For two years Julie Myerson was the anonymous author of the ‘Living with Teenagers’ column for the Guardian newspaper in which she detailed the lives of a family with three teenage children. In 2008 she put all her articles together and published “Living with Teenagers. One Hell of a Bumpy Ride”.
Here we offer you Episode 94, Jack’s Coat, published in the Saturday supplement “Family” on 16.02.08, where many of you will see yourselves faithfully portrayed!
The school’s policy on uniform is very clear. Coats must be black. They must not have any kind of logo or patterns. Same with shoes. They must be black. They must not be trainers. Black trainers that look a bit like shoes won’t do. Same with jumpers. They must be black and V-necked. They must not be hoodies.
I catck Jack going to school in trainers: “Ah, yeah, but you see it’s PE and it takes me so long to get changed, I end up missing the beginning of the next period, so I’m just saving time, innit.”
I catch him going to school in a grey hoodie: “They never say anything when it’s under your blazer,” he assures me sweetly. “In fact, I think they actually sort of understand that kids need to keep warm when it’s randomly freezing outside.”
I catch him going to school in a big quilted jacket with a huge great Puma logo leaping across the back. Where did he get it? I know that I would never in a million years buy him such a thing to wear to school. This time he scowls ready for a fight. “Josh lent it to me. I’m just wearin’ it till he grows into it.”
“Does Josh’s mum you’ve got it?”
He shrugts. “Dunno. I’ve been wearing it for weeks.”
“But – I haven’t seen you in it.”
He grins. “I keep it under another coat in the hall and put it on just before I go out the door, innit?”
“But it’s not uniform,” I tell him.
“Surely there’s no way the school will let you wear something like that?”
“They’ve never said anything.”
“But why not?”
“I s’pose they’re too busy telling me off about other things,” he says without a trace of irony. “I’ve already got done for so many things this term. It’s going to take ages before they get around to tackling me about my coat.”
A week later, though, they teachers do get around to it. Jack is hauled into the office and told he can’t wear it any more. He needs a new school coat, and fast.
“But what happened to the one you had before?” I ask him.
“Grew out of that ages ago,” he says, “You think I’m some little baby. I’m bigger than Dad.”
It’s just – you’ve only got about a month of winter left and then it’s warmer and then sixth form and you’re out of uniform for good.” He looks at me kindly. “The best thing, yeah, is if you can buy me a really good coat. But with just a very small logo on it. They won’t notice that.”
“Not worth the risk,” I tell him. “No logo means no logo. That’s what we’re going to get.”
Which is how, two days later, I find myself in the place I detest most in the worlk – Oxford Street – at the very worst possible time – Saturday afternoon.
We go into Gap. “I don’tlike Gap,” Jack warns me. “Gap is for neeks.”
Straightaway we find a nice, black slightly waterproof coat for a fairly reasonable £40. Jack shudders.
“Look, can’t you just wear something that’s not ideal if it keeps you warm till April?”
“If I wear that, I’ll be mugged. If you want me to be mugged, then fine.”
We go into Topman. He declares everything rubbish. I reluctantly agree with him.
In Foot Locker, though, his eyes light up. Throbbing music, lights that make your teeth ache. Enough Nike ticks to make your eyes go funny. Straightaway, Jack snatches up a Puffa-type jacket.
“This for instance! Look how tiny the logo is.”
I look. “It’s not tiny. It’s just black.”
“Yeah,” he soothes, “a black logo on a black background. How could they possibly say anything about that?”
Exhausted, I check the price label. “£70. No way!”
“But, Mum, it’d be such good value, ‘cos I’d wear it all the time. For weekends as well as school, I mean.”
It takes me a moment to come to my senses, to remember why we’re here. “What am I saying? Forget the price. I don’t care what it costs. It’s not school uniform!”
A spiky-haired assistant in a shiny black-and-white-striped shirt glances at the coat Jack’s still touching.
“Look,” he says, “I shouldn’t really be saying this, but that’s well over-priced. You’re only paying for the logo, man. Go down the road to Topshop or Gap. You’ll get a decent winter coat for half the money.”
I look at my youngest son and I start to laugh. For once, in fact for the first time in ages, he really can’t think of anything to say.
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