I am shell-shocked, frazzled and vowing never to return but return I must and virtually every term for the next 12 years.
The Boy is going into Reception next week and must be suitably attired. Now little boys (and girls) grow at an alarming rate and like new cars I feel that new clothes are frankly a waste of space and a drain on the economy. Basically I’m tight.
Luckily the school runs a second hand shop and it is from there that I have returned barley able to believe what I have gone through and all for a four year old. A mother’s love knows no bounds…
On entering the school, deliciously eerie with the echoes of children’s voices embedded in the very walls, I popped my head round the School Secretary’s door and asked for directions.
“Down to the end through the double doors by the kitchens then up the back stairs, you can’t miss it. Just follow the noise.”
Slightly puzzled I followed her instructions and on opening the double doors was knocked backwards by the volume of noise emanating from above. I ventured up the stairs thanking God I had seen fit to leave The Boy safe at home.
Nearly at the top I passed a triumphant looking Mum on her way down with two unusually quiet boys in tow.
“You’re a bit late aren’t you?”
Before I could ask for an explanation regarding this slightly cryptic remark, she had disappeared from view with a swish of skirt and a large hint of satisfaction. I continued upwards.
The sight that met my eyes on reaching the upper landing left me paralysed. It was like some dreadful bombsite with clothes littering the ground like dead bodies, piles of grey shorts higgledy-piggledy reaching almost to the ceiling. Heaps of navy blue boiler suits laid out on trestle tables and scavengers everywhere, lost bewildered looking children. A baby was crying ignored as its mother frantically searched in a pile of dark trousers for a 28-inch waist.
Another mother suddenly pounced pulling a rather wrinkled striped blazer from beneath a pile of art aprons only to find that it was firmly gripped by another. For and instant they glared at each other. There was a sudden hush and I thought for a moment that there was going to be a most unholy catfight. A tall formidable looking woman I recognised as Matron took a step forwards and started to speak. But manners were remembered and the blazer was released. Hungry eyes watched as it fell to the floor. And the two mothers expensively faced each other perfectly groomed, perfectly poised.
“Oh, please take it. I’m sure you had it first.” But the look on her face clearly read: Go on you greedy cow but just wait ‘til next time.
“No, no really it’s quite alright. I’m sure your need is greater than mine.” Said so sweetly that if you didn’t know better you might have completely missed the insult.
Quick as a wink the reply was out: “Honestly, it really isn’t a problem I was just on my way to the Outfitters and stopped by to drop off some second hand uniform to Matron. Saw this on the floor and was just about to put it somewhere safe but if you are quite sure – I DO love a bargain.”
Suddenly Matron was upon me blocking the rest of the exchange from sight: “Class?”
Panic! Why does she want to know that? Er? Now what? um ... Working? Upper? Middle? I thought it only mattered if you could pay the fees these days???!!!
Her: “What class is your child in?”
Me: “Oh, right Reception.” As I strained to check out who had won the coveted blazer.
“How big is your child?”
I was given a quelling look and told where to find the uniform. I was just thinking Thank heavens that The Boy won’t need a Blazer until Year 3 when Matron boomed at my receding back.
“Don’t forget they’ll be starting off in Summer Uniform so you’ll need to get that as well as winter stuff.”
Just what I needed to hear! I would have to buy summer uniform both now and again in the spring as by then he’ll have grown out of it. And with that thought I ventured towards the piles of clothes only to remember I had no clue as to what either uniform looked like and I didn’t have the school list on me.
I sheepishly returned to Matron to ask if she could tell me what I needed. Before the words were out of my mouth she was rattling off the list with well-practised ease and I was diving into my handbag for a piece of paper and a pen to capture it before I forgot.
Needless to say I had to ask again and I was tersely handed a list.
“Please return it when you have finished.”
Like a whipped cur I scuttled away.
For the next hour or so I hunted among the remnants, which suddenly seemed very sparse indeed. I folded them neatly into piles so I would know where I had been. Every time that I thought I had something suitable I would find that it was either too small or too large, too stained or just too worn.
I couldn’t credit it. Even though all the clothes had old nametapes on them identifying whose they had been some mothers couldn’t even be bothered to send them to the Second-hand shop clean. Some clothes were so filthy they didn’t even look the right colour and one trouser pocket still had a snotty hanky in it all dried and crusty looking.
After nearly two hours I came away with two aertex shirts and a seriously faded but clean pair of grey shorts for the princely sum of £10. As I was rummaging in my bag for my purse Matron asked if I would like a coffee.
The landing was quiet now and as I stared about me I realised I was the only one there. I gratefully accepted and sank into the sofa in Matron’s office. She sat beside me shaking her head clearly feeling sorry for me. She patted me on the knee.
“Do you want a few tips?”
“Oh yes please!”
“Best thing is to plan ahead,” she said. “Find a Mum with a boy a few years ahead of yours, make friends and then offer to buy all her grown out of uniform. Mind you choose a neat one, one that cares. You may need to go for two or three Mums. Don’t just go for those wearing expensive clothes themselves or the ones driving smart cars I find they are frequently the worst. Their kids haven’t been taught to respect what they’ve got. Then come to me and I’ll tell you if the boy wears his clothes hard – deal?”
She held out her hand – we shook.
“Deal,” I said.
As I left she called after me: “I’ve made a note to put aside a decent blazer for you in three years time – I never forget.”