I couldn’t let it pass without comment, could I. The big topic of the week. No, not that. School uniforms, of course. First there was the now annual revolt of boys adopting skirts because they were denied shorts as an alternative to long grey trousers in the hot weather. Then there was the discussion about school uniforms in general. Apparently some schools have imposed a supposedly non-gendered uniform policy on pupils i.e. they have to wear a stereotypical western male uniform of trousers and shirt, (and probably a blazer and tie). This is justified with some derogatory comments about skirts or dresses being “embarrassing”. The main reason for choosing trousers is supposed to be to prevent “upskirting”.
Having taught in boys’, girls’ and mixed schools, as well as being genderfluid with a predilection for wearing skirts and dresses, it won’t surprise you that I have an opinion on this. Only one school I taught at did not have a uniform. Dress code was smart so no jeans (at least I think that was it). While most students were sensible, a sizeable number, particularly girls but not exclusively, treated dress as a competitive sport. They were little rich kids so they could afford very expensive and trendy stuff. I recall one girl wearing a £500 (1980s prices) leather jacket to my practical chemistry class. Girls who arrived without an up-to-the-moment wardrobe were ridiculed.
It’s always been one of the arguments for uniform that it takes away this competitive element, stops the morning arguments about what Olivia (or Oliver) should wear and makes the school’s kids easy to pick out when outside school (that happens less often now there are fewer trips). But some schools have got tied up in knots about the actual dress rules and are struggling now that gender is an issue. Many schools are still stuck with a girls having a choice, skirts or trousers, while boys don’t policy. It is sexist as well as a restriction on those who want to express their gender questioning.
While there might still be a case for some uniform element, I think it is restrictive and displays a lack of acceptance of diversity on the part of the school management. There should be no distinction between male and female; boys should be allowed to wear skirts if they like and girls shouldn’t be forced into trousers. The upskirting argument is spurious – boys should be taught how to behave in modern society and that intruding on a person’s (girl or otherwise) privacy is not allowed. But I also feel that the western style of male dress is too narrow. In many cultures across the world, men wear forms of gowns or kilts. Young people should be able to adopt those styles if they wish.
So, let’s allow much more variety in our schools, even if there is an element of uniformity in colours or badges.
In one week I will be at BLISS at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancs. where all my (paper) books will be on sale. I’m hoping for a good crowd of browsers (with some money to spend).
We’ve reached episode 4 of Negative, the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel that fits between Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. Things are warming up.
Negative: Part 4
‘When’s your day off?’ Jasmine asked, changing the subject.
‘Tomorrow. Hey, we could meet up and I could show you around.’
Jasmine felt her spirits lift. It would lovely to spend a day with this attractive and vivacious girl. ‘That’s lovely. Any ideas?’
‘Let’s jump on a bus and look over the castle. The old town’s got lots of lovely shops and cafes.’
‘Great. What time? Do you have a lie-in on your day off?’’
Ceri grinned. ‘Definitely. I don’t get up before six on my one day of freedom. Shall we meet at the bus station at nine-thirty?’
They chatted for a bit longer before Ceri left to do some errands for her mother. Jasmine set off to walk around the headland. It was a good distance and she was pleased to feel her muscles working. The cliffs and the ever-changing view across the sea entertained her.
A bath followed by dinner completed her day. Ceri was cheerful when she served her. Myfanwy was again a jolly colleague. At the end of the meal Ceri said, ‘See you in the morning.’ Jasmine nodded and headed back to her room.
Tegan was back on duty at breakfast and spreading chill with her dark frowns. Jasmine did note that she was polite to the older woman filling in for Ceri. Was Tegan a bully who picked on more junior colleagues or was it because Ceri was trans that she persecuted her? Jasmine wasn’t certain but was happy that it was Myfanwy who served her with a smile and a chuckle.
As Jasmine got up to leave the dining room, Tegan approached her.
‘You’ve been meeting Ceri,’ Tegan said.
‘I have,’ Jasmine replied. She had considered saying it was none of Tegan’s business but decided to see where the glum woman was going with this conversation.
‘We have a rule that staff should treat all guests the same.’
‘That’s what I would expect of any hotel,’ Jasmine said.
‘So we don’t allow staff to meet up with guests socially,’ Tegan went on.
Jasmine felt a flush come to her cheeks. ‘I think you’ll find that what a member of staff does in their own time is their own business, and who a “guest” or anyone else meets outside of this building is none of yours or anyone else’s concern.’ Jasmine pushed past the woman and marched somewhat faster than she intended from the dining room.
She got herself ready for a day out and was at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. She was still angry at Tegan’s effrontery but decided that she wouldn’t mention it to Ceri. The bus drew up at the stop and Jasmine got on. She glanced at her watch. It was nine-thirty and there was no sign of Ceri but the bus was not due to leave for another ten minutes.
With a minute to go, she saw the girl running towards the bus with her golden hair blowing out behind her. As she leapt on, her short skirt rose revealing her smooth, tanned thighs and a flash of large knickers. She flopped down beside Jasmine.
‘Sorry I’m late. I knew I had time to catch the bus but I got stuck with my brother.’
‘Oh, what did Alun want?’
‘Nothing really. Just checking on me I suppose.’
The bus pulled away. Ceri fidgeted beside Jasmine but pointed out places that related to her lifetime in the town. Then they were on the road along the estuary and approaching the bridge into the old town with its castle a prominent landmark. Soon they were disembarking and Ceri lead Jasmine through the narrow streets. Jasmine enjoyed her guided tour but felt there was something behind Ceri’s never-ending chatter and constant impatience to show her something else.
They stopped their tour for a late lunch in an olde-worlde café which Jasmine cheerfully paid for. She felt she had to repay Ceri for her company.
‘I’ll have to catch the bus back soon,’ Ceri said putting down her fork.
‘Oh, that’s okay,’ Jasmine replied feeling a little surprised because she had thought she had Ceri for the day. ‘I mustn’t take up all your time.’
‘No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. There are things. . .’
‘It’s really no problem. It’s been very good of you to show me round.’
Ceri started to get up. ‘You don’t have to come with me, now.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine hadn’t considered what she would do. ‘Are there buses later.’
‘Oh yes. Every hour until late this evening. But you’ll want to be back at the hotel for dinner won’t you.’
Ceri stood up. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then. Breakfast.’
‘Yes, ‘Bye Ceri. Thanks.’
The girl was gone in a flash of gold hair. Jasmine was left contemplating her sudden departure. Had she known all along that she would have to leave at this time? What was it that demanded her return? Had she read a text while Jasmine wasn’t looking that made her decide to leave? It was probably of no concern of hers. She should be grateful for the young woman giving up the time she had on her one free day of the week. Jasmine finished her drink and decided to resume her wandering around the town, at a slower pace than Ceri had set.
Despite Myfanwy’s smile, dinner was served in the gloom caused by Tegan’s scowls and curt responses to queries from guests. Jasmine ate quickly and returned to her room for a quiet evening of TV and reading. She realised that she had fallen into a comfortable routine of sightseeing, meals and relaxation, with her meetings with Ceri a highlight of stimulating conversation. Not that they discussed weighty matters. The closest they got to that was comparing notes about their transitions and their hopes for their future lives as women.
Jasmine was still getting tired at the end of the day despite her lack of stress. Would she ever be ready to go back to investigating? She hoped so.
Jasmine woke the following morning to find the light entering her room, dull. There were raindrops on the window and grey clouds in the sky. She stayed in bed until it was almost too late for breakfast. There was only one laid-up table, her own, when she entered the dining room. Just one other couple were finishing their meal. Other tables were still covered with the detritus of breakfast eaten. Neither waitress was in evidence.
Jasmine sat in her usual seat and waited. A few minutes passed before Ceri appeared from the kitchen. Some of her long golden hair had escaped from her bun and she looked harassed. She approached Jasmine.
‘Good morning, Ceri. How are you after your day off?’ Jasmine asked feeling that as Tegan wasn’t in sight she could be friendly.
Ceri took her notebook from her pocket. ‘Oh, er fine. What would like this morning.’ Jasmine gave her usual order which Ceri jotted down. Tegan had still not appeared to glower at them.
‘Isn’t Tegan on duty today?’ Jasmine asked.
‘No, she isn’t. I’ve had to do everything.’ There was an impatient tone to Ceri’s reply.
‘Oh. Is she ill?’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t think she called to say she wasn’t coming in. I’ll get your breakfast.’ She hurried off. She returned with the coffee jug, and then with toast and Jasmine’s cooked breakfast. In between she dashed around clearing tables, doing the job of two waitresses.
Jasmine was alone now, taking her time over her bacon and egg. Ceri passed close to her with her arms loaded with crockery.
‘Does this happen often?’ Jasmine said.
Ceri paused. ‘First time. I’ve never known Tegan miss a shift.’ She departed for the kitchen.
Jasmine had finished her final piece of toast, washed down with black coffee when the door to the dining room opened. The proprietor of the hotel, a short man with thin strands of black hair plastered across his bald head, entered followed by a uniformed policeman.
They both glanced at Jasmine, the hotel owner perhaps surprised to see a guest still at breakfast. Ceri emerged from the kitchen and stopped dead. An ‘Oh,’ escaped from her lips.
‘Hello Ceri,’ the owner said, ‘the police officer would like a word with you.’
‘With me? Why?’ Ceri looked confused.
The policeman stepped forward. ‘You normally work with Miss Tegan Jones.’
‘When did you see her last?’
‘The day before yesterday,’ Ceri replied still bemused.
‘Not yesterday?’ the officer said, ‘Wasn’t she at work yesterday?’
The owner raised his hand. ‘Oh, I forgot. Yesterday was your day off wasn’t it Ceri. Myfanwy was on with Tegan yesterday.’
Ceri nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, why? What’s happened?’
‘The body of Tegan Jones was found earlier this morning. We’re trying to trace her movements.’
Ceri stared. ‘The body?’
………………………..to be continued.