Opinion

Back to school easier with 007 shoes and Jamie's lunch

WITH my summer furlough from the Irish News drawing to a close, it is fair to say that Scholes Towers has not been given to spontaneous outbreaks of carnival atmosphere over the last few days.

And with a six-year-old in the house, by rights there should be double cause for melancholy.

Except I'm the only who is being Eeyore about the end of the holidays, as my son is rather excited to be going back to school.

Two months ago, 'back to school' was a remote prospect, no more capable of being grasped and held on to than the eddies of steam coming off the last bowl of custard and sponge pudding served in the dinner hall.

And with classes starting tomorrow, by rights you would think the whole idea should now taste about as appealing as that same sponge pudding, congealed custard and all.

But you would be wrong. For a start, it is unfair on today's school dinners.

The menu we get sent home each term reads more like a Jamie Oliver wishlist than the stuff Miss Trunchbull served up to Matilda and her chums in Crunchem Hall Primary School, which is how I seem to remember them.

And apart from the inconvenience of having to interrupt phase three of the renovation programme at his Lego moonbase, my son is greatly looking forward to going back to class.

And why not? School is, frankly, brilliant these days.

If you are a P3 pupil, your voyage of reading, writing and arithmetic is every bit as epic, as exciting and magical as that which Jason set sail on when he went searching for the Golden Fleece.

Perhaps as adults, surrounded by cynicism, distracted by paying the bills and providing for our children, we too easily forget just how thrilling it must be to be a child who is starting to make sense of everything around them. Where we can be jaded, they are experiencing things for the first time.

Possibility, not impossibility, is everywhere when you are six. Astronaut, racing car driver, spy, Lego master builder, deep sea diver and Danny MacAskill - look him up at dannymacaskill.co.uk - are all what my son wants to be when he grows up. Well, this week, anyway.

What happens to our children that they lose the idea that they can be whatever they want to be when they 'grow up'?

Reality, I suppose. And lack of opportunity to become a deep sea diver. But maybe adults are also too quick to quench a child's can-do imagination and enthusiasm.

The primary school child's golden period probably lasts until P6, which is apparently when things start to get a lot more serious; it's when the spectre of the transfer test looms into view, in a set of circumstances that stand as an enduring monument to the uselessness of Stormont.

The 11-plus arrangements might be worse for a lot of children today than they were twentysomething years ago when the Edco structured reasoning tests first thudded in front of me, a blizzard of 'Anne sits opposite George so who sits beside Bob' and other such imponderables, but there is one area in which life is immeasurably better for 2015 primary pupils: school shoes.

This runs deep for me. Summer holidays were ritually and routinely overshadowed by the search for new school shoes.

My parents embarked on this forlorn quest with, for reasons which decades later remain stubbornly inexplicable, the patient determination of stop motion animators, albeit ones who were strangers to the idea of storyboarding.

There were summers we visited every shoe shop in Ireland, some of them more than once. I have vague memories of one near Eyre Square in Galway yielding results two years in a row, still an all-time record.

For my three siblings and me it was a shared suffering that provided the sort of unspoken and indelible bond you read about among people who have survived something traumatic like a shark attack or an earthquake or being trapped in a lift with Nelson McCausland.

It was all a far cry from this year's P3 school shoes, which are so high-tech they even have their own app involving an impossibly cool-sounding character called Jack Nano. Trust me, you too would want to be called Jack Nano if you were a six-year-old boy.

Best of all, the shoes have a secret compartment hidden under the insole in each heel.

Stop and think about that for a moment; and then think how extreme - "awesome" is so last summer, Daddy - that would make your life. If James Bond had to infiltrate a P3 classroom, these are the shoes Q would cook up for him.

Each little compartment is just big enough to embrace a Lego minifigure - Lego Superman and Batman are already in training - and I dare say the contraband will only get more imaginative as P3 freewheels on.

If only Clarks could kit me out with a size 12 pair of Jack Nanos, I might look forward to going back to work myself. Almost...

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