The selection boxes have arrived in Tesco. There are Christmas Club posters everywhere and people are posting pictures of the Coca Cola Christmas advert on their Facebook profiles with things like 'Under 100 days to go. I can't wait!'
This countdown can really only mean one thing, though. The children are all back at school. The sales racks of cut-price summer clothes and barbecue accessories have finally been wheeled away. The evenings are growing darker and the mornings are getting cold. It's time. It's here. It's ridiculously exciting and it's always so much fun.
It's Party Conference season once again.
I know. It's ridiculous. Friends have threatened to disown me before now, when I start talking about this at lunch-breaks. But the Party Conferences never cease to amaze or to amuse: all those shiny-faced, power-hungry politicians, off the leash and into four star hotels, networking and smiling and knowing that they're right. It's like the first day of term when you're back at school in your pristine new uniform, your name tags all sewn on in case you forget about who you are. You're badged and blazered to match all your friends and you maybe even have a song...
When the politicians gather for the annual Party Conference photographs, it really does look like a school line-up. All those rows of suits and well-tied knots, interspersed with female colleagues whose skirts are neatly poised between too short and boringly too long. Everyone wanting to be noticed, no-one wanting to be too conspicuous or ridiculed. The Conferences are full of Back to School set pieces too: the Party Leaders are the Headmasters, intoning wisdom, reminding everybody of the rules and codes and how to be 'on message'. There is the spiritual advice; the unexpectedly inspirational words from someone who isn't always heard; the rebel who is allowed the floor while the leaders shift uneasily from foot to foot. The audiences have each type from every classroom. The unquestioning party faithful are the pupils who always get the Diligence award for hard work and perfect conduct. There are the people who seem to have fallen asleep and yet amaze the room with pithy comments in debate: in your class at school, they seemed to do no work yet strolled through every set of final exams with the coveted A*. The sycophants. The smart-ass rebels. The hipster in-crowd with their studied quirkiness of dress and their theatrical boredom... tweeting ostentatiously during speeches in the same way that they aimed to get caught texting in class so their teachers would know just how like, tragically lame they found their lessons and stuff?
Think about it, though: what happens after hours in the Party Conference hotels, when the cameras have gone home and the formalities have ended for the day? Are there midnight feasts? Does some quiet, obdurate back-bencher get his head flushed down the toilet because he refused to stay up all night writing a brilliant speech for a more prominent colleague who has better things to do? Do the alpha politicians posture to impress the glamorous cheerleaders of the middle ranks? Is there, somewhere in the darkened recesses of an upper floor, a terrified new MP in buttoned up stripy pyjamas, clutching the elderly teddy bear of his childhood and missing his wife and children just like he once missed his Nanny in those terrible first weeks of boarding school? Do the female MPs get together for some chilling faux-camaraderie, casual compliments about a dress or hairstyle or physique with as many layers of undermining subtext as the millefeuille dessert which most of the women present didn't want to eat...?
And does it carry on the morning after? Are the Alpha Politicians pounding the treadmills to show that they personify Olympic legacy, with the fitness for a marathon alongside the brilliance for a sprint? Are the most elegant of the females eloganting and stretching in the pool or at pilates, while the hipster rebels make it clear that fitness is like, for losers and stuff and they just have so many much less, like, tragic things to do? And as the morning deliberations begin, do dishevelled latecomers stumble in, clutching a takeaway Americano in one hand and their throbbing heads in the other, bundling into their seats in a mix of unkempt clothing and stale alcohol, somehow managing to mumble words of brilliance to the disgust of all around...?
Behind the rows of gleaming suited photos lies the real story of Party Conference season. In the uniformed ranks of colour-coded allegiance - a yellow tie this week, a red one next, a true blue one a week later still - are the million stories of all our years at school. From satchels to red boxes, Tupperware lunch boxes to hospitality buffets... the types are there.
The kids are back at school.
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