Becky Sheaves: Growing pains of shopping for new school uniforms
Well here I am back at work again after oodles of time off over the summer to relax and chill out at home with my family. For which many thanks to my kind and understanding boss.
Wasn't the weather fabulous? We made the most of it with days at the beach, friends over for barbecues and plenty of sweet pink wine most days after about 6pm. I do hope we can have a few more glorious sun-drenched summers in years to come. I'm actually tanned – last year I barely got out of my wellies.
It was not all sundowners and surfing, though. Shopping for school uniform was not the most restful highlight of my break. Yes, that was me you saw backed into the corner of Clarks with my eyes closed in despair, sweat pouring down my back in a fetid atmosphere of feet and with a mere 15 people ahead of us in the queue.
I am sorry to say I was indeed the mummy who had her child by the scruff of his neck, and was heard to hiss menacingly: "You WILL have your feet measured, TODAY, or you will go to school in last year's shoes. And see if I care when you get corns."
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Likewise, buying uniform trousers and shirts in Marks & Spencer on the same shopping trip (what was I thinking?) was a less-than-soothing experience. They had, oooh, about seven shirts on display and a dozen or so trousers, mostly aged 14. We grabbed everything we could within three years each side of the right size bracket, then strode off to the changing rooms.
Here, we were met by a boot-faced harridan… no, actually, that was me catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And then we were met by another boot-faced harridan who explained that "our ladies" needed "privacy" and could not have a mama and her recalcitrant male children in the cubicle next door to them.
I tried to assure her that my poor little sons had absolutely no interest in copping an eyeful of an M&S customer struggling into some high-waist jeans. But she was having none of it.
Fine, it was merely a case of manhandling our tottering pile of clothing upstairs to the men's department. But guess what, in the gent's changing room the answer was also a resounding no. This (admittedly less boot-faced) lady told me that her gentlemen's privacy would also be compromised if a hot and sweaty mum was in the cubicle next to them, wrestling her increasingly obstreperous son in and out of patent non-iron, stain-resistant school shirts.
For the record, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in peeking at some nice middle-aged chappie trying on chinos.
Anyway, at this point, I did start to lose any lingering vestige of a sense of humour and demanded (possibly less than politely) where a boy COULD try on his uniform… "I'll put you in the disabled, madam," she said swiftly.
What a revelation. Mums and dads, you all need to know that there is a huge, airy and delightful mixed-gender changing room in M&S, with chairs and simply masses of space. I'm sorry if someone in genuine need was kept waiting but the disabled changing room was a godsend for us.
Even so, once inside, we had the usual tussle over me wanting to buy clothes with growing room and the kids wanting to turn up on their first day in an outfit that actually fits. But after they'd seen me take on the might of the M&S shop assistants and win, the boys' opposition was a mere formality. They have gone off to school in a set of shirts that are only about three inches too big around the collar. Never mind, they'll grow into them.
Then we merely had to get the "right" pencil case, the "correct" socks and track down rugby kit which is available only from the school's own shop, which opens mostly between the hours of 10am and 10.15am, on days without a "d" in them. Oh yes, and select a school bag that is both cool and yet comes in regulation plain black, without any visible logos. Piece of cake.
Yes, school uniform shopping once again contributed handsomely to my grey hairs and crow's feet. I came home feeling I'd aged ten years in a day.
It was lovely, though, to see the boys all togged out in their (for now at least) smart clothes after a summer spent in shorts and flip-flops. Off they have gone to school, and I've come back to the office. For a rest, to be honest.