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When was the last time you bought a pencil case, a sharpener and three pencils? Unless you’re a bit of a stationery fetishist (and a website called ‘stationery fetish’ actually exists) it must have been a good few years ago, back in your primary school days. I found myself buying these items only last week because, and I’m finding this quite emotionally painful, my eldest son is starting school in a couple of weeks.

I don’t know why, but I’m devastated. I was never a big fan of school, even primary school, so in one way I pity the poor little fellow because he really has no idea that the next fourteen years of his life will be spent trudging in and out of classrooms. (I’ve been training him in the art of trudging and we’ve developed quite a convincing trudge. It has a slight limp, with a hang dog expression, and it should evoke much sympathy from bystanders.) But in another way, I have to confess that I’m affected with the emotion of seeing my little boy grow up. If ever there was a benchmark that reminds you of your own mortality, or the transiency of childhood, or all those other wistful themes of romantic poetry, it’s your child on his or her first day of primary school.

It’s difficult, however, to reconcile these feelings with all the other feelings I’ve had over the past four and a half years. I’ve spent a lot of my time wishing for the young lad to be older. For all those months he got up at five in the morning, I willed the time to pass so he’d grow out of it. For all those bottles I had to sterilize, I stood by the sink and looked ahead to when he’d be drinking from the milk carton and getting high on red lemonade. And don’t get me started on potty training; there’s an episode you definitely want to fast forward.

Yet I don’t want him to go to school, and as I stood in the local schoolbook supplies shop the other day I was overcome with feelings of sadness and fear and an urge to compensate these emotions by buying him all the coolest stationery I could afford. The primary school had issued us with a list of materials and books, but I was more concerned with finding him a hilarious novelty pencil sharpener than all that boring mathematics and English learning and what have you. While my wife discussed that sort of thing with a staff member who looked like he was still in primary school, I diverted myself with an audit of the store’s pencil sharpener range.

Is it just me or were there a lot more fancy pencil toppers a few decades ago? I seem to remember almost everyone in my primary school, except me of course, having really cool novelty sharpeners. Globes, Star Wars, robots, Coke cans, dustbins, and of course the original A-Team – there seemed to be no end to the cool sharpeners you could own. Except me of course, in case I didn’t mention that already. Remember those grey metal pencil toppers? The really dull ones? I had one of them. The technical term for it is a ‘standard magnesium alloy sharpener, wedge profile.’ And a common dare was to lick it. What? You’ve never licked the standard magnesium alloy sharpener? It’s worth a go, believe me. But that’s how deprived I was at school; I didn’t even have a trendy fun topper.

Anyway, back to the audit. I wasn’t too impressed by the style and variety of sharpeners, so I asked the shop assistant if they had any novelty ones. She said they did and pointed me in the direction of a fish-shaped topper with the sharpener in the head and the body acting as a receptacle for the shavings. How much? Just under four euro. So this quickly removed any sentimentality and I decided that if a magnesium alloy thingy was good enough for me, then it’ll be good enough for him. Later on, of course, as I was putting the pencils and the rubber and the other bits and pieces into his Transformers pencil case, I had to hold back a little tear. As a father of a boy, you perhaps worry a bit more about your young lad defending himself from any of the more aggressive pupils. So there was barely enough room to cram in the fizzy cola bottles, flogs, jelly babies and black jacks in case he needs to bribe his way out of a tricky situation!

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