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Sydney does sensible

Gill Tweed discovers that school uniform is not only useful - it might even save your life

Imagine a school tie being applied as a life-saving tourniquet to an accident victim's arm, or a gymslip conferring failsafe contraceptive benefits on a teenage girl. Then I could see some point in school uniform.

I like things to be useful.

A few months ago I was having lunch in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney and lazily watching the world go by. It was midwinter and not far off the shortest day but the sun shone pleasantly, the temperature was around 18C and the gardens were buzzing. The pathway that ran alongside the sea towards the opera house was teeming with people. But, being a not long retired teacher, I was most aware of the school parties that were out in their droves.

As group after group of children of all shapes and sizes passed by, I noticed that every child, without exception, was wearing one outstandingly useful item of school uniform. Like trainee legionnaires they all wore peaked caps with fabric flaps unfurled behind to cover their necks. Eat your heart out, Beau Geste! It struck me as so resoundingly sensible. Later in the day I went to pick up my 18-month-old grandson from day care and even the nursery was swarming with tiny legionnaires. They enlist early there in the battle against skin cancer.

Here in England I have had children brought in hatless and wearing sleeveless tops and shorts to play in relentless heat on disagreeable melting asphalt. We don't seem to have wised up to the fact that the sun can be lethal. So doubtless I cry like a voice in the wilderness when I suggest that we introduce the legionnaire's hat as an indispensable item of uniform. It could become the new "must have" on a par with iPods.

Humans are not like our school cook's pet snake, Monty, who would obligingly slough his skin for me to show to my awestruck class of three and four-year-olds. Our skin is for life, apart from the itsy bits that drop off in the night to provide snacks for dust mites. Skin cancer is on the increase in Britain. And the message is not getting through. But I'm going to buy a legionnaire's hat. I've just had a biopsy of a dodgy discoloured patch over my left eyebrow that the consultant says could turn out to be a "lentigo maligna" or, in the vernacular, a malevolent freckle.

It's the kind over-50s get, but there are plenty of others that don't do age discrimination.

Gill Tweed lives in south London. She is a retired nursery teacher

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