It is the season of school outings. Examinations are past, the syllabus has been covered, there are no more lessons to be taught. The students are restless to be somewhere else, or at least to be outside.
The staff briefing includes notices about the various school trips. It includes a reminder to everyone to remember all the paperwork necessary. I must remember to put my passport in my bag for the Year 7 trip to Flanders which leaves on Sunday morning.
A geography teacher asks tutors to remind those from their tutor groups going on the rivers trip to wear old clothes that are appropriate for getting wet and muddy. It is commented that some students regard school outings as an occasion to wear their best clothes and footwear which are then spoilt as students explore the rivers. The teacher seems mystified that anyone would wear good clothes on an outing.
A jumble of memories from the past surfaced.
There was a memory of a Sunday School outing to Portrush in the early-1990s. Dressed in a cable-knit sweater, cotton trousers and canvas shoes, I remember getting on the bus and feeling underdressed when compared to some of the men of the parish who had come in their dark Sunday suits (and who sat on the beach still wearing jackets and ties). The outing might have been one of the few days in the course of the year when they got away from their farms: it seemed they felt it was an occasion for which they wanted to look their best.
There was a memory of a school outing to London. It was the week that Arsenal achieved the double, so must have been 1971. I remember having a pale yellow T-shirt and cream-coloured shorts and thinking the shirt was not so different in colour from the yellow in which Arsenal had played in the FA Cup Final. A trip to London was a rare occurrence in the life of a ten year old boy from deep in rural England: it was obviously an occasion in which everyone tried to look their best.
The most unlikely memory to arise was that of a talk on James Orr, a poet from Bsllycarry in Co Antrim who had participated in the United Irish Rebellion of 1798. Marking the bicentenary of the Battle of Antrim, the talk noted that those setting off to fight in the United Irish cause had put on their best coats and clothes: a battle must have seemed an occasion to look one’s best.
Compared with dressing for the bloody slaughter of 1798, the idea of dressing to get wet and muddy in a river seems almost sensible.