Going On An Expotition

A quick one.

Sometimes your children go away without you or any of your family – with school or maybe Brownies or Cubs or something. It’s amazing.

I mean, it can be very scary and result in tears and tantrums. But don’t worry, you’ll have got over yourself by the time they get back.

They will get grubbier than you thought possible, and they will wear every item of clothing you pack, except the things you thought would be useful.

A few tips:

  • In the name of all that is holy, give them a case/bag they can carry themselves. Make sure they recognise it. This might mean attaching ribbons or toys to the outside.
  • Don’t pack a note or letter. It doesn’t end well. Instead, put an object you know makes them feel better, and hide it in an agreed place. It’s for just in case.
  • For short residentials (one or two nights) pack an outfit for each morning. Lay it out with underwear on top and jumper/trousers on top. Then roll the outfit into a sausage.
  • Additionally, more spares. More socks than a human being could wear during the apocalypse.
  • Lots of carrier bags. Every time they take off clothing, they put the clothing into a carrier bag.
  • When they get home, take all the carrier bags of clothing out of the holdall/case and put them into the washing machine. Yes, that’s right. Put the carrier bags into the machine with the clothes still inside. As the machine flops about, the clothes come out of the bags. At the end of the cycle you have clean clothes and clean bags, separately. You don’t have to touch mud.

They’ll have an absolutely amazing time. And by golly the adults who take them deserve gin. School trip? Why not leave a big tin of biscuits or chocolates in the staff room as a thank-you. Volunteers? Gin. You know it.

What’s in a name?

Children have a baffling habit of discarding their belongings willy-nilly. Mine shed clothing, in particular, so shoes, socks and even trousers can be found all over the house despite the strategic placement of shoe storage, washing baskets (yes, plural) and coat racks (again, plural).

And I’m not sure I can remember the last occasion on which the eldest emerged from school at pick-up with all the equipment and clothing one might hope for. “How about your coat? It’s snowing.”

Schools are particularly dangerous regions for clothing-shedders, because 90% of the clothing in any school is identical: two hundred identical jumpers only in various sizes and with varying quantities of gravy and yogurt dripped down the front. The Reception teacher says her class identify ownership by smell: the mind boggles.

In a previous life, before children, marriage or even university, I had a job on a pastoral team at an English prep school. One of my areas of responsibility involved laundry, and a lot of it. I learned to recognise whose shirts and socks were whose immediately (not by smell, mercifully, since they were washed together in the same detergent) but for some standard items such as jumpers or PE shorts you had to check the label.

Woven name tapes. I love them. Quite apart from the fact that they don’t fade, or detach in the wash, you can read them, and there’s no squinting at something that might say Jack F but equally could be Tom T.

Ten years later I was faced with naming clothing for my eldest as he started day nursery. I didn’t bother researching alternatives: I Googled Cash’s, and bought them by the dozen, in plain black capitals. I sewed them into coats, wellies (the lined type) and jumpers, and on to a blanket and a toy mouse he took with him every day, clutched in his little fat hand <sniffs>

That’s all very well, I hear you scoff, but you can get iron-on these days. Well, yes you can, but after a term’s washing they start to unpeel – unless you’re trying to remove them, in which case they suddenly weld to the fabric like chocolate biscuit to upholstery. The only thing that defeats an unwanted ironed label is Sharpie; a wanted ironed label slips away.

Ok, fine, but you can’t label everything with woven labels. No? I’ve labelled clothes, shoes, trainers, wellies, rucksacks, reading folders, water bottles, lunchboxes, microscooters, and even most recently a descant recorder.

The name tapes used to come on a long roll – you simply snipped off a name tape as you needed one. And when you needed two or three together (they make good hanging loops) you could cut off two or three.

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Now, “helpfully”, the tapes come precut. Now if you want six inches of tape you have to stitch them back together. Hmph. Cash’s take note.

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As an aside, I should point out that name tapes vary in length according to the child’s name. There is a big psychological difference between sewing on name tapes for *Rob Key and for *Alexander Raymond-Thorpe, I can tell you. I’m still not sure “Alex R-T” wouldn’t have sufficed. When choosing what to put on the tape, you might care to balance price per inch (they charge per tape, not per letter) against stitches per tape.

In August I always volunteer to do other people’s labelling, because I find it meditative. But nobody has yet taken me up on my offer. I wonder if labelling is a kind of devotional offering as the child is sent into the world.

*Real names changed, obviously, not least because the men in question are each the top hits for their real names on Google.

(there’s a page break here – you need to click on the scarcely discernable 2 down there somewhere…)