Dressing up for an outing

It is the season of school outings.

Yesterday morning, a teacher leading an overnight hike came to talk to each class taking part urging them to remember where they were going and to wear clothes appropriate for hill walking – and to please bring soap and deodorant.

It seems that the tendency to see school outings as an occasion to wear best clothes and footwear which are then spoilt as students participate in activities. The teacher seemed mystified that anyone would wear good clothes on an outing.

A jumble of memories from the past surfaced.

There was a memory of a Sunday School outing to Portrush on the coast of Northern Ireland in the early-1990s.

Dressed in a cable-knit sweater, cotton trousers and canvas shoes, I remember getting on the bus and feeling underdressed when compared to some of the men of the parish who had come in their dark Sunday suits (and who sat on the beach still wearing jackets and ties).

The outing might have been one of the few days in the course of the year when they got away from their farms: it seemed they felt it was an occasion for which they wanted to look their best.

There was a memory of a school outing from our Somerset village of High Ham to London. It was the week that Arsenal achieved the double, so must have been 1971.

I remember having a pale yellow T-shirt and cream-coloured shorts and thinking the shirt was not so different in colour from the yellow in which Arsenal had played in the FA Cup Final. A trip to London was a rare occurrence in the life of a ten year old boy from deep in rural England: it was obviously an occasion in which everyone tried to look their best.

The most unlikely memory to arise was that of a talk in 1998 on James Orr, who was a poet from Bsllycarry in Co Antrim who had participated in the United Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Marking the bicentenary of the Battle of Antrim, the talk noted that those setting off to fight in the United Irish cause had put on their best coats and clothes. they must have regarded a battle as the sort of occasion to look one’s best.

Compared with dressing up for the bloody slaughter of 1798, the idea of dressing up to get wet and muddy while walking hills seems almost sensible.

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