Would You Kindly Excuse My Boy From Games Today…

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

Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People at Bloomsbury theatre and the end of the world show with Brian Cox at Hammersmith will be on sale soon

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40 Responses to Would You Kindly Excuse My Boy From Games Today…

  1. I was about to mention before you did in the final paragraph that you often find the people who were the bullies / lead taunters at school to have been enjoying the best of life that they would ever know while at school (for the most part – I realise that this is quite a sweeping generalisation, but then, I like ALL sweeping generalisations…), whereas the more interesting people weren’t settled in their own skin at the time – I just wish I had realised it at the time.

    Although impossible to answer, do you think you would have turned out differently (better / worse) were you to be welcomed at your new school rather than deemed as an “outsider”?

  2. Sounds not unfamiliar, both in terms of experience and worry about it happening again to my offspring. It would seem that some things are better now, either that or my kids aren’t spoddy

  3. oh dear, as one of those ‘others’ myself, I sympathise. I have only just recently been able to look back on school and actually wonder if it was all awful, or was if it was just me. That said, I’d never ever want to do it again. And I’m unsure what marks one out as other, I too experienced being moved into a class when the groups where already formed. Being the new kid isn’t easy. But in secondary school from the start I was still the odd kid, and I think many factors play a part….

  4. Pol says:

    This resonates so strongly for me, I couldn’t stop crying reading that as I’m sure you’ve summed up how my son’s experienced school thus far pretty perfectly. He’s definitely the “odd” kid and neither adults nor other children really get how he ticks…so he get’s frustrated, then labelled, which serves only to make him seem more different- big suburban infant schools don’t seem to really manage “different” very well, they’re not too hot on empathy either. Yet his twin Brother is the total opposite, keen to learn, loads of friends, enjoys playtime and learning time equally- he really doesn’t need me so much any more and I love to watch his growing confidence and independence. The other I just don’t want to take to school each day knowing I’m sending him off to not have a very nice time; we (adults) think of childhood/schooldays as easy, carefree times, but I think for a lot of children it’s complicated, and scary and not that easy at all….

  5. Absolutely. The worst thing anyone ever said to me was “Ah, schooldays, the best days of your life”. As parents and “grownups” we should avoid this deeply depressing phrase. My kids are all pretty happy at school but when they have encountered problems I have, from my limited resources of advice, been able to tell them that it does get better.

  6. Matthew McClements says:

    There is another way folks!

    Click to access article-autonomous-education.pdf

    A path followed by the parents of this girl:
    Of all the people to embrace this daring approach I would have thought Robin Ince would be well placed to make it work, I expect his lust for knowledge and enlightenment has an inherited element that would see his offspring making good within the appropriate environment.
    You should seriously look into it Robin.

  7. Pat says:

    Not only do I not believe that school days are the happiest days of your life, but I think everything about school is designed to thwart creativity, squash innovation, murder individuality and turn everyone into a clone of everyone else.
    Education has little to do with education and more to do with conformity.
    And the school gate is one of the most iniquitous places on the earth.
    And my husband used to be a teacher!!!
    (He pretty much thinks the same as me now.)
    But with a little rebellion, aided and abetted from home, children can and do rise above it.

  8. John D says:

    Another of the ‘others’ – always a little bit of a loner, I got separated from all my friends when transferring to upper school and found myself in a class full of strangers who all seemed to know one another. After enduring much bullying, I transferred to another class with some of my friends in it but was now marked and, though not horrific, school life was always difficult. Life has, slowly but surely, steadily improved in the three decades since leaving school.

    • robinince says:

      what worries me are the few children who get to the point of thinking, “this will never end” who may well then attempt self harm or even suicide. I remember reading some years back about a girl of 11 who killed herself. She was bullied at school and her parents were also bullied by neighbours. She must have imagined no other life but being bullied. Horrible

  9. Secondary school was easily the worst days of my life. I got bullied some of the time but mostly people felt it best to avoid me for being a bit “away with the fairies”. It’d be more accurate to say I was stuck in a book. I didn’t really mind when people were mean about the way I looked or silly things I said but they way kids laugh at each other for being enthusastic about a subject really ground me down. Also, in the words of Jeffrey Lewis, it felt as though “everyone but me was making out and eating cookies”. It wasn’t fun, but at least it left me with a passion for reading and learning which will probably be more use than being able to do a deccent rolly poley in the long run.

  10. helen10pen says:

    I’m sorry you had such a rubbish time at school, I do know a little of how it feels, but luckily it was not too bad and not for too long. I also had a teacher I felt I could talk to, so that helped.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard ‘Nerds’ by Bo Burnham but it is about him feeling left out at school. He says, to all those who are left out & feel alone, ‘I got your back kid.’ There’s also a good/poignant anti arts cuts message.

    • robinince says:

      In the end, i think I am quite happy I had a rubbish time at school. those years are so long gone and any relief from nostalgia is probably a good thing.

      • Matthew McClements says:

        We’re so programmed to think there is no alternative and any suffering is ‘character building’.

      • helen10pen says:

        Good to hear. Also it suddenly dawned on me it looks like I was suggesting that Bo Burnham song in a kind of ‘hey Robin, feeling down about school? Well here’s a tune to let you know it’s okay, hope it helps make you smile!’ Not my intention, that would of been odd and also quite dire. I was simply reminded of it.

        Thank you for introducing me to Apple snails. Terrifically strange.

  11. Matthew McClements says:

    People, children do not have to go to school to receive a good education. (That’s if you live in the UK of course. Home education is still illegal in Germany, and several other european countries.) Many of the traumatic experiences of growing up can be lessened or avoided by not attending school at all.

  12. David Mooney says:

    Some interesting points, Robin and some fears I suspect all parents have. My school days were a bit of a funny time for me. I wouldn’t say they were the “happiest days” of my life, I’d suggest that was more university. I was never really bullied and never had too many problems, but I was the goody-goody who got straight A grades and was never in trouble. I don’t really remember a great deal, though, mainly because I spent the five high school years terrified someone might find out I was gay.

    But when I look back, I do miss them ‘care-free’ days. I didn’t have to worry about where my next job was coming from and where I was going to earn money. I had never had my heart broken and felt unhappy about falling in love with people who don’t feel the same way. I had a regular day-to-day life that I no longer have (nature of my job, I suppose, but the same will go for you as a stand up). I guess it’s that innocence of youth that I miss, rather than the cynicism I’ve developed as I’ve grown up.

  13. slatteroo says:

    I love that Bonzo song and I spent my year nine sports day learning to play it on recorder at the back of the sports field in between getting beaten up. (They never got the significance…) My school years were horrible. I had almost no friends, got bullied by the girl who ended up as head girl and spent pretty much my whole life in the library. Sadly, I was not yet in the circle where having read the complete works of Thomas Hardy was seen as cool. I also had (and have) a stammer which was used to great effect by my peers as summed up in the line “We’ll stop hitting you when you can say your name”. Now I do stand up and the same people I was at school with come up to me and tell me how cool I am – they’ve completely forgotten who I am and that they literally made me want to fall asleep at night and not wake up in the morning for eight years.

    The weird thing is that my little sister’s seven and wants to be an astrophysicist but is really popular – the whole class wants to send a probe to Saturn now and eight year olds go home to their parents quoting Carl Sagan. I would have just been thrown over the school wall into the next field. What I have learned from this is that kids are fickle bastards and that my sister is possibly the coolest seven year old in the world.


    • robinince says:

      really glad to hear that from the school horror you have come out as someone who is creating stuff, deemed cool not because you tried to be and that your sister has the makings of an astrophysicist

    • I’m an Astrophysicist, dreams CAN come true! And I can very much relate to the people at school coming up to you nowadays thing, it’s just bizarre… I suppose such events hold far less significance for the perpetrators than the victims.

  14. Gordon Jones says:

    I agree so much about everything in this. I was one of those others bullied so bad they took me out of school, far too late I might add. Now at university in a different county from my secondary school and things are really looking bright (student loan not withstanding) as I work towards my slightly impossible goal of writing for TV and I find myself taking a certain amount of pleasure from turning that secondary school into a legendary place of horror.

  15. Steve O says:

    This resonated with me intensely. I was bullied at school until I was 14, having the misfortune to be schooled with the same kids all the way through three schools. Being the sensitive, ginger haired, doe eyed kid who liked to read and write stories I was just asking for a kicking, wasn’t I?
    Now, as an always questioning, annoying parent of a toddler, I’ll be doing my damnedest to help my daughter make a better job of it than I did. Hopefully by making her happy in herself and as critically thinking as I am now.

  16. My Dad and uncles all hated school so much that even they cried when I went for my first day. Day Prison is an awful place but it made me who I am. I’m not convinced that there is an easy way to “fix” it or even that that would be desirable.

    I can still feel the sickening swell in my belly whilst watching Bullseye knowing that I had to go to school tomorrow.

    Sport however could be fixed. Once an adult I realised that
    1) Whilst there are lots of sports that I am still awful at – I’m not as bad as school-sports made me at them and that when played for pleasure with people at a similar level I actually really enjoy them
    2) There are a few sports that I’m actually quite good at.

    I really think they should take sport out of school entirely. Finish early on a Wednesday and take all Friday afternoons off and give kids vouchers for hobbies. If they want to do sports they can do it at proper clubs, if they want to go and do ecological research in rock pools they can do that instead or D of E.

    I saw people comparing these sorts of thoughts to letting kids who don’t like poetry to avoid that but that is assinign rubbish. Nothing, that happens to us as a matter of course, feels as humiliating or degrading as publically failing at team sports over and over again without the chance of redemption. Competition requires competitiveness and they may as well have made me race Usain Bolt or bowl against Kevin Pietersen as the boys I had to “compete” with.

    I’m not against failing in public as a learning experience. but when it is so monotonous and constant it sort of stops being useful.

    Good post. I am sure most of my friends would agree with you. Though i will admit that a bit of me always loved that I was an odd kid.

    • John D says:

      I really, REALLY hated sports in school but not sure I agree it should be taken out – just taught differently (and, if possible, without sadistic bastards in charge of it, encouraging bullying). There should be more of an emphasis on children to take part in whatever physical sports & recreation they enjoy rather than trying to achieve excellence through competition, regardless of what Cameron & co. think about that, if we want a healthy adult population.

    • Giles says:

      Failing in public for me happened in the English classroom too. Hated (and still hate) public speaking. Every time I do, I get worse!

  17. Julianna says:

    Very moving. Thank you.
    My son’s 11 and never been to school. There are so many resources now and clubs etc. to go to that make it much easier now to home-educate (though still not a feasible option for all). Terry Deary’s right I think: “I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street. Who decided that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating?…” Amen to that!
    Some kids like school, but fur those who’d be better off without it, there are choices.

    • Paul says:

      But Julianna, this is so sad too. You say: “Some kids like school, but for those who’d be better off without it, there are choices.”

      But in your son’s case, you made that choice, not him.

      I could not be more sympathetic to the many people above who tell stories of bullying at school. But for every child who was bullied (and indeed for every bully) there are hundreds of kids who had the most magical time at school, growing up with and learning from other children. School days may not, for everybody, be “the best days of your life” … but for the majority of people they are incredibly important as we try and find our way in this world. School is where we make friends, where we discover how to interact with people, where we find out how to make people feel better when they are down. It’s where we make mistakes, where we accidentally hurt our friends, where we eventually discover the fundamentals of friendship. It’s where we learn to read people, where we fall in love (sometimes twice in a week) and where we see the true variety of human behaviour on a daily basis in a way that we simply cannot comprehend in a book at home with our parents.

      My personal opinion is that schools serve a purpose way above and beyond teaching us maths, English, history and science. Their real value is in the way they allow us to discover ourselves in the company of others who are discovering themselves simultaneously. Learning about the world in the company of your parents – who have already done most of their learning 30 years ago and lack the curiosity of innocence – can never match that.

      That said, good luck to everybody in the decisions they make.

      • I agree, even having been to an all boys school stunted by development and ability to have relationships with women. Though I also think it is useful (academically) for boys to be seperated so overall I’m not complaining.

        Point being, if I was socially held back by that I would imagine having been “protected” from all the kids I had to find a way to rub along with that might also have left me less well pprepared.

      • Julianna says:

        Hi Paul
        No, no I didn’t make that choice at all. He did by not liking pre-school experiences and he’s always been given the choice to enter the system whenever he likes (he thinks he will in 2 year’s time). I’d much rather that school met his needs as I had no intention of home-educating. He goes to 6 teacher-led classes outside the home (of his choice, that he can leave at any time), plays in the local football team, plays tennis, I can’t keep up with his playdates. He learns what he wants when he wants, is never coerced…. Loves his friends, loves life and loves learning. It seemed a daunting risk to take but so glad we did.

    • Stacey says:

      I’m sorry I don’t quite understand, your child at age 11 decided with all of his life experience that school was not the place for him?
      That’s classic, I love it.
      Good luck to him may he be very happy and never have to do anything he neither dislikes nor disagrees with.

      • Julianna says:

        You’re right you don’t understand. I have to say that such dumbing-down attitudes towards children grates with me, unfair and unfounded that they are.

  18. Drew Aston says:


  19. Stacey says:

    Loving the erotic snail mating dance! I could only watch about 20seconds and then had to turn it off as I felt a bit rude watching them do such a private act especially as it seemed like such an effort on the males half. Poor guy snail.
    I was always given the new kid to look after at school, primary school anyway, secondary school I took the job on myself as I believed that was my role. I always thought the new kid was really special as I thought their parents really loved them as they were allowed to move schools. I was bullied as I was pretty and I hated school, so much so I missed about 4months in the last year, I went enough to gain good GCSE’s, but no more than was needed. I wasn’t allowed to move schools even though I asked regularly and my mum was aware I wasn’t going in as I was being bullied (she never forced me to go in as I got good grades anyway). The only problem with befriending the new kid at school is that they always have others friends that you don’t know and they have known longer than you, so even if you are their best friend at school you never feel quite as special as other best friends feel as you know inside that the new kid has a real best friend elsewhere and you are only a surrogate.
    School is one of the reasons I haven’t got kids as I simply would not inflict that kind of pain and torment on another human being. It wasn’t just that though, I did also watch Alien when I was about 7 so the thought of something growning inside of me scared the shit out me!

  20. Julie Taylor says:

    Home Education is a wonderful alternative to school misery. My only regret is that I didn’t remove my bullied sons from school earlier. It’s a growing community, and if you look into it you will probably find thriving support groups wherever you live, where parents and children can socialise and do group activities. Plenty of online forums and info too, eg
    Also, zoo, museum and other outings can be done while almost empty in term time! 🙂
    It’s also often possible to phone ahead to check that the venue hasn’t got umpteen school groups booked in that day.

  21. Matthew McClements says:

    Good to see Robin’s thread hijacked by growing voice of Home Ed!
    The more exposure the better.

  22. Stacey says:

    People are chatting about home schooling as a way to educate children and it’s a really nice idea, but I think kids need structure, discipline from people who are not their parents and relationships with authority figures other than their parents.
    Personally I rarely went to school due to bullying, which my mum was fine with as I home schooled myself. My parents were out all day so I got my school work and then went home, sat in the garden and did my work in the company of my ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, hamsters, cockatil, chipmunks etc. It was great, but as an adult, looking back, I think I should have been forced to go to school as I treat work as I treated school. When I wanted to go to work I did, but if my bills were paid and I didn’t think I would be missed (or it was raining and my bed was too snug and warm to leave) I wouldn’t go in, just like school. Sometimes, with no bye or leave, I would just stand up and walk out of a job if the ethics of a business bothered me and after I had given myself a week holiday I would just get a new job. I also have absolutely no grasp on the concept of authority, the only thing my mother has ever said to me is “I just want you to be happy” so I have always done what has made me happy and as long as I am happy she is happy, which is nice, but i’m not conforming with society and I think that’s what i’m are really supposed to be doing even if it makes me unhappy, just so I can relate to people and have a good moan with people, people really like to moan.
    Kids need structure, they need discipline and they need guidance from authority figures that are not their parents or they end up like me – Happy! Joking aside, from personal experience I really do think kids need the school instituation (I mean ‘institution’, but it made me chuckle so I left it in). It’s not just about the other kids and what they will learn in lessons, it also teaches kids the skills they need to be a good member of society.
    A team player
    A drone (honeybee)

    – I have no idea if I sound confused, sarcastic or sincere: choose whatever tone makes you happy

    • Julie Taylor says:

      Stacey – as you can’t go back and do things differently, it’s impossible to say what would have happened if you’d been forced to go to school. Maybe you’d have been better prepared for the world of work, or maybe you’d have been angry and rebellious, learn nothing and not been employed at all!
      Most Home Educated children these days go to a wide range of activities where they do receive input from adults other than their parents, and socialise and learn with other children. Many will go to further education colleges post sixteen, and so will experience group learning and teamwork in a more grown up environment than school, before university or entering the workplace.

      • Stacey says:

        If kids socialise and learn with other children doesn’t that open up the possibility to be bullied in the same way school does? In which case, what’s the point?
        You’ve given a very positive and optimistic outcome to home schooling, but as with everything there is two side. My friend apparently home schools her child as he had problems with school, teachers and other kids etc, but what’s really happening is that he’s working, he wants to be a woodsman (or something like that) when he grows up so he’s working for a timber merchant to learn all the skills he needs. If, when he’s a little older, he decides he wants to do something else he will be screwed. My friend went through all the proper channels to be able to home school her child, but she’s manipulating the system and basically isolating her child from other children and letting him do whatever he wishes.

  23. ..--..- says:

    Little kids can be such turds.
    Except mine, of course.

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