A school not so very far away, a very successful comprehensive by any measurement, has a new Head who has felt the need to stamp his personal stamp and ‘improve’ it further, so like many new Heads desperate to – no, let’s just say desperate – he is introducing a new school uniform which will include a coloured blazer and clip-on ties. That will do the trick, I am sure.
It reminded me of my former school introducing the same a few years ago. I wrote about it then. I’m sharing now as my distaste for such hasn’t waned.
It’s not high art, by the way.
‘Clip-ons. Geeettttt yourrrrrrr cliiiiiiip-ooonnnnnns. Two fer two paunds; four fer three paunds. Clip-ons. Geeettt yourrrrr cliiiiiiip-ooonnnnnnns ‘ere!’
Two men stand at the entrance of the locked school gates next to a trestle table festooned with a row of school clip-on ties like an elongated spread of psychedelic piano keys. On its own, an individual tie is quite ordinary in its conventional stripes, but when laid out like this, the colours become an optical illusion that is surprisingly attractive.
One of the two men stands quite still, indifferent to the early morning gathering around him; the other is obviously energised by the sing-song elasticity of his salesman’s spiel. Apart from the incongruity of this surprise enterprise outside the school, the man enunciating his best early Eastenders’ Ian Beale patter is wearing one of the recently instituted new school clip-on ties and also appearing somewhat absurd in his jeans and denim shirt.
‘Good morning gentlemen. Can I interest both of you in our very special deal on these clip-on school ties?’ the chirpier of the two salesmen regales teachers Paul and Robert as they arrive together for work. ‘Ask your good selves, why should the boys be the only ones to benefit from these beautifully hand-crafted clip-ons now that male members of staff have been instructed to wear ties too? Just think of those extra essays you can mark or charts you can fill in before leaving home for work rather than wasting time having to knot your own?’ he adds with a smarmy alacrity.
Paul is the first to speak as he walks straight past,
‘Go fuck yourself. Toodlepip.’
Robert stops and smiles politely. Years of being a genuinely amiable and kind person prevent him from behaving like his much more grizzled and caustic colleague. He walks over to the table and touches one or two ties as if to corroborate their existence, and in this tactile gesture of recognition he also feels compelled to engage in the proposed purchasing discourse.
‘I used to be a professional footballer,’ he begins tentatively – not because he hasn’t told the story he is about to tell before, because he has many, many times, but because of his pleasant inclination – ‘and I once met Brian Clough who always insisted that any players on one of his football teams wore a club tie.’
‘You are so right my good Sir,’ the chirpy one responds obsequiously, sensing his capture. ‘We sell a lot of these up and down the country as Academies recognise…’ he stalls whilst seeming to trance into a mental search-mode for an internalised recording of a more complex pitch ‘…the link between professional dress codes and target achievement acceleration…’ when just as stutteringly as he had switched to this prepared premise he reverts to his previous fruit’n’vegesque appeal ‘…and they are only two fer two paunds or four fer three paunds, and that’s a bargain mate!’
Robert pauses before replying, but then does so with considerable emotion,
‘I’m not your bloody mate,’ he swears surprisingly – not because he is swearing but because he isn’t playing five-a-side whilst doing so – ‘and I’m fed up with all of this nonsense. My actual mate Cloughie would never consider wearing a tie as such a shallow device, and wore his own green jumper with genuine pride…’
But before Robert can collect his thoughts to a more cohesive rebuff, Paul suddenly reappears and interrupts. His face is contorted in its usual contempt for the paucity of thought and creativity in those around him – and especially those notionally above him – and he is wearing a full length clipless school tie wrapped around his forehead and looking like John McEnroe playing Macbeth as he approaches the slaying of Duncan.
‘You tell these rascals!’ Paul acknowledges Robert’s outburst approvingly. It is at this point Robert notices Paul is carrying a wooden sword, the kind he used to thrust about histrionically on Shakespeare Days organised years ago in better times by his dear friend Ken who now spends his time organising whole school clip-on tie demonstrations where local employers come into school and advise students on the guarantees for academic success and jobs for life if they learn to wear their clip-ons with sartorial superiority, or a well-tutored approximation of this.
‘To clip on or not to clip on,’ Paul shouts as he approaches the trestle table, ‘and that is not a rhetorical question!’ he shouts even louder as he sends the neat row of offensive merchandise flying, flailing his sword up and down the display whilst also hitting with a wayward parry the quiet salesman who has continued lounging disinterested at one end throughout this brief encounter and whose newly smashed nose starts to bleed immediately. Paul turns to strike with intent the other noisy one, but he has already exited this impromptu early morning stage and is disappearing in unseemly haste towards the English block.
‘What have you done!’ Robert asks shocked but oddly smiling.
‘I’ve made a statement for two teachers who are soon to retire and shuffle off from this educational coil and toil,’ Paul responds pompously and theatrically, his robustly righteous yin to Robert’s equally honourable but calmer yang. ‘What can they do, sack us?’ he adds with a riotous guffaw, ripping the tie from his head and trodding it into the ground as he and Robert enter the school’s front door arm in mutual arm, both heads held as supremely and serenely high as only years of truly tieless professionalism can achieve.