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How England Changed Me

It was a typical Kiwi scene and yet something was out of place.

We were squished together in the heat of the day in the cramped School Uniform Shop. Outside the heat hung in shimmering bands above the tarceal and cicadas squealed frantically. I fanned myself briefly with my school uniform price list.


$55 for a school blouse! And each daughter would need at least two!

The prices were hot, like the weather that threatened to choke.

Inside the little wooden shop it was bull-rush frenetic. Everyone was desperate to find the uniform for their kids who had unhelpfully grown over the eight weeks of summer holidays. Mums were rifling through second hand shirts, kids were standing half dressed in too-small skirts and thrown-on blouses desperately wishing to be somewhere else, preferably on a boogie board, on the beach with an ipod plugged in to their earringed ears.

I can’t remember seeing second hand uniform for sale when I shopped for uniform for the kids in the UK. Does it happen? Or is it a peculiarly Kiwi thing? Like Opshopping was popular Down Under before Vintage Shopping ever came of age in England.

Kiwi and Aussie Mums tend to be fairly pragmatic about things like clothes their womb fruit will grow out of or spill ink or glue all over. We’re not too proud to accept other people’s hand-me-downs. Call it a quaint aspect of the place. A very real ‘Make do and mend’ attitude for generations who never did need to do so during the War.

A Maori kid wandered through the door,  barefoot and disinterested, clutching a bundle of shirts.

“Did Mum not realise how big her son is?” the grey haired saleswoman grizzled.

He shrugged dismissively.

Somewhere behind a curtain a small voice was calling.

“Mum, can you come here please. But DON’T come in! MUM I said DON’T come in!! Grrrr!”

How you’re supposed to tell whether it’s a good fit or not without looking I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s a sound test. If the call is squeaky the clothes are too small, if loud and proud they’re too big?

I’d sent Dark Princess into the dressing room with a bundle of  senior school blouses, more than a few moments prior and was waiting not-so-patiently for her invitation for review.

And I waited.

And waited.

A kid was served, another sold her last year’s uniform whilst I waited. I wanted to burn my school uniform when I left school. I didn’t stop to think that  I could earn some moolah from selling it.

Finally Dark Princess appeared from the bowels of the dressing room wearing her white blouse and fitted navy blue skirt. She didn’t look like a school girl, she looked more like a young businesswoman.

Some of the other Mums and students turned to look, and out of the Antipodean throng of diphthongs shrinking under the chainsaw-like attack of a nasal twang, someone said in a beautiful plummy voice with vowels as round as ripe cherries.

“Gosh, you look awfully good.”

The place stopped. Everyone turned to look at the Brit who had snuck into the Kiwi school uniform shop. Even I half turned to look. Until Dark Princess scoffed.

“Mum, you’re not in England now!”

I guess England has changed me after all.

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