It has been brought to my attention that Scott Harris has been writing about the time he was put back into the Third Form at school and how I became involved in looking after him. My name is Emily Winters and I thought you might be interested to read how I came to look after Scottie, as I came to call him.
As Scottie has explained, I was thirteen at the time and he was a few weeks shy of sixteen. I had, for a year, been babysitting two young boys, twins aged eleven. However their family was moving away which was a great disappointment as I had enjoyed looking after the twins who were both very high-spirited. My responsibilities included bathing the boys as well as getting them ready for bed and generally making sure they behaved themselves. Once they were settled down in bed I could get on with my schoolwork, so the babysitting job suited me well. You can probably imagine how I felt having to say ‘goodbye’ to the boys and I think they were just as upset as I was to see them off to their new home.
I was at a bit of a loose end. There are always babysitting jobs to be had, but they tend to be mostly piecemeal arrangements with little time for any more meaningful involvement. Perhaps I was already seeing myself as a sort of putative governess who wanted time to get to know her charges. One day I happened to look at the adverts in the window of a local newsagent and saw the notice Mrs Harris, Scott’s mother, had placed there. Mrs Harris sought a sensible girl to look after her son. Duties would include letting him in after school and making sure he settled down to do his homework. It would be a permanent arrangement as Mrs Harris had commitments which prevented her from being at home to meet her son. It sounded to be just the sort of job I was after and I couldn’t wait find out more.
Reading Mrs Harris’s advert I assumed Scott to be a young boy much the same age of the twins and like the twins, in need of constant supervision. The job sounded ideal so I took a note of Mrs Harris’s phone number and contacted her straightaway. We arranged for me to come and be interviewed and I brought with me a letter of reference the mother of the twins had kindly written in appreciation of my work with her boys.
I have to say that Mrs Harris and I hit it off almost immediately. I showed her the letter and I could tell she was most impressed. I still had no idea how old Scott was and so asked Mrs Harris whether she would need me to bath Scott before bedtime. I was slightly puzzled that she was a little evasive in her reply, so I assured her that I had been responsible for the twins bathtime and gave them baths at least twice a week. However, the subject of bathtime arrangements were put on hold, as I heard footsteps in the hall which I assumed to be those of Scott. I think he must of been on his way upstairs when Mrs Harris called out to him:
“Scott! Come in here a moment, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Imagine my surprise when a boy, clearly in his mid-teens and obviously older than I, stepped hesitantly into the room where Mrs Harris and I were sitting. Scott was wearing his school uniform, which at that time included long trousers. He was a smooth-faced boy, fairly smart and not unattractive although it was easy to see that Scott was in need of a haircut.
“This is Emily, who will be looking after you when you come home from school,” Mrs Harris said.
I don’t know who was more surprised by this announcement, Scott or myself. Mrs Harris hadn’t at that point said I was suitable, but from what she had just said, I gathered my services would after all be required. I was very pleased to know I had made the right impression.
As for Scott… well like all boys he thought he was old enough not to need a babysitter.
“I don’t need anyone to look after me…” he said, “... I can look after myself…”
“Now, Scott, you know that’s not true,” mum said and began to explain what had happened to her son…
“Why don’t you let Scott tell me what happened?” I suggested.
“Yes… yes, that is an excellent idea, Emily,” mum said as she realised it would be good for Scott and that it might even help him understand why he’d got himself into such a mess.
“Do I have to, mum?” was Scott’s immediate response to which Mrs Harris replied that as I would in future be looking after him, it was best if he told me what had happened.
Still Scott prevaricated. “But, mum… Emily’s not as old as I am… why should I tell her…?”
“Age has nothing whatsoever to do with this,” mum replied and by the tone of her voice I could tell that Scott was sailing perilously close to the wind. “Now let’s hear no more nonsense… Tell Emily exactly what has happened at school… and bear in mind she is to be your babysitter…”
On hearing this word, Scott’s mouth fell open, but wisely he said nothing.
“... and that means she will be acting with my full authority. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, mum,” Scott replied looking very sheepish indeed.
For a brief moment I almost felt sorry for Scott as he stood there in front of us. Both Mrs Harris and myself were sat in comfortable chairs in contrast to Scott, who looked as though he’d rather be anywhere than stood in front of us, about to tell me what he’d been up to at school. It was obvious he was a bundle of nerves.
“Come along, Scottie,” I prompted him and for the first time calling him by that name, “Mummy’s asked you to do something for me, hasn’t she?”
I could tell that addressing him using such language and in effect treating him like a little boy, annoyed him intensely, but one glance towards his mother and Scott saw it would best to bite his tongue.
“Um… yes, yes she did,” Scott said rather hesitantly.
“There is no need to be shy, Scottie,” I said, again using an inflection that made it sound as if I was talking to a little boy. I turned to Mrs Harris and added, “Little boys are often shy when they’ve been naughty. The twins often used to get tongue-tied when…”
“I’M NOT A LITTLE BOY!!” Scott exploded.
“Nobody said you were, Scottie,” I said calmly, “I was merely explaining to your mother how a couple of little boys I looked after would behave when they were naughty. You really shouldn't jump to such conclusions… particularly in matters that don’t concern you.”
“Now, if you’ve quite finished making a scene, Scottie, I’m still waiting to hear what you’ve been up to…”
Scott glanced in his mum’s direction once more and again thought better of complaining.
“I’ve been put back a year at school,” Scott said finally. His eyes were fixed firmly on the carpet in front of his feet and I could see that he was intensely embarrassed.
“And what exactly does that mean, Scottie?,” I asked, but he looked at me blankly. “You’ve been put back a year… what Year did you expect to go into…?”
“The Fifth Form,” he answered.
“Instead of which you’ve been put into…?”
“The Third Year…”
Scott’s shame at being made to say these words was palpable. He was red-faced and nervous, clearly dreading any more questions.
“How old are you, Scottie?” I asked. He glanced questioningly at mum again. “Your mum didn’t have chance to tell me your age before you came home,” I said by way of explanation.
“Fifteen… um, I’m nearly sixteen… um, in a few weeks.”
I wasn’t quite sure why Scott expressed himself in this manner. I assumed he thought that by making himself sound older it might in some way affect my ability to act as his babysitter. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Nearly sixteen,” I repeated, “And just how old are the boys in your new class… the Third Form?”
“Um… most… um, that is… um, thirteen,”
“Why was it thought necessary to put you back a year at school, Scottie?”
“Dunno…” came the immediate and in my experience default answer of a schoolboy asked an awkward question he’d rather not answer.
“You know perfectly well why you were put back a whole school year,” mum leaned forward in her chair, “Now tell Emily what your Headmaster said…”
Scott was trembling. I sensed that he would rather the floor opened up beneath his feet than have to stand in front of us and explain himself.
“He said I was lazy…”
“In what way ‘lazy’?” I asked, “Lots of boys are lazy… refusing to tidy their bedrooms, for instance… but it wasn’t that sort of laziness, was it, Scottie?”
“No…” he admitted, “The Headmaster said that I wasn’t trying hard enough… he said that he knew I could get much better results… do better work… but, but that I didn’t pay enough attention in class… said I mucked about and stuff…”
“And so he’s giving you another chance?” I suggested.
“Thank you, Scottie,” I said, “Now, why don’t you run along upstairs… your mother and I have lots of things to talk about…” I added making it clear to Scott that although he would be the subject of our conversation, his presence would not be required.
Scott looked from me to his mum to see what he should do.
“Do what Emily says, Scott,” mum said without a moment's hesitation. Scott turned and left the room, but not before I caught a glimpse of his lower lip pushed out in a sullen pout.
As we heard Scott’s heavy footsteps ascending the stairs Mrs Harris turned to face me. There was a big smile on her face.
“I must say that was most remarkable,” she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Scott behave like that before…”
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked.
“Good heavens no… Not at all. I’m sure if I had pressed Scott to tell me why he’d been put back a whole year at school, he would have had a temper tantrum and run off to his bedroom… But you, Emily, despite being younger… or perhaps it’s because you are younger... made Scott admit his failings…”
Mrs Harris and I continued to talk and I suddenly had an idea.
“Mrs Harris, do you have a copy of the School Uniform Regulations for Scott’s school?” I asked and the appropriate document was found.
“I’ll make some tea while you have a look through the uniform list… I’m afraid you’ll find it rather tedious, but if it’s of any help…”
“Oh, I think it will be a great help if I can just find… ah, yes, this is the page…” I said and began to read the rules and regulations regarding boys’ trousers. Mrs Harris left the room while I pored over the regulations which I guessed were rarely consulted by parents once their children started to attend school.
It was as I had hoped, while short trousers were compulsory for boys attending school during the First Year, there was no rule that prevented short trousers from being worn to school during subsequent years. Indeed the wearing of long trousers to school was specifically phrased as being at the boy’s parent’s discretion. So in fact one could read the uniform regulations in such a way as to say short trousers were the ‘default’ option for boys to wear to school and longs were simply a privilege to be awarded or withdrawn should it be so warranted… in whatever Form the boy happened to be.
When Mrs Harris returned with the tea-tray, I appraised her of my findings, paying special attention to the notion of long trousers being a privilege; a privilege which could be withdrawn should the situation call for it. I concluded by saying: “... and in Scott’s case I think the situation…”
“... more than warrants it..” Mrs Harris finished my sentence as she poured the tea.
“You know, Emily, Scott hasn’t worn short trousers for quite a long time. He hates anyone to see his bare legs and won’t wear shorts even when we have sunny weather…”
“But surely he must wear shorts for P.E.?” I asked.
“Of course, but I’ve never seen him wearing them.”
Mrs Harris thought for a while and I sipped my tea. She spoke again.
“You seem to have a wise head on young shoulders, Emily. What makes you think putting Scott back into short trousers will make any difference to his behaviour?” she asked.
“I think you’ll be surprised what a difference short trousers will make…” and then I expounded my theories about how boys are always trying to act beyond their age. How most boys are laughably immature. How they try, and usually fail, to impress. A lot of this misguided showing-off is brought about by treating and dressing boys as if they are grown-ups, whereas in reality it’s generally accepted that boys mature at a far slower rate than girls. Scott has failed and let himself down because he has tried too hard to be more mature than he really is. It’s not entirely Scott’s fault. There are a lot of pressures on young boys that you might not see, Mrs Harris. Boys are very competitive… it’s in their nature, but Scott needs to be helped to avoid that trap…”
I don’t think I put this argument in quite the same words when I spoke to Mrs Harris that first day. I was after all still only thirteen at the time, but even so I had enough experience in babysitting and looking after young boys to know how their minds worked. But however I expressed myself, Mrs Harris understood and gave me her whole-hearted support.
“You really mean to see Scott put back into short trousers, Emily?”
“It’s the only way to make Scott understand that he is not a grown-up; to make him understand how seriously you view what has happened to him at school... but it will also help to make him understand how much you are willing to help him…”
“I can’t be here all the time, Emily… when he comes home from school for instance… that’s when I’ll need your help. The way you have approached things today, Emily, has convinced me you are just the person I need to look after Scott. You will have my complete authority to do whatever it takes to get Scott back on the straight and narrow…”
I swelled with pride and I promised to help Scott… “whatever it took…”
Scott has described how I took him along to the School Outfitter (Scott’s Story - Part 2) to be measured up for a nice smart pair of short school trousers. Mrs Harris and I decided not to tell Scott that he would soon be wearing short trousers to school again, so he was a little puzzled by our trip to the shop. Once there Scott hung back and busied himself looking at the various items of school apparel on display. This gave me the opportunity I needed to discuss my requirements for Scott. The lady assistant was very understanding, although she professed to being at first a little surprised that I, clearly much younger, should be in charge of an older boy.
“I’m afraid Scott has been put back a year at school… into the Third Form,” I began to explain.
“... But boys in the Third Form at St Marks aren’t required to wear short trousers to school… Surely if Scott is put into short trousers, he’ll be the only boy in his class wearing them and if I know boys, he’ll likely be teased for having bare legs,” the assistant paused and we both looked over towards Scott who was blissfully ignorant of my plans. He glanced up and caught the eyes of the lady who looked as though she was ‘measuring him up’ and mentally noting the style and length of short trousers most suitable for a fifteen year old like Scott.
There must have been something in the way the lady was looking at him that worried Scott, because he blushed bright red and looked terribly worried. Perhaps subconsciously he was beginning to realise the purpose of our visit the School Outfitters.
The lady looked back at me. “I don’t think many boys in the Second Year at St Marks wear short trousers any more… It’s sad to see them going out of fashion. Why if it wasn’t compulsory for boys to wear short trousers in the First Form, there probably would be any boys in St Marks wearing them at all…”
“Except Scott…” I said, “His mother and I are in complete agreement that it would be best if Scott were put back into short trousers.”
“You think he might start a trend… that more older boys will want to wear short trousers to school?” There must have been something in my expression, because the lady smiled and answered her own question, “No… I thought not… So it looks as though Scott will be on his own…”
As Scottie made it abundantly clear in his description of our visit to the outfitters, the lady assistant took it into her head to treat Scottie as if he actually wanted to wear short trousers to school! The expression on his face was priceless as he was helped into the shortest of short school trousers available in Scottie’s size that were stocked in the shop. These had a somewhat generous 2 ½ inch leg-length, but of course on Scottie, with his long legs, these shorts revealed a significant expanse of bare thigh. The assistant did point out however that shorter leg lengths were available to order and would be happy to order a few pairs. I agreed straightaway.
“Then sooner we get Scottie into them the better,” I said.
“But… but, these ones are really short… look! Please don’t get them any shorter, Emily...” Scottie said as he showed us the hem of the brief school shorts.
“Don’t be silly, Scottie… the lady has already told you these are just the standard size and your mummy says she wants to see you in proper short trousers…”
Scottie actually gulped when he heard what ‘mummy’ wanted.
“Now stand up straight and let me see what you’re making all this fuss about… Show me where the hem comes to, Scottie…”
Scottie stood straight and pointed with his fingertips to the hem of his new short trousers. I could see he was pouting as I bent down to examine how far down his trousers reached.
“They don’t look that short to me,” I said, “Lift the hem up, Scottie… that’s it… a bit further… you can pull them up further than that, Scottie… that’s better!”
Scott did as he was told and I noticed how he was already becoming compliant… however, not without complaint.
“Oh, please don’t make them any shorter, Emily,” he pleaded, “Please, Emily… please.”
Scott had pulled the leg of his short trousers up as far as they could go and the grey fabric was stretched tight. Scott’s hand was about level with his hip.
“Look… see, there’s plenty more room to take them up,” I announced and turned to the assistant, “What do you think?”
“Yes, I agree… Scott could easily fit into a pair of much briefer school shorts…”
“EMILY! PLEASE! Please don’t make me…”
“... without any trouble at all,” the lady said, finishing her sentence and ignoring Scott’s outburst.
“Perhaps if I could just measure him up and that would give me a much better idea of how short…”
“OH, PLEASE, EMILY NO!!” Scott was getting very upset and his eyes were glistening in the way they do just before tears begin to flow. I must admit he looked a sorry sight standing in the middle of the School Outfitters, still obediently tugging the leg of his new school shorts right up... nearly far enough up for us to see the white cotton of his junior schoolboy underpants.
The lady assistant, in spite of Scott’s protests, slipped the tape-measure between his bare thighs. She took some measurements, pulling the tape this way and that, round the tops of Scott's legs, then down from his crotch. It was clearly all very upsetting for Scott, even more so when the lady remarked on how smooth Scott’s legs were.
I think Scott mentioned how embarrassed he felt when the assistant said what a shame it was when such beautiful legs were covered up and how boys were allowed to wear longs at far too young an age.
Scott cringed as his smooth legs were discussed and, even now when I look back, I recall how surprised I was to see just how unblemished and free from unsightly hair Scott’s legs were. I think this fact alone convinced me how much Scott would benefit from being put back into short trousers and I was sure Mrs Harris would agree with me.
It was the assistant’s idea for Scott to leave his longs at the outfitter. After all, he would not be needing them anymore. As the lady said, there was a good deal of wear left in them and she was sure to find some young boy who would be grateful to have the benefit of them.
I’ll never forget Scott's cry of anguish as he bleated out the words: “But they’re my trousers… my long trousers… why can’t I keep them?”
“You don’t need them, Scottie, because we’ve just got a nice new pair of trousers,” I told him, “… and you’ll be wearing them to school from now on…”
I could see that Scott was dreading leaving the shop wearing his new short school trousers. It was obvious he didn’t expect to have to wear them home… something else he made perfectly clear when he was writing about his trip to the School Outfitter.
As we were getting ready to leave the lady assistant, who had been very kind and helpful throughout our visit, took me to one side.
“I hope you don’t mind, but thought I might recommend Miss Fairchild to you. Just as we specialise in School Uniforms, she specialises in… ahem, little boy clothes to fit the… ahem, older boy. She has a shop just off the High Street in Flannel Lane. I thought that perhaps when you are considering play-clothes for Scott, you might pay her a visit. I’m sure you’ll find something there to suit him…”
I thanked her for the recommendation and said that I would visit Miss Fairchild’s at the earliest opportunity and take Scott’s mother along too.
“I’ve made a note of Scott’s measurements,” she said, “If you like I could pop them round to Miss Fairchild in readiness for your visit…”
I thanked her again and said that I was sure Scott’s mother would be happy for her to pass on her son’s measurements to Miss Fairchild. Then I called over to Scott who had been sulking in a corner of the shop, blissfully unaware of my conversation with the assistant.
“We’d better get a move on, Scott… mummy will be wondering why we’ve been so long... “ I turned to the assistant as we were about to leave, “Thank you for that information… it will be very useful…”
Once outside the shop Scott wanted to know what I meant about the ‘information’.
“It’s nothing to concern you at the moment, Scott…”
“Oh, please, Emily… what were you talking about? Please tell me…”
“I have to speak to your mother first and she might not want to tell you…”
“... but… but it’s not fair… Please, Emily, what’s it about?”
I felt it was time to make it clear to Scott that I was not about to argue with him; perhaps even to make it clear that boys wearing short trousers would be wise to remember how vulnerable their bare legs are… but then it’s not in the nature of boys like Scott to be wise.
“Scott Harris you may be nearly sixteen year old,” I said sternly and speaking loudly enough for passers-by to hear me quite clearly, “but you are still in short trousers and as long as you continue to behave like a spoilt little boy, you will be treated like a little boy. I have told you once that what I discussed with the lady in the shop is not for your ears… I do not intend to repeat myself… Do I make myself clear?!”
Scott was quivering with embarrassment; ashamed to be told off in public and reminded that he was wearing short trousers. He pleaded with me not to speak so loudly and kept repeating how sorry he was.
“Please, Emily… I didn’t mean… I’m sorry…”
“That’s as maybe, Scott, but when I get you home, mummy is going to hear all about this behaviour and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you didn’t end up with a smacked botty!”
Scott, his eyes on stalks, looked about to see if anyone had heard what I said. There were indeed a couple of ladies who stopped and smiled. One “tut-tutted” and asked: “How old did you say this boy was?”
“Scott is nearly sixteen,” I replied, “Though you wouldn’t think it, the way he is behaving…”
Scott squirmed and tried to avoid all eye contact. He shuffled from one foot to another, rubbing his bare thighs together. As he fingered the hem of his school shorts, I talked to the ladies who were in no hurry to get to wherever it was they were going. They were clearly pleased to see a boy dressed so smartly, but in the end I had to tell them that it was time to get Scott home to his mummy and we parted.
Scott has told you how impressed his mother was by his transformation back into short trousers, so I will pause for now in my recollections of how I came to look after him.