The other was to my neighbour L, who phoned two days later to tell me that she had had a character request from the council, and she had forgotten how long she had known me…
The first evening came. P turned into my drive, and I could see that he was just as excited as I was at the prospect of sitting in a room with loads of people that we didn’t know and listening to stuff that as parents we surely did know. We turned up early and presented our documentation and payment to an efficient woman who processed us and directed us to some extremely thick coffee designed to ensure that none of us fell asleep. As we took our seats, the trainer asked us if we all had pens. P glumly took out a freebie British Red Cross biro, as I smiled and uncapped my posh rollerball pen. I looked around with interest – the majority of the attendees were like us, mums and dads whose kids were in shows, but there were several ladies who worked in school environments, an actress from outer London, and a couple of odd ones who looked as if they were just there because it was a night out.
The first thing we had to do was fill in a Fact and Myth questionnaire. At that point my rollerball pen exploded all over my hands and P began to giggle hysterically, his shoulders shaking. To make matters worse, he was covering up his answers, and I knew I was getting it all hopelessly wrong. The trainer told us all about our roles as observers, as child protectors, and how to deal with situations in which one suspected abuse. Then we were divided into groups for role play – involving one case of abuse, one of neglect and one sexual . Our group was made up of various characters – one of whom insisted that she would call the line manager in every scenario, some of whom made assumptions, others who seemed genuinely scared to make any decisions at all. It was only then I think that it dawned on us all the responsibility that we were facing as chaperones.
We all walked out in silence, considerably more thoughtful, genuinely looking forward to the next session, and, in my case, determined to bring a working pen…