A few weeks ago, Miss Baldwin and I received message from a former pupil, saying that she was on secondment to Number 10, Downing Street and that, if we liked, she could give us a tour. She added that we should not feel embarrassed about saying no if we weren’t interested.

Now, although history teaching must look from the outside quite a glamorous profession, in reality it’s quite short on perks. I was once invited to Covent Garden as a guest of the conductor; I used to be greeted by a famous pop singer with a cheery ‘Hallo, Mr Sherwood!’ in Islington High Street (while his daughter looked on, mortified); I once watched a net session (from a safe distance) where a former pupil, now an Essex and England fast bowler, gave his former teachers some ducking-out-of-the-way practice; I’ve had dinner with the Lord Mayor of London (just me and a few hundred other guests)…but that’s about it. An invitation to have a look round Number 10, it seems to me, is not an occasion to be missed – I can imagine HM Queen rolling her eyes on being invited to Number 10 again, but my reaction was more, ‘Well, yes, obviously.’

On Saturday, I presented myself at the gates of Downing Street, together with my two children, having threaded our way through a melange of pro- and anti-Julian Assange demonstrators. This involved slipping between various crowd barriers under the suspicious eyes of seriously large numbers of heavily-armed policemen (and this in spite of the fact that our host was waiting for us on the other side of the gate). There was then a security check, on a par with airports around the world, and then we were free to stroll up the famous street for all the world as if we were cabinet ministers on our way to be sacked.

Since some of our party were held up on a train, we had to hang around in front of the front door for some time while our host confirmed various things I’ve been telling my classes for years (like why the bricks are black) and apologised for keeping us waiting. Keeping us waiting in front of Number 10, Downing Street…an odd thing to apologise for, I felt, particularly as we got the opportunity to meet Larry the Downing Street cat (who looked basically like our own cat Moustache but double the weight – like a Moustache who had eaten another Moustache, then. Larry apparently brings live mice into Downing Street and lets them go. Not something Moustache would dream of doing…dead mice, dead half-mice, things that might have been mice earlier in the day, yes. Live mice, never).

When we got to go into Number 10 itself (taking a video of my son stepping over the threshold, and thus winning him £10 from a friend as the result of an incautious bet), we found ourselves in a tiled lobby, beyond which was a room with racks for coats, the toilets and the lift. Oh, and Winston Churchill’s favourite armchair. Beyond that…well, beyond that, you leave Number 10 and go on into a huge separate building attached to the back. (‘Number 10’, ‘Number 11’ and ‘Number 12’ are all a bit notional – they’ve all been knocked together and you can get to the front door of Number 11 by going along the corridor from the front door to Number 10. It’s like the houses the Beatles live in in Help!) (What do mean, you’ve never watched Help!? Watch it now, and try to ignore the 1960s attitudes to ‘foreigners’.)

This second part contains the Cabinet Room (so I could stand in the room where Neville Chamberlain intoned the words “…and that consequently, this country, is, at war, with Germany”), the Yellow Staircase (not actually danced down by Hugh Grant in Love, Actually), the White Room (where prime ministers meet visiting dignitaries, and where my son posed for a photo in the PM’s chair while I sat in the one occupied by Barack Obama. Oh, and by Donald Trump), the Terracotta Room (with the desk used by Asquith to write to the Kaiser), the Pillared Room (still with holes in the walls left by the IRA’s mortar attack – left on purpose, not just overlooked by the workmen), the State Dining Room…my children said I looked like a child let loose in a sweet shop, and I can well believe it.

It was brilliant to realise that this was a living, working building and not a stately home – the only chairs we couldn’t sit in were in the Cabinet Room (well, and also Churchill’s favourite armchair – see above); parts were closed off because Boris Johnson had invited his family round for the afternoon; the State Dining Room is used for the staff Christmas party; the silver candelabras are covered in fingerprints because people keep moving them to make space for their laptops; one of the chairs in the Pillared Room has a jam stain from where someone dropped her toast during a breakfast meeting…

It was a wonderful experience and I felt hugely privileged; my son says it’s one of the best things he’s ever done (so the trip to Petra was clearly a waste of time).

(As a footnote, over half of the women working in the Number 10 Policy Unit were educated in single-sex schools, and half of the women our ex-pupil works with directly are ex-GDST pupils. Just saying.)