Monday, March 29, 2021


I found myself thinking, this morning, of the feats of manual dexterity required of me before being sent off, as a very young boy, to boarding school: I had to be able to tie my shoelaces and tie my tie. The shoes, of course, were the basic black leather Oxfords; and the tie was woolen, with horizontal black and white stripes, squared off at either end. 

It seems odd, from the long perspective of life today in contemporary California, where my 9 year-old grandson wears neither lace-up shoes nor tie and looks askance at me when I tell him that I did, that little boys should have been required to perform this daily ritual. But there you are. Every single day at school would start with the same ritual: once the underpants and prickly undershirt (the "vest") were on, and the grey short pants and the gray shirt, and the grey pullover with black and white trim, and the knee-length grey socks with the same black and white trim, it was time to tie the shoelaces and tie the tie. 

Shoelaces first, first right, then left. One lace over and under the other, pulled as tight as you could in opposite directions. Make a bow with one end and hold it firm while you circle it with the other, then poke the second bow through and under the first, pull tight again, and adjust. If it's too loose, of course, you have to start again. 

Then the tie. Flip up the collar of your shirt and slip the tie around your neck, then over and under, up and around and through and down and pull it tight, but not too tight--and not too loose, of course--to make the knot. Then slip the knot up to cover the top button of your shirt. Last thing, turn the collar down again all around the neck to cover the tie and check that the knot is neatly placed in the triangle made by the tips of the collar. Pull it up further if necessary to look neat. 

There, you're done. Ready to run down the long flights of stairs from the dormitory on the top floor to the dining room in the basement, where you'll find a steaming pot of porridge ready for you to fill your bowl for breakfast.


Marie Smith said...

I cannot imagine boarding school for a young child. It is incredible to me.

Peter Clothier said...

Twelve years, 6 to 18. Some loved it (and are now PMs, cabinet ministers, generals, titans of industry--the privileged of the privileged.) I hated it!