Have you sharpened all your pencils?
This, for me is New Year: Since leaving school I’ve remained loyal to the academic diary. My parents were both teachers and after my rather lengthy stint in the educational pipeline I only worked for 5 years in the ‘real world’ before returning to teach myself.
So, on the eve of the first day of the new school year I have a very particular jumble of emotions (my own and some on behalf of my girls), anticipation and control freakery. We had our first autumn bowl of porridge, a test ride to school with the new bike arrangement (the bike trailer is no longer feasible on account of the increasing load – one daughter has taken to the road and the other is now on a tag-along), we picked the first blackberries just like last year and the kids went to bed on time (almost). New school shoes have already been broken in and eBay has sent us the last items of school uniform. The day culminates in a yearly sewing ritual…
Last year, fuelled by G&T, my mum helped me sew on initials, and my sister did a label or two at some point too. On both occasions, beyond the obvious satisfaction and ordering involved in labelling things, there was a sense of another layer of things being put in order – something to do with family identity and the circles of life:
I have a very distinct memory of sitting cross-legged in assembly boredly inspecting my knee-high fawn sock and suddenly noticing that my mum had sewn my name onto the fold-over at the top. There I was at ‘Big School’ feeling not terribly big, when I was suddenly reassured by encountering my own name, my family name, sewn onto my sock. It gave me some comforting sense of what my mum did after I’d gone to bed in the evenings… and I think this is why I insist on sewing in labels when I could just use those iron-on ones.
This makes me wonder if my Dad found any comfort in his Cash’s initials… Only just this year, when I inherited my Gran’s well-used sewing box, amongst some bias tape I found a lone Cash’s woven label with my dad’s full name and boarding school ‘number’. It had clearly been sewn on and removed carefully for re-use (typical of my Gran) – a textile relic connecting me momentarily to the little boy my dad once was and the utterly different school experience he survived. I can’t for the life of me find the label to photograph – I know I put it somewhere safe…
This year I find myself sewing labels on for my second daughter. In some cases this is a work of palimpsest – one item is a cardi on its third leg through reception year, a doubly handed down item with three sets of surnames. I know this, because the last mum to label it used an irremovable iron-on label and didn’t quite remove all traces of the previous sewn on one. If only that cardi could talk – I happen to know it went to a posh private school in London before it came to our small town Welsh primary. That must’ve been a shock for a small cardi at the tender age of ‘4-5′.
I feel bad, because in the name of label economy, daughter no.2 has been reduced to a surname. The brevity of her label conjures up the worst type of school experience – the kind that gave my Dad a ‘number’. It is a surname with pedigree mind you, and it’s satisfyingly ambiguous to see it sewn onto a pair of Marks and Spencers tights. I wonder if they had name labels in Samuel Taylor’s day?
That possibility for ambiguity and the culturally coded format of a woven name label is enticing. There’s something too about the concealed nature of these labels – the fact that they are sewn into the inside of your clothing – giving clothes secret identities, the possibility to convey surprising words and messages. It’s not just me that gets excited about all this – a few years ago my sister ordered a batch of Cash’s labels saying ‘Magic Happens’ and undertook to secretly sew them into the clothes of friends, family and strangers… I think one of her friends went for several years without noticing a label in her cardi.
Really though, Cash’s labels are designed to be seen, by teachers, dinner ladies and other people’s mothers… and the side effect is that my youngest daughter, who is just learning to write her name, encounters it about six times every time she gets dressed or undressed. This must surely contribute something to her education. This lavish label repetition brings to mind the labels I blu-tacked onto the house with abandon when I was learning French – to this day, any tap seems rather lacking without ‘robinet’ fixed to it somewhere.
Anyway, having name-labelled anything that might remotely be taken to or used at school, just in case either of my daughters miss any of their labels, I did also appliqué their names in technicolour to their P.E. bags too…