There’s one in every school. A housewife with a need for power so they volunteer at their child’s primary school and step into positions like running the canteen, marshaling the children at carnivals and worst of all, running the uniform shop.
As a parent you can avoid the woman running the canteen, you can stay away from the marshaling area at carnivals but you can’t avoid the uniform shop.
At Archie and Arabella’s primary school there was a woman who ran the uniform shop from the day her first child started at the school and she’s still there today and isn’t planning on vacating the position any time soon. She is a woman of very solid structure. One of those women who surprise you because they are so well covered you don’t actually notice they’re pregnant until you see a baby lying in a pram and they’e pushing it. This woman had an enormous chest. The type that rose out of her chest like a shelf you could rest a tea cup on.
There was a rumour that in her pre-mothering days she had spent time in the army and that accounted for her rather severe look with a short, no-frills sensible hair cut and definitely minimal make-up.
Stepping inside that uniform shop was like walking into her domain where everything was on her terms. You were not greeted with a friendly face and no matter how many times you went in there, she offered no shred of recognition. It reminded me of that episode in Seinfeld where Elaine is queuing for soup at the Soup Nazi’s shop – you entered with fear and trembling and hoped you would survive the ordeal and come out with what you went in for.
I remember being a new mother at the school and as well as buying all the uniform for Archie I also had to buy the school bag. And this is where the trouble began and like Elaine with the Soup Nazi, I was given a permanent black mark that to this day has not been lifted.
The school’s bag was available in two sizes. The advice I received from all the other mothers was not to bother buying the small bag because Archie would soon grow out of it and then you’d be back down to the uniform shop needing to buy the larger bag.
With that advice I went into the shop wanting to buy only the larger bag.
And it should have been a simple exercise.
The uniform shop was busy. Full of mothers handing over enormous amounts of money for their child’s bits and pieces. Finally it was my turn. All went reasonably well until I said, ‘And I need a large bag too’.
And she looked at me. ‘Didn’t you say he’s just starting school?’
‘Well then you only need the small bag.’ And she reached her large arm across to the shelf and pulled out a small bag and slapped it on the counter.
‘No, I’d like the large bag please’, and I gently pushed the small bag towards her. It was shoved right back at me.
‘He’s only in Kindy, in Kindy they all have the small bag.’
‘Thanks anyway but I’d like to buy the large bag.’
‘It will be too heavy for him.’
‘No, it hardly weighs any more than…’
‘It will be too big for him.’
‘Well I think it will be fine so could I just have the big bag please?’ And out of the corner of my eye I could see the other mothers standing there enjoying the moment and the room was growing deathly quiet.
But she continued. ‘My boy’s in Kindy too and he has the small bag.’
‘That’s nice but Archie will be doing swimming and tennis and just with everything he needs to pack into his bag I think he needs the large bag.’
‘My boy’s doing swimming and tennis too and he can fit everything in the small bag.’
‘Well great but I’d like to take the large bag.’ And I could see it on the shelf and felt like snatching it and running away.
‘It will be bad for his back you know, with all that extra weight in it.’
‘But you just said your son has the same stuff in his bag so his bag would weigh the same so there isn’t really a difference, is there?’
And she glared at me and she narrowed her eyes. ‘The school doesn’t recommend the large bag for kids in Kindy, they want parents to buy the small bag. It fits everything in it that your son will need.’
‘Right well I didn’t hear that recommendation at the information night and I think as there is a choice, I’d like to take the large bag.’
‘I see. Well because you insist.’ And she snatched the small bag off the bench, threw it to the back of the shop, grabbed the large bag and banged it down on the counter.
‘Thank you’, I managed with gritted teeth.
‘And I’ll be making a note of that’, she said. ‘I’ll be putting a note in your file that you have been advised against buying the large bag but that you insisted and when your son gets back problems for having a bag that was too heavy for him you won’t be able to sue the school because you were warned and because I’ve put a note in your file.’
‘Righto then. And thanks so much for your help.’
Ridiculous. That one large bag saw Archie all the way through primary school. And there is nothing wrong with Archie’s back. He’s completely fine and so is Arabella because I bought her the large bag only I asked another mother to buy it for me. I wasn’t up for another round.
Have you come across ‘volunteers’ who have controlling tendencies?
That day in the uniform shop was very hot. A bit like today. On hot days like that all I feel like for dinner is a salad. Here’s a recipe for the perfect salad dinner on a steamy night in.
Thai Beef Salad
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: I used eye fillet of beef which isn’t cheap. You could use less expensive cuts of steak like sirloin or rump but the meat won’t be as tender.
- 1 tbspn Jasmine rice
- 500g (1 lb) thick fillet beet
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 bird eye red chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
- 4 red shallots, finely sliced (I sliced mine on a mandolin)
- 3 tbspns coriander leaves
- 3 tbspns mint leaves
- 3 shallots, finely sliced
Heat a dry frying pan, add rice and toast over medium heat until lightly browned. Grind rice in a spice grinder until it’s a fine powder. Set aside
Grill or pan-fry the beef until wee-marked outside and rare on the inside. Allow to rest for 10 mins.
Dissolve sugar in lime juice and soy sauce. Add chillies and powdered rice. Combine shallots, coriander, mint leaves and green shallots in a large bowl. Add lime juice, soy sauce and sugar.
Slice the beef thinly. Toss beef through the salad together with any cooking juices that have collected in the bowl. Pile high on a platter stacked with salad leaves and cucumber. Serve with steamed Jasmine rice.
This recipe has been adapted from Jill Dupleix’s Old Food.