Bought in TK Maxx, it is hard to guess the original price of the dressing gown. Red, white, blue, yellow and black stripes, it reaches the calves and is invaluable on a February morning when the darkness outside offers no prospect of a break in the cloud and when a sharp wind cuts its way through the seals of the windows.
Tea is made, porridge is heated, and pulling the cord of the dressing gown tight there is recall of days when dressing gowns were an essential part of daily life.
School could be so cold that the condensation froze on the inside of the windows. It was possible to pick thin layers of ice from the panes when we woke in the mornings. Without a dressing gown, the chill would have been even more intense.
Perhaps the temperature was part of the school’s behaviour management policy. No-one paused too long in the mornings, up and washed and dressed as quickly as possible. Had it been acceptable among one’s peers to wear a vest, then I would have done so. As it was, a shirt, V-necked pullover, and blazer sufficed, and the tough lads didn’t wear the pullover.
The dressing gown was important for participation in two activities.
The first was being able to watch Match of the Day on television on a Saturday night. “Lights out” was usually at ten o’clock so being able to watch the football meant being able to get into bed immediately after the conclusion of the programme. The housemaster would have been strict in his check that each person gathered in the lounge of the senior block was properly attired in pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers. It is hard to imagine sixteen year olds now tolerating such a regime.
The second activity for which a dressing gown was definitely needed was the nighttime fire drills. There seemed to be one of these each term. The alarm bells would ring and we would reluctantly tramp down the corridor to the fire escape and stand in lines in the driveway while a housemaster counted us. Mercifully, they chose dry nights, but anyone who has been on Dartmoor in winter time will know its potential for chilling people to the bone. Eventually, the bells would go silent and we would be allowed to return to the relative warmth of our rooms.
The dressing gown that encompassed me in those years was a large, woollen blue-green garment with braid around the edges. It must have come from my aunt in Canada for it’s not likely that we could have afforded the cost of it.
The present dressing gown may be considerably brighter in colour, but would have been inadequate in that moorland valley.