On the second Wednesday of a fortnight’s summer holiday, thoughts naturally turn to returning home and the resumption of the drab daily grind that is reality. Although one quarter of the holidays still remains, it is tinged, unquestionably tainted, by the realisation that the good times will shortly be coming to an end.
In much the same way, the realisation that the school summer holidays are about to draw to a close is marked by the annual trip to the local clothes shop to pick up the school uniform. I don’t know which I hated more – the school uniform, going to collect it or the actual concept of having to wear a uniform in the first place. Probably all three combined to give me a loathing of the attire, from which I have never recovered.
Towards the end of July, my mother would start to drop hints about going down to get the uniform “before the rush.” Naturally, it is downright immoral to even think about school in July and so my mother’s enthusiasm was greeted with copious amounts of cold water. From then on, it was imperative to have a full diary for the month of August. “Can’t make it on Thursday, ma, I’m playing football.” As August advanced, my mother became more and more persistent until the critical mass was achieved, and it was the lesser of two evils to get the school uniform out of the way.
Looking back, it was not the actual purchasing of the uniform that was the problem. It was being seen out in the shops with your ma that was the epitome of uncool. If my mother would have given me the money, and a list of things to buy, I’d have strolled down there with a spring in my step. Better still if, while there on my own, I encountered a schoolmate or two with their mothers. That would have been absolute bliss.
However the notion of me being capable of purchasing a school uniform on my own was so alien to my mother that the thought probably never entered her head. (I actually still need my wife for moral support when purchasing a jumper, and much prefer to let other people buy clothes for me. This is because, as I am the first to admit, I have absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever.)
So we would go down to the local appointed shop, my mother leading the way and me slouching behind trying to pretend I was out on my own. I remember having to make sure none of my socks had holes in them, for fear of making a “holy show” of my mother.
Of course there were always two or three other boys there, (thankfully with their mothers,) though never any of your close friends. These were boys who might be in your year but moved in different circles. A brief nod of the head in acknowledgement was all that was required but my mother used to speak to the other boys, asking them what subjects they liked best at school. I would be mortified, and petrified lest she committed some horrendous faux pas, like letting slip that I enjoyed geography, or that I kept on splitting the backside of my trousers.
The worst thing of all though was when she wiped a grubby mark on your cheek with her handkerchief. I was a boy. We’re supposed to have grubby marks on our cheeks. What do you expect us to do? Give our faces a wash before we come out? So I’d recoil in horror on the production of the hankie in public, in front of kids in my year in school, for whom my over-fussy mother would bound to be the only topic of conversation when school restarted.
Trying the uniform on was another chore that I deemed totally unnecessary. The shirt was labelled “Age14” and I was, erm, let me see, 14. Where was the problem? If only they sized adult clothes by age, instead of this ridiculous insistence on waist sizes, I wouldn’t be so daunted by buying clothes.
But no, everything had to be tried on, even the tie. I mean, how many different sizes can a tie be? One things for sure, my mother never sent the tie back, asking for “a longer one,” but nevertheless I still had to put it on.
Then came the endless pulling and tugging, and the imprecations to stand up straight. Again, why? For 95% of the time that I had the wretched uniform on, I was going to be slouching in it, so why not check it out for size whilst slouching, with hands in pockets?
My mother would invariably get down on hands and knees to check trouser length, which was a science in itself. Basically they had to be too long. When they were brought home, my mother would turn them up, and then, when they started getting too short, let them down again. In this way, we could eke out a pair of trousers to last for two years, even though the material on knees and backside was gossamer thin by this time.
My mother was a great believer in “buying big” so that I could grow into clothes. Looking back, my mother was way ahead of her time, because some of my school trousers had a crotch somewhere around my knees, which is a fashion very much in vogue today. Shirts could also be baggy – “you’ll have your jumper on anyway” – and I could easily have worn them as a nightshirt.
Finally, my mother would pronounce herself satisfied, and I’d be free to get back into my proper clothes. Everything would have to be refolded and placed in large paper bags, and back we’d go up the street, this time with me leading the way, all eager to get home and play football.
But it was never as easy as that. I’d have to put on the trousers and stand on the kitchen stool, while my mother revolved around me with pins in her mouth, sticking them all around my ankles. By this time I was completely fed up and daylight was rapidly fading and we’d wasted a complete whole day in buying a stupid uniform that I hadn’t wanted to buy in the first place.
Even today, my heart goes out when I see boys being dragged in to purchase school uniforms in mid-August. Girls, perversely, actually seem to enjoy the act, which proves what bizarre and unfathomable creatures they are. But for boys, surely there must be a better way.