Fiona Barber: What the blazers?
Pinch me. I seem to be in a 1950s English reverie. A tiny boy in top-to-tail school regalia – blazer, tie, long socks, cap… imagine, a cap! – is tripping across the street.
And look. Up on the main road, there's a gaggle of giggling students in jaunty sailor-girl uniforms and straw hats looking as if they're waiting for someone called Totty or Pippa or Plum to whisk them off to Fendalton-under-Fog, Oriental-on-Parade or St Tron's Wood. Either that or they're about to flashmob a hornpipe.
This is unexpected indeed. It's clear that something changed in my neighbourhood when I wasn't paying attention. Seems my patch has gone posh.
Now I think about it, the signs have been there for a while. One billboard for a school on the other side of town had a charming girl gazing at a ball urging the reader to "be more than you ever imagined". I wasn't entirely sure what that meant (More sporty? Brainy? Annoying?) but knew it involved wads of moolah. I suppressed the urge to strike out the "be" and replace it with "spend".
It wasn't so very long ago that the only students who left the hood were those off to Catholic schools and the children of the petrified few. Petrified because the local high school – God preserve us all – DOESN'T. HAVE. A. UNIFORM!
I'm neutral on the subject of uniforms – how can a blazer and tie, or conversely cut-offs and a T-shirt, possibly influence your exam results or worth as a contributing member of society? But for some, a dearth of regulation pressed shirts, shorts and skirts is just plain dangerous. I'm pretty sure Roman sandals will not protect their dizzy-with-hormones offspring from, you know… the fire below (though a school tie of the correct colour may smooth their paths into merchant banking or politics).
Because uniforms are still a bit of a novelty to me, I marvel at new and splendid ones. I'm especially drawn to the stripy numbers and the blazers with badges fair dripping off them. On a plane, I spotted some new examples. Some had stripes and badges. There were so many medals pinned to the chests of the kids sitting behind us I wanted to disperse them throughout the aircraft for fear their combined weight would make us veer off towards Tasmania.
My travelling companion, the builder, encouraged me to get a grip; most kids had blazers, many had badges and well-balanced adults didn't gawp at uniforms as if they'd just seen a fruit bat in the cereal aisle at Pak'nSave.
He was right, of course. They were just kids, after all. No different to the teens at the local college who slope along the road in their cut-offs, boardies, singlets, jeans and op-shop frocks. No different at all.