Good face bad face

I’ll freely admit that I’m enormously inept when it comes to checking the boys’ school bags for letters and stuff. I mean more often than not when I eventually remember to wade through all the scrunched up pieces of paper in their bags I’ll discover nothing more than a handful of badly-designed book-club advertisements and a three-week old nit warning. Don’t worry, there isn’t a nit alive that would survive the amount of hair straightening and L’oreal matt putty I put into the kids’ hair so we’re perfectly safe.

However, on Monday last week when I reluctantly unzipped Lyall’s rucksack, I found...

  • an advertisement for after-school yoga (no thanks)
  • £20 per-day per-child aka £200 a week holiday club (piss-off)
  • yet another horrendous bright red book-club offer (kill me now)
  • a week-old letter about a sickness and diarrhoea virus that class 2B have been exposed to (marginally better than a book-club advert)

...and a school photograph order form envelope (probably about to be completely ripped-off).

So, after putting the sickness bug advert to one side and binning everything else, I took a glance at the price list on the front of the school photograph envelope. I looked again, in mild horror. £8 for a single 6x4” photo. I wondered how one sets-one-up as a freelance school photographer.

Hesitantly, I opened the school photograph envelope, half-expecting another book-club advert to slip out. Inside the envelope I found two watermarked photos. I had incentivised (bribed) the boys to smile with the promise of half a Viennetta each, so I felt optimistic.

The first photograph was a solo picture of Lyall, grimacing, one eye closed, his gappy teeth clenched like a snarling dog. “Marvellous”, I said out loud, shaking my head.

The second was a joint photograph, vaguely depicting a frowning Richard with Lyall’s hand firmly around the back of his neck, rather like Nigella Lawson’s candid expose in the Daily Mail shortly before her divorce from Mr Pig a couple of years ago. At least I don’t have to buy a Vienetta, I thought. I smirked, shook my head again and returned the photos and their order form quickly back into their envelope, wrote a big ‘NO WAY’ with a black Sharpey on the back and placed it on the kitchen table ready for Tom’s perusal.

When Tom caught sight of the photos after work, he swiftly rolled up the photo order forms into a paper tube, gently bopped both boys on the head with it and grumbled,

“You had one job to do boys, and that was to smile in those bloody school photos for your Grandma and Granny, for god’s sake”.

Solution? That evening we staged a home school photography session in our kitchen. Broadly speaking, this involved Tom hanging an ironed white sheet from the kitchen ceiling with drawing pins, back-lit by a selection of table lamps and torches on the kitchen worktop. Meanwhile I got the boys showered, hair washed and dressed into clean, ironed uniforms, hair straightened and styled with cute little side partings. Naturally Lyall and Rich never look this good at school, but tom and I both agreed that they looked remarkably smart.

We put two dining chairs in front of the illuminated sheet and balanced the boys up onto the chairs, precariously.

Lyall and Richard can’t or won’t both smile simultaneously, so we resorted to the bad face good face technique.

Using a Sharpey and a scrap of A4 paper I made a sign with a big smiley emoji on one side and a frowning emoji on the other. Holding up the frowny side, we had the boys pull the worst disgusting grimace they could muster for a few seconds, then, flipping the sign to the smiling face I shouted “Smile”, while Tom took a burst of photos, hoping to capture at least one split moment of synchronised happiness. This began as a fantastically fun game, although it continued for a very long ten minutes or so, switching between frown and smile until eventually the fun waned and the kids' facial expressions stagnated into a kind of creepy in-between, brittle unhappy grin.

We finished the photography session with a relieved “That’s a wrap, kids” followed by a family round of applause and a big giggle from everybody.

Among the three-hundred-ish photographs we found one absolute corker, of which we ordered twelve large copies online for £6 delivered. Result!

Home school photograph session