Back to school

Wednesday, 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.

And if I take a class, I can totally buy new shoes for it, right?

Images: 1. Kate Harris 2. Me and my brother, just because.


21 boats moored

  1. Oh Kirsty what a beautiful post, I shall be thinking about it all day, whilst I'm still on my summer holidays.

  2. Brilliant post.

    By marrying a teacher I'm perpetuating my dependence on / awareness of the academic year. Although being in England means we have two and a half more glorious weeks of summer holidays left :)

  3. Well, the Scottish holidays did start at the end of June, so there's no need to feel *too* bad for them ;)

  4. Wow Kirsty, you sure can write. I also loved to go back to school every year. I still love to go in a papershop, there is something about it, something magical. The leather smell. Paper, pencils. And you totally have to celebrate that 10 year anniversary next June. If you take a class, do get some shoes haha. Like you need an excuse (?).

  5. Do it, do it!
    I'm contemplating taking a class, either in jewellery making or Greek cookery. Slightly different I know but the college does an eclectic mix! Only sticking point is that I'd need to leave at 530 from my work - no mean feat.
    This post totally hit home, I still remember the event of getting a new backpack and stationary. And those shoes with the key in the bottom from Clarks?
    Those were the days!

  6. "More than anything, I miss learning." <- THIS! I'm contemplating doing another degree in my spare time. I must be nuts!

  7. Such a wonderful post. This really resonated with me: '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.'
    My parents had not have that privilege growing up and they remain (8 years on) completely baffled that boys asked me out even though I played clarinet in the wind band!
    I HATED shopping for school shoes though...

  8. this time of year, i get a nagging desire to buy a fresh notebook.

  9. I missed your blogging, so glad you're back:) beautiful writing, and maybe a certain author who got the adress of or blog will offer you a collaborative project? Who knows...

  10. Ah, the back-to-school feeling has returned for me; back to Glasgow in four short weeks.

    Actually, the fresh start in September is one of the reasons I'm going to be a teacher. It's probably not the best reason to settle on a career, really, is it?

    I really love your writing at the moment! Reading it is a joy, I look forward to the return of your daily posts when you're not busy with Fringe by the Sea.

  11. Brilliant, fluent, evocative writing aside, that picture is IMMENSE. You look so happy to be gonig to school! Matched only by your wedding-day grin!

  12. Rosie (aka Kirsty's Mum)17 August 2011 at 12:56

    Another gem!

  13. OMG, the shoes with a key!

    Love this post Kirsty, and I also have one of those rubbish birthdays, no one was ever around (or wanted to go out!) the day before new years eve and there was always the old Happy Birthday/Christmas thing and nothing to look forward to for the rest of the year! Was it the same for you?

    The thing I always looked forward to most about school was choosing a new pencil case each year! I am a total stationary geek!

  14. Oh this is lovely! I spent hours arranging my new school supplies before the first day of class... (DORK alert). And this year, I am going back to school. Eek! Perhaps I should get a new pair of shoes too.

  15. No matter how long I've been out of school, fall always seems like a time of new beginning, a resetting almost. Crisp, cool air and autumn leaves bring crisp new goals and new energy to achieve them!

  16. youre such a beautiful writer. loved this post. and i always think the same thing about my husband and our relationship...what about the years we were together before the white dress? they should definitely count for something.

  17. you HAVE to write a book. Also: how adorable are little Kirsty and her brother. SOOO ADORABLE.

  18. Kirsty, I love this. I also love you. And I REALLY want new stationery and new Clarks Magic Key shoes. Right now.

  19. Whoa, thanks for all the lovely comments, ladies! I should take a blogging day off more often...

    Claire - my best friend Kristen played the clarinet in wind band at school and she totally had a boyfriend too. It wasn't as much of a man magnet as my cello, though. Or my braces. Lovely.

    And those Clarks shoes!!! Oh, how I LOVED mine. I feel a post coming on.

  20. was never allowed the key shoes, my mum thought they were 'gimmicky' :(

    i love autumn, and back to school. such a good feeling of getting ready to hibernate with books. so exciting! super geeky though...

  21. I love autumn too -- sweater weather is awesome! But these days I dread back-to-school more than anything. This PhD process is sort of crushing my soul.

    However, what I really want to do is take the time to mention that you are your brother are so flipping cute. I love your brother's short pants and your cardigan, so hilariously British and adorable.