Crashing a party in reverse

This post was written for the Remember the Time Blog Hop, hosted by The Waiting. This month we are asked to remember the time we got into trouble with the law.

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I got my first, and hopefully only ever, enforced ride in a police patrol car as a result of the fallout from a party that I didn’t even attend. These were the consequences of that night of mayhem: a dressing down from the upholders of law and order; an eviction notice from my landlord; a summons to explain myself to the university authorities; having to admit to my parents that I had moved out and screwed up. In the end I could put all but one of these behind me.

No matter how well prepared a young person may feel when they first leave the parental home, there are certain life lessons that will only be learned through experience. It is important to know how to budget wisely for rent, food and transport when income is meagre. Limited cooking skills need to be honed when a thrifty but nutritious meal must be planned for and prepared every day. Even though one is free to throw a party without permission and a plethora of rules, it is still wise not to invite an entire pub full of inebriated strangers back to your new gaff after hours.

I had taken a room in a large house located in the streets behind my university. It was the summer and most students had left the city so I had the place to myself. The landlord owned a number of properties which he let out on an annual basis, room by room. As is typical of student accommodation, they were basic and run down. The house I moved into was also filthy. Bags full of rubbish had been left in the kitchen by the previous occupants and large, black insects scurried between them, feasting on the contents. As I lay in bed at night I was petrified to hear mice scratching under the furniture in my room. However, I had finally achieved freedom and convinced myself that this made the discomfort worthwhile.

I decided to have a few friends round for a house-warming, arranging to meet them in a pub down town. Even then I was nervous about how successfully I could host such an event. The big, old house seemed so bare and I was unsure how many people would wish to join me. My circle of friends was in flux and many of those I knew were away for the summer months anyway. I cannot recall why I had thought this gathering would be a fun thing to do.

Only a few of my friends turned up at the pub. As I nursed my drinks and accepted more I began to worry about how cavernous the house would seem, how unfestive the atmosphere would be. When last orders were called the solution came to me: here I was, rocking in a pub filled with happy people, I would invite them all.

I suspect that my friends were a little concerned when I announced my plans to the assembled company, but I was not to be dissuaded. We made our way back to the house and I surveyed the attendees who had rowdily followed. So many strangers, and the young man I had really wanted to be there still absent. As I had done many times in the past, I decided that this party wasn’t for me and left, somehow forgetting in the fuzz of alcohol that this was not how one typically acted as host. In my head I wished to be with my crush, not here, so set off across town to find him. I told no one of my plans.

The medics accommodation was silent and still as one would expect at that time of night. There was no reply when I knocked on his door, I hadn’t considered that he may be elsewhere. My befuddled brain reasoned that he would likely be back soon, so I sat down in his doorway to wait. I fell asleep.

At around 5am he returned, rather shocked to find his stalker blocking the way. On waking I realised two things: this was a really embarrassing situation for which I had no explanation that I was willing to admit; it was daylight and I had missed my own party. Leaving my crush to come to whatever conclusions he wished, I bid him farewell and made my way back onto the streets. I realised that I was not wearing any shoes and had no idea why.

I had only walked a short distance when the police patrol pulled up alongside me. That the policeman knew my name worried me so much that I could not fully register what he was telling me, only that I was required to get in the car. Once ensconced in the back they kindly suggested taking me to my parents house, which in my estimation was akin to driving me to my execution. It seemed that my friends at the party had reported me missing to the policemen who had been called to the house by neighbours, concerned about a loud and lively event that appeared to be getting out of hand.

Later that morning, with a hangover that should have been punishment enough for any misdemeanour, I had to face my angry landlord who had been called by the police in the wee small hours. He was not interested in anything I had to say and informed me that I had twenty-four hours to leave the place. This meant that I had to call my parents anyway, as I had nowhere else to go. In my estimation I could sink no lower.

Perhaps amazingly, when the drunken bodies had slept off their excesses and left, there was no damage to the bare property. Neighbours were appeased and no charges were pressed. The police, who reappeared to give me a strict talking down, seemed to relent when they saw my misery. I guess sometimes it helped that I was a young, slim, blond female who could find her manners when she had to.

I felt horribly guilty, foolish and decidedly ill. I spent the day packing up my few possessions and cleaning the place from top to bottom, an act that resulted in my landlord subsequently returning the month in advance rent that I had paid along with my deposit. He withdrew the formal complaint that he had lodged with the university authorities and told them that I was a lovely young girl but needed to choose my friends more wisely. The university satisfied itself of my contrition and let the matter go.

To this day I have no idea who attended that party or how it went. I was married and with kids before I hosted another big gathering at my home. Other experiences from that night I have not repeated: sleeping in a doorway; losing my shoes; stalking a crush. No matter how law abiding I may consider myself to be, I will still feel nervous if I ever find myself being observed by the boys in blue on patrol.



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School Uniform

It is common in this country for children to be required to wear a prescribed uniform to school. Although I object to having to pay over the odds for a polycotton sweatshirt merely because it has a school logo sewn on, it does save me money in the end as my kids can get away with wearing the same couple of pairs of trousers and sweatshirts day in, day out until the clothes are outgrown or fall apart. Pupils still manage to express their individuality through the way they wear the clothes, the accessories they choose and the style of their hair; but a uniform removes the need to vary clothing on a daily basis.

The school that my children attend does not currently prescribe a uniform for sixth formers. There is a dress code, but it offers plenty of scope for individual choice, thus helping the emerging young adults to prepare for the choices they will make regarding personal presentation when they leave. As with the younger pupils who shorten their uniform skirts, dye their hair or plaster on the make up (supposedly not allowed), there are a few sixth formers who do not abide by the stated code. They are in the minority.

Yesterday I received an email informing me that there is a proposal to change the sixth form dress code. Although this stated that the proposal has been drawn up by a ‘working party of students’, it was news to all pupils and parents that I have been in contact with.

For anyone interested, the details are here: Sheldon School – DRESS CODE.

The gist of the new code is that ‘Your clothing should be smart and appropriate for the professional work place’. It then goes on to suggest such items as chinos or tailored trousers, polo shirts, cardigans or suits. They appear to be trying to dress sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds like members of an elite golf club.

Work places vary enormously in their dress codes. Some have a uniform (banks, shops, restaurants), others demand smart business suits, but there are a great many that allow employees to wear jeans and t-shirts or variations on that theme. Employers now recognise that personal comfort can improve the quality of an employees work.

But we are not talking about the professional work place here, we are talking about school. From sixth form a great many pupils will go on to university where they will be able to wear whatever they choose. These young people do not need to be trained at sixteen to wear a certain type of clothing suitable for just one potential future.

I feel angry about this proposal for a number of reasons:

  1. Schools exist to educate pupils. Whilst the definition of education is broadening alarmingly, it is still a place of learning. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt is not going to affect a pupil’s ability to learn.
  2. This change suggests that the school does not trust it’s young adults to make appropriate choices. When I visit the school I struggle to differentiate between sixth formers and the young teachers. This suggests that most of the pupils are already dressing in a manner that suits this place of work.
  3. By prescribing what is effectively a sixth form uniform, clothing will need to be purchased that will not be worn by many outside of school. This added cost comes at a time when the looming cost of attending university is a serious issue. If school wishes to dress it’s sixth formers in a uniform, stick to the one that they have worn since they were eleven. I would object to this change but at least it would be cheaper.
  4. The existing dress code already demands modesty and common sense (e.g. no beach wear). If a few individuals are not abiding by the rules then enforce them. It is not just the sixth formers who wear extremely short skirts or trousers that allow a display of underwear. A uniform will not, in itself, enforce tidy presentation.
  5. Throughout sixth form exams and important decisions about the future are omnipresent. Students are stressed enough without being made to dress in a way that does not suit their emerging sense of self. The school appears to be trying to turn the pupils into a homogeneous mass at a time when they should be exploring their individuality and where they wish to go in life.
  6. Many pupils already have part time jobs and will understand the need to present themselves differently depending on their environment.
  7. Pupils learn better when they feel positive and focused. This sort of policy breeds resentment.
  8. The proposed change is unnecessary. The stated aim of the exercise can be achieved by enforcing the existing dress code.

The popular perception of teenagers as a bunch of moody neanderthals who are slaves to their hormones is not borne out in the young people that I meet through my children. Many of them show more empathy, acceptance and common sense than the middle aged and elderly that I encounter. Just like the adults I know, sometimes they do daft stuff, but dressing them for a last century country club is not going to turn them into the sort of people we need to improve our country.

The email from school arrived in my in box yesterday and I thought at first that it was an April Fool’s joke so ridiculous did it seem. If the school wishes to tidy up pupil appearance they can do so without banning jeans and t-shirts or hoodies. Those who wish to break the rules will do so from whatever base they are starting from; the appearance of certain members of the uniformed lower school proves this point.

I am hoping that this proposal is not a fait accompli. I will be contacting the school to pass on my views and can only trust that they will be considered.

If pupils wish to dress according to this new code then they should be free to do so, just as others should be free to dress as suits them within the existing boundaries. By all means insist that pupils and teachers alike dress in a clean, tidy and modest manner, but this can be achieved without such absurd diktats.