More sundried tomato than suntan

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Ian Roe is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales

It has been great to have had such warm weather over Easter, a welcome start to the summer. Yet one thing I am not looking forward to is the dreaded sunburn. Not mine, you understand, the children's. After a hot weekend I have a school full of hypersensitive shoulders, raw and tender.

There is that squeal as a grinning oaf slaps Samantha on the shoulder, knowing she has third-degree burns after an afternoon on the beach. Lee will lift up his shirt proudly and, in that sophisticated way he has recently mastered, pull off strips of blistered flesh and throw them on the floor. If you stay to watch, you will soon see the seductive way Samantha allows Lee to pull off strips of her blistered flesh. A courtship ritual for the modern age.

Safety in the sun is a concept that hasn't registered, despite the warnings. At the first hint of sun the boys are out of their shirts and the girls are barely inside skimpy tops, eager to show off their navel piercings. Then they lie in the sun until they blister. And they don't learn from experience. They burn, suffer, their blisters weep and then they do it all again.

So we do the usual assemblies. The skincare, the skin cancer, but it makes no difference. We teach, we preach and yet they still go to sleep in the sun. That is what we are supposed to do, isn't it?

We cannot fight the idea of the indestructible self. Health warnings don't apply to me. I am made of kryptonite. I cannot be harmed. They hear the messages vaguely but they don't listen. They don't want to be seen following advice because they are brave, and we are boring and cautious.

The fashion statement - the tanned skin - is all that counts. It is a real triumph of hope over experience. They want to go brown. But every time they just go bright red, like sundried tomatoes.

We continue to have problems with the smoking issue. The health risks are beyond dispute. Yet the consequences usually lie so far in the future that many of my students cannot accept them. You can show them pictures of lungs, you can indicate how much money they will spend, but it all seems to be part of an adult conspiracy.

They roll their eyes to the sky because they have heard it all before. We want to have fun, not warnings. Let us rush to the tanning studio and put bleach in our hair.

But you can see the blistered flesh and weeping sores. You can feel the pain now. How much clearer does a warning need to be? And they still go off and do it again.

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