Back to School No More

3 for 2? It doesn't matter any more...

3 for 2? It doesn’t matter any more…

‘Back to School.’ Three words in a shop window that used to utterly depress me.

Now, I rather like them – in the same way I’ll like it in the afterlife when Beelzebub tells me he’s going to roast someone else for the next half hour.

Sure, Ben’s going back to college on Tuesday, but so what? He goes in jeans, t-shirt and a hoodie. Uniform? You must be joking – that’s only for the girls, jeans with ripped knees clearly being mandatory.

Tom’s now a grown up and Jessica’s heading back to Sheffield – via a short detour to a music festival in the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile, the shops are ablaze with window stickers – and several social media pals are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Not that I was always so relaxed…

“We need to go shopping.”

“But we’re on holiday.”

“And the children are going back to school after the bank holiday. We need…” And five minutes later my wife would stop talking.

What? How was that possible? They’d only broken up six weeks ago.

New trousers, new blazers, shoes – when did our children not need shoes – and a hockey stick. The annual hockey stick. It rolled round more reliably than Christmas.

“But I bought you a hockey stick last year, Jessica.”

“And I used it every week. And now I need a new one.”

Fair comment. An examination of Jessica’s hockey stick clearly revealed that it had taken its share of prisoners over the past year. But did it really need replacing?

Yes. Some damn sports company had released the Nimbus 2000 of hockey sticks…

“And I need some new gloves, and trainers. And school is getting the team new kit.”

“…Which we’ll be invited to pay for.”

But you can protest all you like. There’s no escape. Just cancel that romantic weekend for two: you’d only have spent it worrying about the children anyway.

And look on the bright side. Your son’s not in year 9 yet: the school year where he grows six inches a week and you’re buying new trousers more often than you’re buying breakfast cereal.

But on that particular sunny, hint-of-Autumn morning there was a fine compensation. We were in Scotland – a fine compensation at any time, but if you’re there in late August and you’re shopping for school, Scotland is perfect. Because the schools have already gone back. Katie Morag is hanging on Miss Brodie’s every word and her mum’s wearing that thank-God-it’s-over-for-another-year smile.

So you can wander into Clarks and be knocked over by helpful staff. Back home in England you’d be taking a ticket and wondering if you’d brought enough sandwiches for the wait.

And then it was time for Rymans…

I remember writing – years back, possibly before decimal currency was introduced – about a black hole in our house. It was the only possible explanation. How else could all those geometry sets, pens, rulers and pencil cases so carefully packed away in July have completely disappeared by September?

They’d been consumed by a black hole. And my God, did it ever consume pencil cases. There’s probably a galaxy far, far away where the space junk consists entirely of Tom’s Buzz Lightyear pencil cases.

All change…

“Is there anything you need for going back to college, Ben?”

“No, I’m fine. But you can get me some beer if you like. I’m going to a party tonight.”

“You sure? Pens, pencils, notebooks?”

“Nope, I’m good. But don’t buy me that cheap stuff you bought last time.”

And I wander into the corner shop, drift nostalgically past the exercise books, and settle happily in front of the San Miguel…

I’m now working on a 30,000 word e-book about the 5 day, father/son walk Ben and I did on the Pennine Way: if you’d like to read a few sample chapters before publication, just use the contact form to let me know. In the meantime if you’d like a copy of the ‘laugh out loud’ Best Dad featuring 27 of my favourite columns from all the years I’ve been writing, it’s available here for 99p on your Kindle


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    • Thank you for that, Cascia – and my apologies for taking a while to reply. WordPress was so shocked that it dumped your comment in my spam folder…

  2. No 2 son is in year 9 this year… we just replaced all his kit and blazer which seemed to have shrunk over summer. He has taken my underused bike as his transport. He had to drop the seat but otherwise what fitted my six three frame fits his. I’m worried.

    Good article as ever Mark, what does happen to those geometry sets…

    • Year 9 is just astonishing, Barry. Ben went through a stage of going to bed and getting up 6″ taller. He was coming out of the bathroom one morning – looking at where I thought his head would be. Door opened and I was staring at his chest. Our own fault for feeding them so well…

  3. Oh dear, year 9! That was actually year 10 for my eldest, who now just wears men’s clothes as he towers over most men. Suspect it might be year 8 for my younger son, who is getting worryingly close to my height and he’s not 13 yet!

    • My wife would empathise with that, Sarah. Ben shot up and past her in the space of about three weeks. She’s been shuffled to the bottom of the family height table, just I’m steadily dropping to bottom of the qualifications league as the children graduate…

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