some people have been reading this post as a misery memoir, it is certainly not meant in that way. It is just a reflection of my feelings at my school years. Whatever lasting damage occurred is of no bother to me and has probably been a help in my career (it’s gone on long enough to call it a career now).
Last week my son began school properly. From now unto 2023, we are tied to the school holidays for zoo visits and seaside escapades. I don’t like the zoo in holiday time. I don’t mind it being hectic, but it is hectic with people who are only at the zoo because it is something to fill the time. I see people there who think nothing of smoking in front of the ring-tailed lemurs and who have no interest in the Apple Snails.
On the positive side, a lone parent now has six or seven hours to themselves, though as we know, tasks expands like gas in a jar to fill any available space in time. Negatively, the sense that your child is growing up and losing its dependence on you starts to prey and the first inklings of parental built in obsolescence nag. Don’t worry too much, anthropologists and biologists have written on the importance of the grandparent in tribal life, you will not be without a role (see Jared Diamond’s Why Sex is Fun which gives theories on the importance of the menopause).
My blot of fear as the holidays ended originated from memories of my own dislike of school. Would my child face each day with the same awful suspense that I did?
When I left school for the last time I was startled on the bus by a horrible thought “what if school days really are the best years of your life?”.
What if within months I would be looking back with a nostalgic smile to the years of fear, roll calls and regimentation? Would I be thinking, “oh to vomit in a hawthorn bush on the cross country run and have my head placed in a toilet bowl one more time”?
Alternatively, what if I remembered the daily nausea of school vividly, but found life beyond it even worse? Fortunately, neither came true. I do not recall a day I have hankered for repetitive sporting failure on a frozen day.
As we walked to school, I thought more thoroughly about my school days, had I always detested them?
I had not always approached the school yard trembling. I think I rather liked it when I first went. What changed? What was the turning point?
I think the first few years of jumping off walls with carrier bag parachutes and running round in a gym to Hot Butter’s Popcorn Song were fine. It was changing school at eight years old when things began to unravel. The Lord of the Flies years began. I was one of four boys to join the school when the tribes had already formed. How frequently pointless the ancestor inherited fear of the outsider is now, but still so potent.
These boys had no need of a boy with NHS specs and an awkward run unless they wanted someone to sing Oliver’s Army at. We four new freaks would have diseases named after us, to make it clear we carried the plague of not being there since the start. Any contact with me and you would have Ince disease (other diseases available included Calvert disease and Hagyard disease). No wonder Alan Frank’s Horror Movies became a book of solace (warmly spoken of by Mark Gatiss in History of Horror) and my obsession with cemeteries began around then (yet I would never become a goth).
These were the first years I sensed I was on the outside, too young for a Jimmy Dean sense of the cool of not being part of the mainstream, it was just the coldness of being one of the odd. While being tormented by Adrian Chorley, I lashed out with a fountain pen which went into, but not through, his cheek. In art class, while making yet another clay gravestone with a hand coming out of it, I accidentally (I think it was an accident) put a modeling knife into the hand of Robert Boughton. He went to hospital and modeling knives were removed from art class. These things gives you a reputation.
Waiting for the bus was where the tribal order was thrust upon us, or rather me. Tom Simpson, the older boy, would bait and belittle as men are meant to do (he’s a kind doctor now). Once at a barbecue, in a moment of fury, I threw some syrupy drink in his face and hair. This was a slow revenge, as it would only be a few days later that the eggs of the creatures drawn to his sugary hair would start to hatch.
I still wonder what marked me and some of the others out to be the Piggies of the playground? Was it only the specs of mine and the tatty jumpers or odd packed lunches of the others? Once the order was set in, the regime was easier to manage. Self-consciousness in place, the constant wariness of being watched meant limited sporting ability became even worse. Knowing they would expect a feeble kick or retrograde throw, the limbs stiffened to ensure the worst possible spectacle of shame. Sport seemed so important then, and failure in it so disgraceful.
So I worry, as we all worry, will my child be happy at school? Will things happen he bottles up and they’ll fester and depress him? Will he set morosely in graveyards from the age of eight? I hope not, but things are unavoidable with the minds we have and the behaviour we can’t shrug off a few thousands years after it has much use. My greater fear is that he would be the boy who would lead the others in a routing out of the speccy and different, and a great deal of that is up to us to prevent that.
Even now I know I have something about me that means the late night packs look at me as one of the odd ones – reading his book on his own while they all ridicule their absent wives before being upbraided on their retiurn and made to sleep in the garden as they’ve come home with sick on their shoes again.
With the distance of time, I increasingly appreciate being one of the odd ones, not too odd to find a place, just odd enough to make a very enjoyable living from the character traits and ideas I picked up while the others were toasted for their victories. When we are young we can worry that we’ll never fit in, that the classroom represents the full range of humanity available, once we are released we can see all the possibilities. I am so glad schooldays were not the best years of my life, it means I haven’t had to crick my neck looking back at the pinnacle of my life.
the title of this post is reference to this delightful Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2Jn1UvS8GM
I am back on tour now – mainly Happiness through Science (Swindon this Friday), but also a couple of Book Club shows (Sheffield and Saffron Walden) and some Angry shows with Michael Legge – details at http://www.robinince.com