First signs of summer madness

8th August 2003 at 01:00
PICTURE a newly qualified teacher on the edge of exhaustion, walking down the high street in a first-day-of-the-holidays, can't-believe-I-survived, kind of way. Suddenly, something awful hovers into view. In a way I'm surprised that my horror isn't shared by a street-load of sobbing children and disaffected youths lobbing bricks at department store windows. For that matter, I wouldn't bat an eyelid if a few teachers joined in - including me.

The thing that is spoiling my sunny afternoon is those bleeding department stores which can't wait to get "Back to School" promotions up and running.

Give us a break. I'd only been away one day. This was the middle weekend in July and some schools hadn't even finished. Have these shopkeepers got no heart?

Now, I was a little goody-two-shoes in my own schooldays, and enjoyed my time there. But I still recall the sinking feeling of seeing promotional signs in department store windows proclaiming their "Back to School" bargains. It seemed to happen in August, just in time to spoil my birthday.

This summer, at the end of my first year of primary teaching, the signs were out on the first weekend of the holidays. Never mind the pressure kids are under with Sats - this has always seemed the most stressful aspect of school.

Maybe the signs were out before. I wouldn't know. Preparation for Ofsted next term and the realisation that paperwork I needed to complete was at the bottom of a pile of unmarked homework, meant I didn't really come up for air in the run-up to the summer holidays. I thought I might be broken before the summer break.

Whatever the feeling of euphoria is that skydivers experience as they plummet towards the earth, I felt the complete opposite in those final never-ending couple of weeks of the summer term.

And then I was finished.

If I could mix in a vertically-opposed metaphor: imagine the relief a drowning man experiences as he finally makes it to the surface for that life-giving gasp of air. I was a happy man. Looking forward to the break. A few ideas of how I'd improve my approach to the forthcoming second year of my teaching career excitedly knocking around a long way back in my mind. A very long way back.

Then, suddenly, I'm 14 again and seeing those dreaded "Back to School" posters.

It's not as if wandering around the shops isn't hard enough for us chaps.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not mad keen on conforming to gender stereotypes.

Okay, I could just about explain the offside rule and leg-before-wicket.

But ask me to name a single boxer, or make clear why rugby isn't scored in a sensible way, and I'd be stumped. I'm even rather partial to flowers, and at a push can even talk about my feelings.

The thing I'm line abreast with the Accrington Stanley season ticket-holders over is the dreaded task of shopping. I vaguely remember some scientific study showing that men's stress levels while shopping are akin to those experienced during a car crash or relationship break-up. I'd certainly take a term of Ofsted inspections rather than an afternoon wandering through aisles of summer-sale clothing. Send me to a department store and I need my nerves to be soothed, my fears and phobias gently massaged away.

The way to do that is not to remind me about going back to school when the taste of whiteboard cleaner is still in my mouth, chalk dust still in my hair. (What do you mean, it's grey hair not chalk?) And anyway, why are shops so biased in favour of those people who plan ahead? Have they got a problem with us last-minuters?

I was actually confronting my fears to go and buy a pair of swimming trunks in which to laze away the summer holiday in back gardens, open-air swimming pools and assorted beaches across the world. But shopping for swimming trunks in July is apparently leaving it a bit late. The choice is depleted.

If I wanted summer clothing, I should have been braving April showers. Come actual summer, most of the good stuff has gone. I can only find trunks that would suit my granddad or my own pupils.

Which brings us to the other sticky shopping situation. I daren't go back while those "Back to School" signs are out. So, sorry Pink Class, but Mr Ogle is still going to be wearing the same shirt all week. What was I saying about gender stereotypes?

David Ogle has just completed his first year of teaching at an Islington primary school

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