All changes as the school year begins

The swings are empty now school has begun again

The swings are empty now school has begun again

First published in Columns Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

Back to school – what a change in the city! The lazy days of summer are gone. The parks are empty, the swings hang forlorn. The world outside the school gates belongs to toddlers, newborn and the over sixties.

But before that; the pre-term preparation. Off to the shops, to the queues, to the rush. Cornmarket swarms with last minute shoppers.

Progress is slow, impeded by the constant greeting of friends.

My family claim it’s a random question, but if social media can assemble a protest on Cairo’s Tahir Square in minutes, how difficult is it to charm teenagers out of McDonald’s?

WH Smith or Honest Stationery for pens, paper and stickers. Loom band charms from The Works – despite safety fears of cutting off young circulation.

What about the pressed parent – caught up in this pre-school fever?

It’s enough to cut off sense to the brain. Jane Austen would have an answer – swoon. But we’re not in Bath now. This is Oxford.

Why, every year, do I forget – like the pains of childbirth – the agony of sewing on nametapes? You may say it’s not comparable. As one who flushed their feather-stitch down the school loo, rather than engage one second longer with my pointless gingham cushion cover, I beg to differ.

For me, it approaches the early stages of labour, but at least name-tapes don’t require future pocket money.

But what’s this? A bulging envelope – buried under a mudslide of summer back- post. You know, the stuff you chuck in a bag while you search eagerly for your bikini, goggles and beach towel.

Now, in the cool autumn light, that heap was not junk mail at all. One at least was official. School business.

This late, clubs, sports, opting in and opting out, school trips – all hang in the balance. I receive a stiff email from the School Office. It is richly deserved. Imagine trying to achieve this facts round-up over the summer – herding hatchling turtles away from the tide would be easier.

The great day arrives. No one wants to get out of bed.

An alarm which would empty the Clarendon Centre in seconds has no effect at all.

Only the Ice Bucket Challenge can save the day – but that’s been done already. Oh, and posted on Facebook. Donation made.

Outside the A34 the school buses begin their early morning shuttle, picking up sleepy children in rural towns, villages and hamlets, to bring them in to city centre schools.

Inside the city, the pavements and cycle ways conduct pupils ever nearer to the school gates. Outside the city, drivers try to get in. Inside the city, commuters try to get out. Either way, once school starts, it’s a tough brief. Dante conceived of many things, but was the A34 ring of steel even part of his Circles of Hell? No, imagination failed him.

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