My daughter came home from her first day in Year Five with a box of stationery and a note from her teacher requesting that we cover and label her exercise books. Cover and label! The mere term is enough to raise the blood pressure of parents all over the country.
I think we must subconsciously suppress the anguish associated with covering these books because each February it comes as a fresh shock to me to realise that once again I have to wrestle with the uncooperative, unnaturally adhesive stuff until our smooth, unblemished books become lumpy, less pristine versions of themselves. No wonder we need Botox. And wine.
I was surprised when the school first made this request. The same institution that advocates we pack paperless and plastic-less lunches - and teaches conservation and environmental awareness - wants us to purchase garish sticky rolls of plastic to cover books that already have perfectly good covers. It seems wasteful and illogical.
And I wonder exactly why we want these books to survive past the end of the year anyway. Apart from the occasional one preserved for posterity, we routinely consign these books to the rubbish. I'm still not sure if the plastic covering makes them un-recyclable or if we need to separate the cover from the rest of the book before disposal.
That first year I purchased some plain transparent covering then sat on the floor in front of the TV with a chardonnay and started work. Of course, experienced book-coverers will have identified at least three problems with that approach:
1. Never get the clear covering; it's way trickier to apply than the patterned stuff.
2. Your work surface needs to be bench or table height.
3. Distractions such as television and wine are counter-productive.
Thanks to my falling into those traps, my daughter's exercise books ended up looking as if they'd been chewed by a dinosaur then spat out. Each one was so wrinkled it could have been a topographical relief map of some hilly island nation.
But it wasn't until I got to school the next day that I realised just how bad they were. The other students had books covered so smoothly and so expertly they'd be a pleasure to use. My daughter's books looked like they'd been sourced from a dumpster.
I still remember the excitement of writing in a fresh exercise book and, fearful that these hideous books would put my daughter off learning for life, I ended up purchasing a whole new set of exercise books, some patterned covering and giving the job all the care and attention I could muster. The result wasn't perfect but it was fine.
Last week I covered two 1B5 exercise books and two MA4 maths books in purple-and-green covering left over from last year and, despite a couple of near disasters, the result is flawless. Each book took a good few minutes to complete, though, since rushing usually leads to rips (in the covering) and tears (mine).
Clearly I've learned the knack over the last four years. But, while I may have felt briefly like the Martha Stewart of book-covering, I still can't understand it. Why the need for all this frown-inducing work?
If covers are essential, why can't the books be manufactured with them already in place - or why can't the school arrange to have them covered for us? Why doesn't some enterprising senior student set up a book-covering service for the first couple of weeks of the year? Or why don't we use hardcover books instead?
And, most importantly, why do parents remain silent on this issue when it's a task few of
us relish or even understand the rationale for. Maybe next year we should all rebel, send our children to school with naked books and face the consequences.