HALF-term hols nicely over and our roads return to their normal sardines-in-a-can turmoil, especially at school time.

If you've not been on a school run lately, you ought to try it. It's far more entertaining than anything on at the theatre or cinema.

Word of warning, however: find a parent who has a kid at the school and tag along. Otherwise you might get arrested for loitering in these days of paedophilia paranoia.

In fact it is several forms of entertainment rolled into one: for those of you with a passion for cars, there's the finest selection parked on the yellow lines surrounding every school; there's the catwalk for the latest in housewife fashion; there's spot the relationship developing; and plain, old-fashioned people watching.

Dad nicely packed off to work in the family banger, mum gets behind the wheel of the gleaming status symbol and drives young Ben, Victoria or Jason off on the gruelling, half-mile trek through deepest darkest suburbia to the school gates. Never mind that the poor child needs the fresh air and exercise after a hard night locked in mortal combat with a Play Station, never mind what it is doing to the environment.

Mum does not want her daughter snatched off the streets, she does not want to put Courtney or Kyle in danger crossing the roads, even if she's with them.

So out come the gas-guzzling, monster 4x4s, the four-wheel-drive Tonka-type cruisers built for crossing the Sahara or at least the farmlands of the Yorkshire Dales. They should be crusted in mud or red dust but they shine like mirrors and inwardly groan because these workhorses are never allowed to more than trot.

Or there are the BMW wives, who have sunglasses parked on their heads come rain or shine, summer or winter. They kiss young Jemima without making contact so the lipstick is not smudged before the daily chore of a comb-out at the hairdressers in readiness for the even greater drudge of a credit card spree in the shopping malls.

And then there are the people carriers built for a family of eight that are never burdened by anything more than a family of three.

If you have the misfortune to be heading for work at 8.30am in term time, you'll know what the school run can do. Even the bus companies allow extra hours in their timetable planning.

But it is the end of the school day which is more intriguing. Many of the mums spend an hour getting dolled up for the school gates. They will be judged by their peers at this peculiar, ritual gathering; they will cluster in their social groups and their heads will turn slyly as they single out and destroy the latest gossip victim.

Multiple mums will have their brood clinging to their skirts or creating havoc. "You, Jimmy, if you don't stop now you'll get a clatter." Jimmy does not desist. "I MEAN it, NOW." Heads swivel and traffic stops at the pure horror of that shriek but Jimmy still does not desist, mum loses interest and goes back to the gossip, parental duty done.

There, too, is the occasional dad, feeling self-conscious, admiring the alluring young wives and wishing he had changed out of his painting gear. He tries to adopt a manly stance among all this womanhood but keeps shifting because posing is uncomfortable. He has no idea that he is the subject of some of that gossip just because he has put in an unusual appearance. "Is he out of work? Is he on a different shift, is he a house husband? Has she got another black eye or have they separated, I heard they had?" Poor bloke, he only wants to see his child.

Now this is only outside the infant school. Outside the juniors it's worse because the tongues are older, wiser and sharper.

Secondary school is best. The children wouldn't be seen dead being dropped off by their parents. They walk or get a bus. If the bus sails past full and leaves them stranded as Arriva buses frequently do in our village, they will deign to accept a lift from mum or dad. But they will not be dropped off in sight of their school mates because it's not cool - and because dad's driving in his slippers and anyway he's, well, old.

Besides he might spot your pals having a crafty cigarette before a hard day's lessons or texting their friends 20 yards away on banned mobile phones.

Updated: 08:50 Tuesday, March 04, 2003