Going out in style
I've just celebrated my son's departure from school, a momentous occasion that hit my heart and bank balance in equal measure. Given the fact that he usually leaves the house wearing crumpled shirts, ripped-arse trousers and ketchup on his collar, I had imagined that he would adopt an equally deshabille style of dress for his leavers' ball. How wrong I was. In retrospect, his insistence on a new suit, new shoes and a trip to the barber's was oddly reassuring. Maybe one day he'll get married, after all.
Leaving school has become a costly business for parents. Not only do you have to dish out money for the ubiquitous high-school prom but you also have to pay a king's ransom for a personalised "leaver's hoody". Once a commonplace piece of sporting apparel, this item has now become the sine qua non for every juvenile rite of passage. When I was at school, we measured our lives in photographs; this generation measures theirs in non-colour-fast sweatshirts with their nicknames emblazoned on the back.
The rise of proms, yearbooks and "Class of 2013" merchandise is symptomatic of England's love affair with glitzy American culture. Once upon a time, an Englishman's journey from the cradle to the grave was frugally acknowledged: a silver bangle at baptism, a key at 21 and a toaster when you got married. Now, we've pimped up our ride through life so much that it sparkles like Liberace's wardrobe. And this public glamorisation starts at a ridiculously young age. The prenatal stage, for example, recently received a dazzling makeover with the arrival of the "baby shower", a gruesome US import. I hate baby showers. For one thing, you should avoid pregnant women during their final trimester in case they go into premature labour and you're saddled with frying fish fingers for the rest of their brood while they're screaming in hospital. And for another thing, it's unlucky. Buying gifts for unborn children is like taking factor 40 suncream for a week in the Lake District.
Thanks to this Americanisation, we've succeeded in super-sizing every familial event. Mother's Day is the most inflated occasion. You can no longer get away with turning up for Sunday dinner with a bunch of carnations and a half-eaten box of Milk Tray. Now she expects a luxury spa retreat in the Chilterns, a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee and her name tattooed across your chest.
It seems weird that such materialistic excess can prosper during such a gloomy recession. While some parents are fretting over which car to buy their 17-year-old, others are wondering how to feed their children. A recent report from the Children's Commissioner for England suggests that, thanks to government fiscal policies, tax and benefit changes, 3 million children will soon be living in poverty. Perhaps we should order some commemorative hoodies for them: "The starving class of 2015."
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.