Back to schoolWednesday, August 17, 2011
A new white polo shirt, unfurled from a drawer. Long, straight creases criss-crossing my back, the foreign shop scent still lingering faintly in the fabric. A fresh packet of tights, ripped open; no holes in the knees, yet.
My black skirt falls to a specific and much-debated height just above my knee, a point of uneasy compromise between my mother and me. I'll roll it up a notch or two when I get to school, of course.
My new schoolbag rattles with set squares and protractors, sharpened pencils and crisp blank paper. I am straining desperately to appear cool, coolness being the one quality prized above all others, above beauty or wit or charm. It will take me years to understand how blessed I am to attend a school where achievement and coolness are, if not exactly two sides of the same coin, at least not mutually exclusive. I am excited to be back.
I scurry along the crowded corridors, following an unfamiliar path to an unfamiliar classroom. The bell screeches a final warning as I plonk myself down in my new seat, the alphabet placing me, as always, at the back of the room. Thirty heads, bobbing like apples in a barrel, turn to the front as the teacher peers short-sightedly at the register and clears her throat.
And so another school year begins.
For Edinburgh's children (and their teachers, poor bastards), today marks the end of another summer holiday and the start of the new school year. After spending nearly two decades marking time in academic years, I could barely imagine a time when the world wouldn't run from summer to summer, but somehow, without me really noticing, August has lost its potency. It has faded into the obscurity of March or November; no beginnings, no endings are marked by its passing.
New ways of marking time have emerged in its stead. There's January, of course. Resolutions made as fireworks dance in the sky, broken even before the last trailing sparks have faded into the darkness. And birthdays, rolling around faster and faster every time. Fin's is on Friday. Mine falls a couple of days shy of the end of the year. He's an older man, just (and I don't let him forget it).
The anniversary is a new one, and it's an odd one. I'm proud of it, I'm proud of our marriage, but do we just forget about the years that came before the wedding? Was the slate of our relationship wiped clean the day I put on the big white dress? I'm not asking for two anniversaries, I accept that might be pushing it, but a little recognition would be nice. Next June, we will have been together for a decade. At the very least, I think we'll have earned a high five.
There are other anniversaries. Two years since my mum was diagnosed. Three years since I qualified into my profession. Five years since I left university. Ten years since I left school.
Ten years, and I can still summon up the comforting, leathery smell of new school shoes. I can still recall the thrill of a brand new homework diary, planning how I would doodle and colour and cover it in stickers to make it mine. I can still feel myself flicking to the back of a dense, impenetrable textbook and finding it impossible to believe I'll ever understand it, yet knowing that one day I will find it impossible to imagine a time when I didn't.
I miss new school shoes, and new stationery. More than anything, I miss learning. I think maybe I need to take a class in something, anything, before I forget how to do it.