Alice Cooper put well it in 1972.
Anticipating coffee and a bun on the second morning of the holidays, I was assaulted by the first Back to School display of summer. No sooner have the holidays begun than we're preparing for them to end: hardly had I dragged myself home on that final half day of term, than the postman assured me with a cheeky grin that the break would be 'gone before I knew it.' Faced with remarks like that, 'teacher's dirty looks' live on.
Just over a week in, far enough removed for nostalgia to retouch classroom or staffroom dramas, not far enough to banish the headaches and exhaustion, I'm wondering, though: we stop hearing the bell ring, we stop running by the busy timetables, but does school really get 'blown to pieces' in the summer months, or do we still keep learning from a curriculum we find elsewhere?
Just from reading today's Times, I have learned that, as a woman of moderately advancing years, I should be exercising at every opportunity. I should have the correct PE kit (with a designer label rather than a personalised name tape sewn securely in) for every activity, and should be investing in my future with an active present. Reading on, I should be gulping down various drinks to increase my brain power, and, if invited to a summer wedding, I should wear a fancy hair clip, because hats are terribly passé. If I find time to see a play, amid all this and the curated reading and viewing indicated sagely in the weekend papers, today's Times offers a guide on how, when and why I should applaud, so comprehensive that I feel tempted to give the piece a standing ovation... only that doing so would not be quite the thing. The very thought.
Everything around us starts to feel like school, once you start to think about it. The routines we create - the coffee breaks, the field trips, the 'sleepy time' on quiet afternoons. The pressure for social media updates, so reminiscent of the 'My News' interludes I used to dread in primary school, trying to apply convincing, glossy happiness to a quiet, normal day of reading and coffee and finding time between downpours for a walk. Summer fashion tyranny is worse than uniform: you dress for comfort, but then you're shamed by glossy magazine regulation lists. Those aren't this year's sandals, and you should be wearing a neon top, even though you know it'll make your face look like a luminous green highlighter on the brink of running out. Your PE kit isn't right: it may be inoffensive, but will attract those changing room glances of disparagement. No: my trainers aren't New Balance and my kit's not LuluLemon. I didn't shop at the de rigeur supplier, Net a Sporter, but at least it's not the ceremonial dress of the Scottish Commonwealth Games team. Trying out a workout DVD, I remember the ironic asides which probably stopped me becoming a Senior Prefect: as I'm urged not to 'phone it in' because the pain I'm experiencing is 'fear leaving the body', via the motivational deixis of 'you want to look like this, you gotta work like that,' all I can do is snigger at my inexpertise, as I trip over my own feet en route to a double jump-rope. 'I will see you tomorrow,' the trainer says meaningfully, and I feel chastened for a moment, remembering that childhood fear that the people on TV could see me, just like I saw them.
There are no classes; no bells to make us jump to deadline or attention. 'School's out completely.' So why are we setting each other -and ourselves- deadlines, attainment objectives, targets for improvement? Like my status. Answer my message: now, the bell invites you. Filter your account of your life to make it look more perfect, to make yourself seem happier than it's reasonable for anyone to be. It's as if we're all subject to inspection by one another, and can't afford to present as anything other than outstanding, in a terrifying world where 'satisfactory' has been reworded as 'requires improvement'.
Coffee tastes the same whether it has an Instagram filter or not. I am no better at being on holiday than I am at work: I'm just as likely to get it wrong. School may be out for summer, but I never want to stop learning. But when the curriculum hidden on all sides, in the glossy magazines, shop window displays and messages appearing on a newsfeed or a phone, is that nothing's quite good enough unless it's better than it's really possible to be, then maybe that indicates a school of thought which really does need to be 'blown to pieces'.
Maybe that really is a kind of learning to which I might not go back at all.