The Tail That Wags The Dog

There’s no time at the moment for me to write what I want to. I have two reflections on parts of my life that I’ve experienced recently that I want to get my thoughts down in writing on, but it’s hard to find the time at the moment, especially as I don’t want my family walking past the monitor and seeing what I’m writing. I rarely get moments like this when there’s no one around.

I’m off from school this week as it’s half-term. So I’ve been occupied with other things, which includes the usual admin stuff for my brother’s football team. They’ve decided to change their name, so it’s involved endless work changing their website and letterheads. Fun.

But not much has happened beyond that. Life is good, and I’ve just realised that I don’t hate my family’s dog as much as I used to, or thought I would. This is a rather odd revelation. I was sure I would hate it. And I did originally, because it wouldn’t stop being a nuisance. But now I have discovered that it is has the most ridiculous quirks I could ever have hoped for, which allow me to torment it endlessly. Yes, it probably is a little cruel, but I can’t work it out. Its tail wags incessantly as I chase it around with an old bugle I found in my gran’s house – the one I used to play all the time and annoy the neighbours until my gran hid it.

Then there are the “birds feet” – small tongs off our old coal fire that we don’t use any more. But when pushed together they make a good chattering sound, and the dogs hates those as well, barking like mad, pulling the strangest expressions and showing its teeth, like Cujo.

This is a house of torments. This family likes nothing more than to annoy each other. It’s probably why most of us have very short tempers. So it doesn’t surprise me that the dog gets its fair share too.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine who I worked with last summer in the USA is over in London for a couple of months and insists I visit. They don’t really know that the distance is not really something I can cover just like that, especially as I don’t have a car. So it’s looking quite unlikely at this stage that I can be there for their birthday, but I will be down there at some point, probably doubling up to look for houses for next year as well. Urgh. Joy.

But overall things are pretty good. I think I’m going to my parent’s caravan in Wales for a few days from tomorrow. It’s always nice to get away for a while. I just wish the weather would improve. It’s sunny, yet it’s cold. It’s almost like a winter’s day. Daft.

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Youth Review: 14-15

As far as life was going, it was pretty average. I felt slightly out of place, because I didn’t feel like I was conforming to the stereotypical teenage template that society had set for me. I was strangely expecting I would just two years before, but there was no sign of me changing into a more aggressive person. I was determined, and focused, but I was also determined not to expend too much energy in pursuit of my goals.

But Year 10 in school is not one with any particular goals. Well, on the whole it wasn’t. I was put into the “express” maths set, as for some reason my school decided that me and 11 others should do their maths GCSE a year before everyone else. So while every other GCSE subject in school slowly got underway, the frenetic pace of the endless maths lessons really got me down. There was nothing worse than knowing that Monday morning would begin with double maths, and then finish with another double at the end of the day. Our teacher was a very small, balding man with glasses on, and made himself the target for easy ridicule by the fact that when he was concentrating on something, his tongue would move out of his mouth and rest on his top lip. This provided endless amusement to us.

But the biggest change for starting Year 10 was the fact that the form groups were mixed up again. And also that the form groups combined together in different ways depending on the option groups you did. So that made school a lot more interesing: I finally got to be in the same class as certain people who I’d made friends with and yet never had been in a class with. The other great bonus was that my best friend from Years 7 and 8 came back into my form group in Year 10. The rest of my form group wasn’t as interesting, including a couple of people who I thought were moronic, and they weren’t impressed with me either. But I met lots of other people, and an opportunity opened up to be in the same class as the “Tory Boy” who I mentioned in the last Youth Review… the new kid who entered school was just as interested in politics as me.

I was in his class for Business Studies and Maths. I had only heard rumours of his shiningly confident personality from other people as I’d never spoke to him properly before. But at long last, I got the chance. He was from a pretty well-off part of town, so I was not quite so sure I wanted to mix with a “snob” – as I saw it at first. But it was difficult to resist. I was astonished by the fact that he was, without a doubt, an individual. There was only one of him. He was exceptionally outgoing, to the extent that he knew more people in the school than he didn’t. He was fearless in his language, quite happy to argue, and yet would always come out the winner. I wondered how the hell he wasn’t bullied. He drew so much attention to himself at a time in school when it was best to keep your head down. He had character.

I always compared myself quite unfavourably to him. I slowly established a good friendship with him, and we got into some rather heated debates about political matters. He would normally win, but it was really good practice for me. I enjoyed it a lot, as it gave me the chance to sharpen my argumentative skills – something which no doubt has helped me become who I am today. It solidified my interest in politics for certain. But I couldn’t go as far as he could. I couldn’t be so overtly outgoing because I was not confident about being the centre of attention. Whereas he loved it.

As the year went by, me and him became really good friends. He was a great laugh, and I was somewhat in awe of his abilities. If anyone tried to criticise him, the insult seemed to rebound back at them. I wanted that for myself.

I made the decision. I had to try to learn to be more confident. I knew it was holding me back. The decision was crystallised when I had to give a speech to my English class and battled the night before with panic attacks. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t stop thinking about having to go up to the front of my class to talk to everyone. Then I’d start blushing and look stupid, shuffling my feet and looking at the floor. It would be like being back in Year 7. In the end the speech went fairly well, and wasn’t as badly as I thought it’d be, but it left a mark on me. I knew I couldn’t get myself in such a state again. Somehow I had to learn to be confident speaking to a group of people who weren’t my friends.

Looking back, I’m sure everyone else in my English class felt the same. It was probably hard on all of us. At this age it’s quite difficult to motivate people to do anything, let alone make them stand up in front of their peers and give a speech. But I took it really badly, and so I had to learn to be more confident.

In that respect, it was very useful to have someone who I could consciously and subconsciously learn from. I was mostly in his shadow, but the New Kid was a source of ideas and inspiration for me to look to in my quest. I have no doubt this was extremely beneficial to me. I had no other role models of confidence or assertiveness in my life. Maybe I did spend too much time indoors as a younger kid that it affected my ability to socialise with others and so I didn’t pick up on some important life lessons. I’ll never know.

All through the year, the teachers would annoy us with threats of looming exams, tests and the dreaded coursework. Of course, the daft thing about it was the fact that most of our coursework was handed out to us. Teachers would give you the draft of almost everything and it when then be a simple case of producing something around their guidance. Then they’d mark it, and give it back to you for redrafting. So it was hardly a surprise that the coursework got pretty good marks overall.

My time outside was further restricted by the fact that the school library, which I didn’t know anything about, was moved to a more central location in the school. In the library were several computers… safely out of the glare of the idiotic IT teacher I hated from the previous year. So that, combined with the arrival on the scene of the internet, proceeded to reduce my free time even further. I would go to the library to try to sneak onto some e-mail service like Mailcity (because everyone else was on Hotmail so I tried to be different). The teacher banned every attempt at communicating with the outside world, so Hotmail was shortly banned anyway. There were even primitive signs of instant messaging appearing, and it was around about now that I first installed ICQ, although it had been going for some time before then. Then mailing lists like eGroups were banned… the fun was being sapped out of the internet at school.

So I managed to convince my parents to get the internet at home. It was only 56k modem, but it was better than nothing. I could only go on for five minutes at a time to try to keep the phone bill down, but it was worth it. In those brief five minutes I could get a lot of e-mails sent and posts to newsgroups made. But it would have been nice to get on for much longer…

In the library, I found myself getting roped into more and more things. It wasn’t long until I was an official library assistant, as the new library system allowed for computerised borrowing and returning of items. Being interested in all things computery, I couldn’t help but get involved. It felt good to have a job with some responsibility. Plus it also bought me some brownie points with the librarian, enabling me to get longer on the computers.

More exams were suffered at the end of 1999, but they were a distraction from the build up to 2000. I had been looking forward to New Year for ages now. 2000 looked so much better than 1999. It seemed to represent “the future” – something I couldn’t wait for. School still seemed to have many years left… and I hadn’t even begun to consider university then. It just wasn’t the done thing. None of my family have ever been to university, so it wasn’t really something I was being encouraged to think about. Probably for the best really… I don’t think I could have coped with any additional stresses.

Maybe I was expecting something to be radically different in 2000. The traditional family New Year party happened, and I seem to remember there being a number of similar aged females there who were friends of one of my distant cousins. I suffered some minor embarassment when one of them came up to me and kissed me while wishing me a happy new year. I didn’t know how to react, mainly because there were probably dozens of people watching me. Still, it wasn’t bad…

The party went on into the night, as they always do with my family. It always feels like a good way to start off the new year, safe at home amongst family with the alcohol, and normally vomit, flowing. There was the the usual bouts of drunken adults telling me what I should do with my life, and I listened, noted, and, at the time, ignored. Chances are though that now I’m doing exactly everything they said I would. Things have a funny way of turning out.

School was back shortly after to return me to the ground with a bump. After the optimism the year started with, it seemed a bit surreal to be back into the same old routines. I’m sure other people must have felt like that. Then the maths coursework started, which involved some field with hundreds of fences that slowly you could increase in number to produce the maximum size of land for sheep to graze on. Then it would almost look like a circle, and then something to do with pi… it was all very tedious, and it was all mostly written by my maths teacher and then we wrote it in our own words. The usual cheating on coursework. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re now thinking of changing the coursework system for GCSE. They worry about the effect the internet has had, but I think it’s a little deeper than that…

The year continued as it had before. I think this is the year that I really defined myself as a person. Compared with the battle of last year, trying to work out exactly who I am, this year was spent actually putting last year’s decisions into action. It was a long battle, but it was all about taking any steps in the right direction at this stage. It’s something I am forever battling with, but I can trace my attempts to put this aspect of myself back on track properly from this age. I couldn’t have done it without the example I was set by the New Kid.

Not much else needs to be said about Year 10. I had originally thought this would be a year where I would have a lot of targets to achieve, so it would help motivate me, but in the end most of the teachers left the hardest and crucial parts of the GCSE in Year 11. Instead, I just had the maths GCSE, which went well.

In terms of me, I think I did almost all the rest of my growth in this year. I’m pretty sure I remember checking my height in the school’s gym at being just under 180cm at this age. I really thought I was going to go bigger still, but in the end I only grew another centimetre or so over the next few years. That is a disappointment in hindsight, but I remember thinking at the time that it was an encouraging sign that I was going to go back to being one of the tallest out of everyone. Everyone used to say that being a vegetarian would stunt my growth because I won’t have enough protein. That didn’t seem likely…

The school year ended with a bang as my Business Studies teacher stormed out of the lesson after throwing a tantrum against almost everyone. He roared at the quietest girl in the class after she forgot to do her homework for the first time ever… “NO LAME EXCUSES!”. I managed to avoid the deluge, but reports of the teacher grabbing one of the more moronic students by the neck and demanding to know why he was such a prick are probably exaggerated. Still, it was an entertaining lesson, and the teacher was never seen again, storming off in his camper van… or “passion wagon” as my Spanish teacher called it.

I hoped Year 11 would be more conclusive. I wasn’t so concerned about my schoolwork, but I definitely was about me. I was so hoping to become a more confident person. I was when I was with my friends, but then who isn’t? But I was also one who liked to lead within my friendship circle. Not in a bossy way… I just had a way about me that encouraged people to follow. I would have liked to take a bit of that and spread it more widely. I knew it was possible, but it seemed extremely distant. It was so difficult just to engage new people, and you can forget about girlfriends, where the fear of rejection was just too overwhelming that I couldn’t even speak to them.

I had to do something about that. But I knew next year would be a lot tougher, as the pressures of exams would really take their toll. Maybe that would help, I thought. It was all character building, I suppose. And I’d find out that maths GCSE result in August.

I turned 15. It seemed a nice age to be. But 16 was the target. It just sounded better…

Back to School

After anticipating a farce on Monday, it was reassuring that my fears were put to rest shortly afterwards. Though no one did phone me back on the Monday, I once again had to chase up the school myself, and eventually got through on the Tuesday morning. Thankfully, no more time was wasted, and I started the same day.

I don’t know whether my local school is just good, but as far as I’m concerned, if there is a problem with discipline in the classrooms or a more general problem with the youth of today, it isn’t noticeable at the primary school age. I was in two Year 4 classes for the past two days, and even though one of the classes had a very good teacher and the other a not so good teacher, they were both extremely well behaved. Sure, they started talking every now and then, and had to be reminded what they were doing lots, and refocused on their work, but these are kids we’re talking about. What are we expecting? To take all the life out of them and turn them into droids at that age?

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in school the whole day, and it took me a short while just to appreciate how so much had changed. The teaching style, as far as I’m concerned, is far better now. The kids respect their teachers because they don’t talk down at them, and they offer them choices about how they want to work, and in some cases what they actually want to do: for example, for one hour of art the teacher introduced the subject of Australian Aboriginal art, and then the children were allowed to draw whatever they liked in the same style. During this lesson they clearly enjoyed it, especially as they were given the freedom to express themselves. There were no restrictions on where they could sit: some were at their tables, but others were lying down on the floor, or sitting at other desks. The teacher displayed a lot of trust in them, and the kids were more than happy to return it in spades. Very impressive indeed.

Then there’s the new technology – the interactive whiteboards. Computers everywhere, providing a much more enriching experience for the kids. Music, animation, and interactive elements, allowing the kids to go up and answer their questions on the board by touching the screen – it seemed to me they were getting a lot more out of it. Then the teacher could ask questions, and all the children would write their answers on their own small whiteboard, which they would then show to the teacher so they could see exactly who understood and who didn’t. A simple idea, but they always seem to be the best ones.

So it was fascinating enough anyway just to see what had changed and what hadn’t. I’ve not been doing anything that involved just yet, especially as it’s hard enough to learn what the kids’ names are. So far I’ve mostly been observing, while doing other general tasks like organising displays on the wall or some admin work, but these jobs allow the teacher to get on with teaching. I don’t mind as it’s an interesting experience to learn how the teachers interact with their classes. I hope I’m learning important lessons myself which I may use in the future. One of the things I’ve quickly grasped is that the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher can simply be the tone of voice. They might say exactly the same thing as each other, but if one sounds like they’re going through the motions, talking in a neutral way, while the other is positive and inviting discussion, then the obvious results will soon follow.

It’s been a really good two days. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen, and it’s made me feel really optimistic about the future. I’m going to carry on, so I’ll do three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This will give me loads of time to really test if I want to go into this profession, and some time off to do other things as well: which I currently have a list of around 10 to do.

It will also provide plenty of amusement, as the past two days have already testified. According to my sister (who is in Year 5), when I was at the assembly yesterday, her friends were all discussing if I smoked, because I apparently look like someone who does. And when asked if they knew who the special visitor who is coming to visit the school on Friday is, one of them quickly responded, “Is it Jesus?”. Not quite, but it will be the Archbishop. So only a few rungs of the ladder away.

Descending

I can feel a farce coming on. They happen with surprising regularity where my family is concerned, so much so that we often refer to a curse that follows us everywhere, spreading bad luck wherever we go.

I’m now safely back home. I said a fond farewell to the house in Hull that I had been residing in. A few of my housemates had already left, and there were only a couple left. One of them decided not to even get out of bed, which was somewhat bizarre. He normally gets up late, but given that he hadn’t emerged at 5:30pm, when I left for the last time, I rather think his lateness was deliberate.

It was a rather uncomfortable trip back, however. The car was jam packed with my stuff, and so I had to sit with things on my knee and generally in the way. And now it’s all back here, there is nowhere for it to go. So I have piles of stuff in my bedroom. Most of it I probably won’t even touch because it’s no use here, like plates and pans. So it’s just going to interminably wait, being the constant reminder to me that I’m not back here for that long.

But the farce that is descending is going to involve my supposed voluntary work at the local school. My mum was going to drop in a letter last week to confirm that I would be back shortly and would be ready to start today. But she didn’t do that, and instead tried to speak to the secretary, who is notoriously defensive of the headteacher’s diary. Indeed, she is well known throughout the parents as being the most obtuse person going, extremely difficult to get a message through to.

So it was no surprise that I was also to come up against her. I hate using the phone, and one of the reasons why is that which was again demonstrated to me today. Given that it was raining, and that I would probably be going round for no reason, I decided to call the school at 8:20am. I asked for the headteacher and was fobbed off with the usual “in a meeting” response. OK. So that may have been genuine. The secretary asked me to call back at 8:55am. OK. But that made little sense since the school started at 9am, and she would likely be very busy.

I called back anyway, trying a few times to get through the engaged tones. In the end the phone was answered by a man, who I’d never heard of before. He took my name and number and said he’d pass on the message and she would call back later today. I’m still waiting. But that’s not the problem. Why did the secretary, whose job it normally is to take messages and get people to call back, not bother to do her job? I don’t want to have to keep chasing people around… which is what I feel like I will. I have no idea who I spoke to the second time, but I have a strong suspicion that whatever note the person took, it will not reach its intended recipient.

So I’m back to square one. Do I go into the school or keep trying to call? The phone allows me to be constantly fobbed off and ignored. It is much harder for someone to ignore someone standing in front of them. It stops them trying to tell lies about how busy the person you’re looking for is, when the chances are they are sitting in the office behind them, or meandering around from job to job. I would rather go in, but the chances of me not actually achieving what I want are very high, given that people are generally teaching classes and not available.

Once again I’m in a silly situation. I am hoping, probably against hope, that the dilemma will be resolved by the headteacher calling me at the end of the school day and working something out. I hope so, because I’m eager to start. If I knew they were going to mess me around I would have picked another school from the local area… there are plenty of them. Worse is the fact that next week is half-term, so by the time I might eventually start in June, there is not actually that much time left for it to be worth bothering.

In the meantime I’m stuck in the house all day, doing nothing but washing dishes or watching BBC News 24. I hope this doesn’t last long, because if it does, then I am going to seriously regret not going to America again this summer…

Youth Review: 13-14

Year 9 of school approached. The summer went by as they always do – very quickly – and sooner or later the dreaded “Back to School” promotions go up in shops around the country, filling school children everywhere with a sense of foreboding. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t go up immediately after the school term ends in July, but because they do it somehow makes the holidays feel shorter.

After the usual endless trips to shops getting school uniforms that are often too big so that you can “grow into them”, it was time to get the show on the road. I knew the classes were going to get mixed up for Year 9, so I was a little concerned that I was going to end up in classes with some of the people from my year who I wasn’t particularly keen on. On the other hand, it would get rid of some of those in my current class who I didn’t like.

There was also the chance I would be in a different form “name”. First year I was in 1C, then 2C the year after. Surely I wouldn’t be in 3C when there were three other classes it could have been?

Alas, it did turn into 3C. But the mix of people was largely to my benefit. Unfortunately I was split apart from my friends in my class, but in came some people who I had got to know from other classes, and several annoying people were dumped. My new form teacher was another Irishman… but he wasn’t quite as friendly as the last one. He would often stand at the top of the stairs which led to the Year 9 corridor and shout things like “Shirt!” to people who hadn’t tucked their shirt in. Yes, it was Year 9, and suddenly people tend to get a little rebellious in their own special way.

I detested the whole of this year though for the simple fact that I knew what I wanted to do. I was ready to make my GCSE selections now, but I would have to wait another tedious year doing terrible lessons like Art, with an utterly miserable teacher who I just couldn’t wait to see the back of. The usual drawings of “view from a window” were set for homework, and it was very tempting to draw the view from the window which simply looks at the shed wall. That would have been very easy, but chances are it would have got me a detention.

Another excellent reason to hate Year 9 was provided in the fact that the poncey private school I was in decided it would be a good idea if everyone did Latin for one year. This lesson was taken with yet another Irish teacher, and as far as I’m aware were based on a book that apparently many other Latin students use at this leve, detailing the trials and tribulations of a man named Caecilius. “Canus est in via dormit” is possibly the only phrase I remember from Latin. The boredom level was exceptionally high, and the disruption in the class was at rather unimaginable levels for a school like this. I recall the Irish teacher shouting at the same people all the time in exactly the same way. At this age what you need as a kid is inspiration from your teachers to keep the morale going into GCSEs. Instead we learned very little and enjoyed it even less.

There was one other choice we could make, and that involved taking a second language. Having already had more than enough of Spanish, I didn’t want to do French or German, for fear it would only confuse me. So there was another option, to do a City & Guilds course in IT. This option was generally on the table for the thickies who were failing languages miserably so they didn’t have to suffer any more punishment. So the teachers resisted my choice of IT considerably. It was not really an easy choice, since it would mean going back to do IT with the moronic teacher who “taught” me in Year 7. But I had enough to cope with with Spanish. Things had started so well in that subject, but they were now becoming rather challenging.

So Year 9 got underway. There was the usual shuffle of teachers as well, which made some subjects more interesting and others more boring. It’s hard to imagine the scale on which this must have influenced the choices I would eventually make for GCSE at the end of the academic year because the effects mostly go under the radar. But when I look back the subjects I picked were either because the teacher was good or because the course was genuinely interesting. For example, I had enjoyed History, and the teacher was very good in Year 9, but the course itself was deathly boring, and seemed much harder than others. Then there was Music, which I was starting to take a keen interest in, but the fact that I had endless bad teacher after bad teacher meant that I just didn’t get excited about the subject. If I had done GCSE Music, I’m sure I would have done A-Level, and I might have even started learning the guitar earlier. I then couldn’t be so sure that I wouldn’t have done a degree in it… which would have totally changed my life as I am now. Intriguing…

But everyone knows school isn’t for the teaching. It’s for the socialising. Well, that was the theory. I was quite a fussy person in terms of who I “fancied” in school. In fact, I was so restrictive that by the end of the year, while all around were engaging in fake relationships, I had not taken part in any. I struggled with the notion that I should try to remain individual and not fall into the usual teenage traps of going out with someone just to prove that I wasn’t gay (since “gay” was still a common insult at the age of 13). At the same time, however, the hormones were starting to flow, so it was tempting regardless of peer pressure.

The same hormones were also responsible for the usual effects of adolescence. I don’t actually remember specifically when my voice broke, but I am sure it happened during Year 9. All around me others were cracking into falsetto, and there were several whose voices were stuck permanently in it, making them the target of much ridicule. Meanwhile, I didn’t seem to notice any difference. Just one day I noticed that my voice was lower, and yet it had been for ages. I find it very annoying that I can’t actually remember it changing… as it’s not really something that suddenly happens. I can’t believe I never noticed my voice going through the transition like everyone else’s did.

In the same way I suddenly noticed that I was quite tall again. Hmmm. There must have been something distracting me during this time for me to never notice at all that I had grown about 10cm in a year. Suddenly I was taller than all my friends and wasn’t too far behind the tallest boys. This came at a good time, as I had begun to make weird calculations that, maybe, given how tall I was in primary school, I had already had a growth spurt. But it was OK. 1.6m became 1.7m… and I hoped there was much more to go.

Into 1999 I went, which was a very tantalising year, numerically. Now exceptionally close to seeing that incredible calendar shift, I was really looking forward to witnessing a moment in history. Maybe it was the impressionism of youth, but it just seemed like a whole new world was waiting to follow the new century. “2000” just looked new and fresh compared to “1999”. The modern world at long last, and it would be something to tell the grandchildren. There were sure to be big parties as well, which are always game for a laugh.

The usual exams occurred in December 1998, and the results came through at the start of January. Another good performance was recorded, and I wasn’t entirely sure how things would go this year with the new class. I’d guessed that the average intelligence had actually gone down… in which case I should move up the class. I did. By 1. 3rd in the class. I was starting to get the message that I could handle school pretty well academically. People would always tell me how intelligent I was… but it was pretty embarrassing. I didn’t like hearing it because I wouldn’t know what to say next. As an inarticulate teenager it’s quite hard to find modest phrases, so I would mostly look to the floor and shuffle around. I didn’t need to be told it. I just wanted to get on with things because I didn’t want to make other people look stupid.

So I tried to be unassuming. Teachers ask questions in class all the time, and I imagine most people know the answers but just won’t put their hand up. But someone would eventually, and in the end it would work out fine. But I mostly knew the answers, and it was best not to say anything. This wasn’t helping build my confidence up, though. It’s important to be able to engage the teacher in a dialogue, especially in subjects like English where there are discussions about character’s opinions to be had, for example. And while other people could do that, I would often have an opinion but just didn’t want to say it.

This was becoming the way in politics as well. At the time there were troubles in Serbia, with NATO bombing the hell out of the place. I didn’t know all the history, but the bombing scared me. I thought about elaborate plans which might eventually see this descend into World War 3, given the opposition of the Russians to the campaign. I could feel solid political opinions beginning to form in my head, but as before I couldn’t quite articulate them yet. I didn’t know much about the event, but the inevitable loss of civilian life – such as the graphic moment when a bomb with a camera attached films a train coming into view just seconds before it hits the bridge the train started to cross – made me question accepted wisdom. Was this really the right thing to do? Questions of morality entered my brain… followed by the politics. I can’t really pinpoint any moment that politics really became truly fascinating to me, as the seeds had already been sown years before… but the cumulative effect was there, and this was just another event that pushed me towards a permanent interest in politics…

So while everyone else was far more interested in the normal channels of teenage life, I had set down a terminal path of something far more sensible. It made me feel a little bit superior, as I knew this was an important part of life that it can take some time for a young person to appreciate. And yet I was beginning to get it, much before everyone else. I could think for myself, while everyone else was being instructed what to do by the media and other fatuous institutions. Maybe that wasn’t quite true, but it was a genuine belief at the time.

This interest was further heightened by the fact that someone new had joined my year… someone else who was very interested in politics, but looking at problems from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Suddenly I had a political enemy, one who it was easy to dismiss as “Tory Boy” because the insult carried such weight. Of course, it was not a good argument, however… so it made me think about politics even more.

This new penchant for independent thinking really started to suit me well. I started to snap out of the groupthink of teenagers and rediscovered my lost individualism. This was a crucial starting point to being able to build some confidence, at long last. But that was still some way off. One thing at a time. I really started to feel like an emerging individual being. I took a dislike to anyone calling me “boy”… I was nearly 14, but I thought the tag was too babyish for me. Of course I wasn’t a man either. So who was I? It seems bizarre that we spend all our life assigning ourselves to groups, but it cannot be helped. It seems to be part of the human psyche to want to belong to a group, no matter how small or large.

One of my teachers supplied the answer to this newly emerging question of identity. I was beginning to reassign my identity, and the word “boy” was not part of it. So the solution? “Young man”. That seemed to work nicely. My biology teacher used to call everyone that, regardless of how old they were. He would like to tell us how he was going to treat us all with respect and as maturing adults. No surprise then that he was most people’s favourite teacher. I’ve said this before… but kids really can handle a lot more than people think. A teacher, or any adult, who respects a young person as an individual with conscious and diligent thought processes, perhaps sometimes expressed irrationally (but that is something the adult can help with, as long as they don’t patronise the young person), will get a lot of respect back. And this teacher called all the boys “young men” and the girls “young ladies”. That seemed to work.

So I thought of myself as a young man. I felt I had changed somewhat during the year within myself. Year 9 seemed to be the time of figuring out where I was in the world. I knew it was a big planet, but maybe I had a small role to play somewhere. The question was how to get there. School seemed to be as good a place as any to work this out. I made some new friends because of the group changes, which definitely helped me a few people came into the class who I wanted to be friends with but they were in other classes in previous years. So now my friendship circle had a different twist to it. I was quite happy with that.

Meanwhile, PE and Games were getting a little better. We tried some new sports, meaning we didn’t have to do bloody rugby every week. Hockey and baseball were fun new things to try out, and the changing room antics had begun to become a little bit more restrained as more and more people realised it wasn’t a good idea to draw attention to people’s differences, since it would only be noted very quickly that the original insulter did not exactly have a God-like body either. That aspect of school became easier, at long last… which was an important prerequisite before I could start to feel confident again.

The school year was soon coming to an end, which meant it was decision time for GCSEs. I celebrated the final Art lesson with immense glee, as the moment had eventually arrived which I had been hoping for since I first arrived at the school. Evil Art was gone forever… and into the dustbin of history also followed History, IT, Classics (and Latin, woo!) and even PE. The timetable was too tight for it, so I would only have Games in Year 10. Along with that I chose to do the sciences separately, rather than dual-award, and then added to that Geography and Business Studies. I liked the sound of Business Studies, as it was something different, but I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. But that was the extent of my “choice” as the rest of them were made up with core subjects. English, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, RE (was compulsory), Geography and Business Studies was the full line up, with English splitting into Language and Literature for the final exams.

Yet I didn’t know where any of this was taking me. They just seemed like good choices for me at the time. I was trusting my intuition to take me in the direction I wanted to. But as I commented at the start of this, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea given that I closed off the option of music, something which I now wish I had at least done, given how much I’m interested in that. At that age, though, there’s no real way of knowing how much impact these decisions were going to make, especially as the teachers would always play down their significance.

Either way, I was glad to see the back of the final “wasted” year. I had one more tedious set of pointless exams to go through, and then next year I would be able to settle down into doing the subjects I (sort of) wanted to do, combined with a feeling I was actually working towards something. Achievement was now actually going to count for something, which could only help with motivation.

The cap was finally put on a good year when I got my exam results back. After my steady rise from 5, 5, 4, 4, 3… in class positions, I finally managed to secure a hallowed 1st in the class. And this was the last time class positions would be worked out. It felt good to “retire” as champion!

My 14th birthday arrived. 14 felt much older than 13 somehow. I’ve already talked about how many changes I felt happened in this year. And I felt I was a young man. But there was still a long way to go, and much was going to keep changing in the final two years for GCSEs. It was also going to keep getting harder. Worse was the fact that having secured 1st in my class, the expectations from teachers were now exceptionally high. I wondered if I could cope with them…

The Clearout

There is something mightily satisfying about rummaging through all the accumulated possessions one acquires over a period of time. But the best part is the “why the hell did I want to keep that?” moment of realisation that often creeps through my mind.

For example, the drawers in this desk that my PC is on contained a number of things that I’d find it difficult to get rid of. For example, two old diaries from years gone by (well, 2004 and 2005). But it also contained an empty A4 pad. Probably the first one I used at University. But I can’t for the life of me work out why I would have finished using all the paper in the pad and then put it into this drawer of sentimentality. It was probably a mistake. It’s essentially a piece of cardboard. Maybe I could smell my fear as I did my maths assessments last year on the paper that used to be reside inside it…

I doubt it. So that was binned. Joining it in the recycling pile were endless wodges of paper concerning me moving to Hull in the first place, and all the other stuff relating to me joining University. Then endless “How To Write An Essay” guides that I’d stuffed away and have not looked at since. The problem is that almost every module likes to give me this kind of stuff, so I have a habit of filing them away in the hope that one day I might look at it. Then when it comes to writing essays I tend to do them in the way I’ve always done it – taking lots of notes from lots of books and then spinning it all together. It seems to work. Maybe I should be writing these guides instead. One particular lunatic lecturer (who has now sadly moved on… to another University) produced an 80 page (it could be more, I forget) guide to writing an essay. One of these was distributed to every first year. Won’t somebody think of the rainforests?

So it has been quite liberating to unburden myself of masses of rubbish. There is also the occasional diamond in the rough, such as finding letters from my family, or looking back at old photos that I’d brought with me. I have managed to organise my paperwork into three piles: the urgent stuff, the stuff that might become urgent, and the sentimental stuff.

Sentimentality is a strange concept really. Chances are I’m never going to look at any of these things ever again. But I can’t chuck them out. I used to hoard a lot more items than I do now (see first paragraph!) but I suppose keeping old cinema tickets and essay submission receipts is still taking it a little too far. It does, however, contain a copy of The Independent newspaper on the day I first moved to Hull (September 11th no less) which was a fascinating discovery. I’d totally forgotten I’d kept that. That newspaper kept me company on the drive to Hull as I left home. I’ll never be able to get rid of that. I suspect I’ll write more about that when I finally get to Youth Review: 19-20.

But it’s taken me two days to sort my stuff out. I’m now extremely close to finishing, but I don’t have enough boxes, so most things are stacked up, waiting to put into something bigger. I don’t feel particularly sad about leaving… in fact, I’ve been waiting for this moment for ages now. I’ve already said goodbye to one of my housemates, who left earlier today. I’ll probably seem them again at some point, or maybe they are going to turn into another promised future reunion that never happens, adding more people to the list of those we cross paths with in life and then never see again.

So the clearout is spanning not just the physical, but also the emotional parts of my brain tied to this location. They’re all being disconnected… it’s hard to believe that I have spent nearly two years of my life in Hull, and I’ll be back for another one next year. It’s never really been a home, but I’ve become quite fond of the place. Including the bastard who drives up and down the tenfoots on his 4mph scooter making a hell of a noise. But this year has been much better than the last, and I am really grateful of that. Now I have to go upsetting the peace I’ve made to continue going forward in life. I suppose that’s just another lesson that we all have to learn, and it’s one I’ve definitely accepted since I came here.

My life’s possessions, both useful and not, are slowly gathering near the door of my room. Tomorrow, they will pass through it and out of this house for the final time. Essentially, I’m moving back home… which is a strange thought. Then I’ll be moving back out again in September. Then I’ll be back May 2007, only to leave again in the following September. And then I’ll return once more in May 2008.

And to think my mum thought I was gone for good in September 2004…

Youth Review: 12-13

If there was one year in school that I really can’t remember anything about, it’s Year 8. I think of Year 8 as possibly the most pointless year in secondary school. There are no exams. There is no buildup to anything. At least in Year 7 everything was new and you were getting used to it.

Now coming towards the end of 1997, the novelty had worn off my new school. This was helped along the way by the fact that I moved into Year 8 and the form group I was in didn’t change. We just moved along the corridor to a different room and got a different teacher. The new form tutor was a rather strange music teacher, who seemed to be a little eager at eyeing the girls up and telling them that their hair was too long and needed to be tied back. Occasionally he’d scan the room for girls to tell off, and then he’d finish by telling a boy with slightly longer than usual hair that they should also tie their hair back.

I was going through a phase of avoiding the barbers like the plague. I don’t understand it, but I had a strange aversion to going there. Possibly the main problem was that my local barber seemed to be coked up to the eyeballs most of the time, and so while getting your haircut he’d like to engage me in endless conversations about very tiresome things. Having had a lot of my confidence sucked out of me by school, I wasn’t the biggest fan of talking to adults – the awkward silences were just too painful. So it was simpler to not go. So my hair mushroomed, and was rather Noel Gallagheresque… which made it even more difficult to go to the barbers, as he would often ridicule people who didn’t get their haircut often enough.

I mention this story because you would think that I would also have been told by my form tutor to tie my hair back. But he never did. I used to dread the moment when he’d do the hair scan, as I knew that one day I would be picked and the embarrassment would spread throughout me. Of course, it would have been my own making, but still…

Year 8 introduced a new subject which was not worth looking forward to. In came Classics, a very tedious subject indeed. I care not for Greek and Roman mythology, and I’m not even sure why they thought we would. Our vile Classics teacher would often ask us to spell the names of certain Gods or other random heros in the stories, and this would often involve using the letter H… which is pronounced “haitch” where I come from. Me and several others would often use “haitch”, and a screaming response would ensue: “There is nooooo… such letter… as hhhhhhhhhaitch!!”. Given that she appeared to get seriously wound up by this, I would like to drop in a “haitch” as much as possible, something I still enjoy doing to this day because it annoys one of my housemates. Who would have thought people get so worked up about such things?

Classics moved into the timetable and replaced IT. As I said in the last post, IT was boring me silly because there was far too much time spent writing stupid notes about “analysis of the problem” than actually doing and learning. For sure, there are many poor teachers who do not understand that often the best way of learning something is by doing it. Our IT teacher was allergic to letting us do anything, and would hold our hand as we loaded up Microsoft Word for the fifteenth time. He seemed to think we were about to break the computers, despite the fact that he’d implemented the most draconian restrictions on what you could do with it as possible. The start menu contained no more than a handful of applications, and you couldn’t even right click anywhere. It was good to see the back of that moron. As I understand it, he still works there today, as fascistic as ever.

The suffering of more exams was felt at the end of 1997, and they seemed more intense than ever before. I’d had a shuffling of the teachers for some subjects, and probably to my disadvantage, which made most subjects become even harder than before. So I had to spend even more time revising… but it seemed to pay off, as the results came in and I’d moved up to 4th in the class. Not bad at all. This resulted in a trip to Pizza Hut to celebrate.

1997 was a good year. My interest in politics had now come to the surface with the election in May. Everything felt so positive, and the rise of New Labour would deliver a better Britain. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way… but I was still 11 at the time. My mum and dad let me stay up all night to watch the election coverage, which was a lot of fun, and I hardly miss an election since then. Yes, I am that boring. So the future looked quite bright…

Into 1998 we went. I was now pretty excited of the prospect that a whole new century was just around the corner. Talk of Millennium Bugs and things like that was clearly designed to scare people into getting expensive software upgrades… but it made that step into the unknown seem even more exciting.

I wouldn’t say I hated school, but I was very jaded with it. The woes with PE and Games continued, and each week my mum and dad would promise me that “one Tuesday” in the future I would get the chance to miss it… they would write me a note or something. I hoped that this day would come soon. It never did, of course. It’s one of those things parents tell their kids just to keep them going. I understand why they did it, but it still hurt to put up with the usual sillyness of not being able to enjoy physical activity. The daft thing was that, apart from gymnastics (which was, of course, utterly “gay”), I didn’t mind PE that much. I loved badminton, and volleyball was pretty good. Then we’d get the chance to go in the gym to use the treadmill and rowing machine, which I quite enjoyed, mainly because of the statistics about how far I’d walked or rowed. But PE was spoilt by the fact that I still had a complex about getting changed in front of other people, and I was still in the class with the Vindictive One. The wedgie rate had now decreased, and I still never suffered one, but it didn’t remove the fear…

In this year, also, I managed to expand my friendship circle into a few other classes. I wasn’t entirely sure how I managed it, as the form groups hardly ever socialised with each other. But it was nice to have two new friends… just some new people to talk to, which helped improve my confidence. These two new friends were also rather instrumental in a very strange piece of fiction me and an existing friend were already writing. Each lunchtime we would meet in the library and bring “the books”… where we would sit back and spend half an hour writing our endless Star Trek spoofs. It was more like improvising a play as each of us took a character and added lines to the script. It was probably from this that I learned to enjoy writing… but that’s something I’ll return to.

The Star Trek spoofs were a useful creative relief. I used to be an imaginative child, making treasure maps, cutting things out of newspapers, building things with Lego and inventing weird games with my brothers. But that seemed to evaporate from me. Those kind of things are eventually seen as being too “babyish”. It baffles me where a kid picks up ideas like that, but I did from somewhere. It is the unspoken hand of peer pressure combined with the expectations placed on us by society. We just have to “grow up” and grow out of things, normally when we don’t actually want to.

School chundered on in its interminable way, moving towards yet another set of exams in the summer. Homework levels were reduced as revision replaced it, but I didn’t really care. I was going to be 13 in July. At long last I would be a teenager. We make a big deal out of these arbitrary dividing lines as a society, and I see through them all now (hence why I couldn’t care less that I’m 21 this year, although turning 20 last year had a major significance)… but at the time I was really excited that I would no longer be just a child. My identity would now expand to include the word “teenager”. I thought back to how I imagined I’d be as a teenager the previous year – conforming to the stereotype that was now rampant thanks to Harry Enfield’s “Kevin”. But I didn’t recognise myself in it at all. In fact, I struggled to work out what had changed in me in the past year. I wasn’t even convinced that I had grown any more… as I was still a good 10cm shorter than the tallest girls in the class.

But I had exams to deal with first, and they soon came and went. Another 4th place in the class was good enough for me given that I’d lost a lot of motivation by the fact that these tests were utterly meaningless. I also managed to entertain a kid in the year below me by showing him the Star Trek spoofs as we sat next to each other every day during the two week exam period. This got me thinking that maybe people would enjoy this scripts… maybe writing was something I should consider. Word began to spread about these infamous stories…

13 arrived. A small sigh of relief after all the anticipation. Society was telling me I was entering into a turbulent time, and I believed it. Only when I look back now do I realise that in fact I had already entered a rather upwards/downwards spiral of life. The transition to secondary school brings with it a lot of change, just at the time when your brain is starting to reel with all the massive implications of how large the world is and how small a person you really are. Adding into that all those new connections being wired up in the brain and the confusion of adolescence, and it’s not surprising that people are now having to grow up much faster than they used to.

But I was surviving. And it was all being chalked up to experience. I felt more like an adult than ever. I felt really sensible, mature and filled with common sense. I had gained in confidence ever so slightly, and I was starting to figure out the kind of personality I had: mildly cool through slight traces of individuality that were beginning to emerge, coupled with a sensible head. Maybe too sensible.

I had heard much about the challenges of Year 9. I was looking forward to testing my personality out.

All Over Bar The Eating

Yesterday morning’s exam was a blessed relief. I’ve never been so excited to do an exam before, which is rather strange. But the outrageous wait I’ve been suffering just for it meant I was just raring to go when the time came. In what were quite possibly the quickest two hours of life, the exam went very well. It amused me endlessly that the person sitting to the right of me during the exam, who was during “The Buddhist Tradition”, spent a whole hour looking at his exam paper and then proceeded to leave without writing a single thing. The daft thing is that you’re allowed to leave after 30 minutes, so I don’t quite understand why he thought he should wait until an hour was up. It looked to me like he was wasting his time at University. Sounds like a familiar story to the one I put up with last year…

Anyway, it is time to celebrate. Exams are now done. The weight is lifted, and I now have a, hopefully, interesting summer to come. I got my mark back for my research project, and was very pleased to have got 70% in it. With weighting for the other piece of work I had to do for it, it comes out as an over 69%… desperately close to being a First without being one. Bugger. Oh well. It will keep the averages high in the case of any other disastrous module result.

Tonight me and all my housemates are going for a meal at a vegetarian restaurant. I’ve been informed that it’s £12 for an all-you-can-eat bonanza. This sounds outrageously expensive, so I suspect I will have to stuff my face to get my money’s worth. It better be good. But I suppose I shouldn’t complain as it’s going to be the last “event” me and my housemates go to before we go our separate ways.

It is now almost confirmed that I am going home on Saturday. I’ll have to start packing soon. And a couple of my housemates have asked me to write “cheat sheets” so they know what to do to run the computer network, organise the utility bills, or even when to put the wheelie bin out. Some people…

So life is now very good indeed. I’m listening to much music, and I intend to return to my postponed Football Manager game later. Not exactly productive uses of time, but I think I deserve it.