Youth Review: 4-7

Last year I made a promise to myself that I would do a series of posts “reviewing” my childhood – or what I can remember of it. Of course, that one went by the wayside. But it wasn’t forgotten. Here we are now and I have decided that I must do it. I will cover up to the end of primary school in the next few days. Then I will work it out so that I will go up to my 21st birthday on July 9th, at which point I believe I should be writing the review of my 20th year on my 21st birthday. Pretty neat. That’s the plan anyway.

Really, this review is not really for anyone who may be reading. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do so I can reflect on my rather dull little life so far. Don’t expect witty anecdotes of those hilarious games of conkers on the school yard which were more likely to end in tears due to “accidently” missing and hitting the opponent’s knuckles. No. Because my memory is not that specific. I believe I have a very poor long term memory… so this will likely be a clutch of generalisations from start to finish. But like I say, it’s not for you. Expect it to be very long if you are actually interested…

I thought I’d start with chucking the whole of primary school together into one post, given my woeful memory, but when I typed this post out there was actually much more than I thought. So this is just going to cover my time in the Infants of primary school. I’d always thought that my first ever memory was going to school for the first time, just two months after turning 4, but I think that is actually a lie, as I’m pretty sure I remember what my playgroup used to look like, and I must have been 3 at the time. Innocent times.

Reception class is a haze. I only really remember being left behind by my mum for the first time ever – as my mum used to stay at playgroup with all the other mums. My primary school was built in the Victorian times (has now been demolished) and so the building was very old looking and quite scary. I went in with all the other kids and parents, sat down with my teacher for a story in the corner (Mrs McNamara was awesome), and no sooner had she started reading, I noticed a slight disturbance at the back of the class.

All the people who were at the back of the room had gone. My mum was amongst that crowd. She’d gone too.

There was only one thing to do in such a situation. Waaa. And waaa some more. The story had suddenly lost interest. A couple of others decided to join in when they realised we’d been done over by the Story Lady.

I didn’t stop whinging until I’d succeeded in getting my mum back in the room. Apparently the parents retreated to the classroom windows outside to assess the situation, while they fought for bragging rights over whose child loved them so much that the parent wouldn’t be able to leave without their child crying. It seems I delivered.

My mum returned, and I was told I’d see her later. In the meantime, I was told that the story from the Story Lady would be worth listening to, and to encourage that I should sit right at the front so I could here. I reluctantly accepted. The Educational Establishment won over another victim student.

Beyond that things get mega hazy for a while. Reception class disappeared in a blaze of playing with toys and reading books about animals that could talk. However, I do recall one rather nasty incident at assembly where I was talking to the person next to me, and my evil headmaster grabbed hold of my arm and dragged me across the floor until I was sitting way in front of everyone else. My elder sister, who was in the school at the time, told me she nearly shouted at the headmaster… which would have been a recipe for disaster. I think it’s a bit much to expect a 4-year-old to not be distracted while the head master rants for half an hour. I’ll never forget this incident… not only was it embarrasing, but it was painful by the way he dragged my arm.

The next year, middle infants (Year 1), went by rather quicky, although my teacher Mrs Dundon was amazing. She was almost grandmotherly in her teaching manner, and the whole class loved it. I think I must have done something right that year because I won the Attainment award for that class, which resulted in a gift of a Children’s Enyclopaedia that I still have to this day.

Outside of being taught, the playground was where the real development was going on. A large, fenced concrete space with little other than snakes, clocks and hopscotches drawn on the ground was not exactly conducive to fun, so playtime required a lot of imagination. I had a few great friends (who will remain nameless) who I hung around with playing Batman and other random chasing games. Hopscotch was “obviously” a girly thing, so we avoided that section of the yard. The school sign which was on the yard was also fun for endless swinging around. Then the trend for marbles (or “ollies” as we used to call them) began, and so began the first elements of competition between each other… I had to have better marbles than everyone else. I would often find them hidden in strange places around the playground where other kids would have hidden them because they can’t bring them into class. I’m sure I must have stolen all the marbles I had because I don’t ever remember being given any by my parents…

But the games were all part of the vital social development that goes on in school. As you notice other people exist (this is a difficult concept for a young child to get their head around), you also notice that other people also have feelings, and worse still, they may actually be better at some things than you. As I progressed into top infants (Year 2), I began to realise this when football games started to randomly break out across the yard and I wasn’t invited to take part. Being not a very active child, and never really playing that much football, I had almost no skill whatsoever. Sometimes I would manage to ingratiate myself with the Ball Owner (and thus the Official Person Who Decides If You Play Football Or Not So Don’t Do Anything To Piss Them Off) that I would get a chance. Many people often remark how they were last for getting picked in things, but I’m sure most of them must be misremembering because only one person can get picked last. I was the last to be picked – all the time. It was annoying, of course… but I just got on with it.

Eventually, I started to lose interest in trying to keep these people sweet. It wasn’t worth it, and more often that not I ended up getting knocked over. So football was abandoned, and I tried to think of more interesting ways of passing the playground time.

In class, things were starting to get more difficult. My new teacher (Miss Burwood, I think) was good, but we kept doing lots of these random questions at odd times with no one to help you. We’d never seen these worksheets before which also heightened the suspicion. We had got used to the kind of things we were normally asked, and this was no question sheet about how many pennies in a pound. No sir.

You see, you just can’t fool kids. I didn’t know it at the time what I was doing, but I knew something was definitely different about the work we were doing at the end of Year 2. Of course, I was doing the government’s much celebrated Key Stage 1 tests.

The rather odd thing was that the tests were done in such a way that half the class would do them while the other half would go down to Year 1 to join them to sing songs and play games. So obviously if you were being tested that day it was an extraordinary injustice to miss out on going back in with the babies. Oh yes. Even by the age of 6 I was starting to feel like I was growing up too fast and wanting to go back to the lower years where all you did was play games. I wish it was like that now!

But this led to a strange development. Being a Catholic meant that it was almost time for us to take the sacrament of Holy Communion. This would happen at the end of the year in the local church, and part of the celebration would be for some of us to sing. Seems like those singing sessions with Year 1 were also a thinly-veiled “X-Factor” kind of audition, with the teacher playing the piano also sussing out who would be the ones successful to pass through to the final.

I passed. And I was told (not asked) that I would sing the song “We Lift Up Our Hearts To You”. Few have probably heard this song, but it’s a typical Christian funereal dirge… you know, here we were celebrating a fine event in our childhood – and religion was a big thing to me at the time – and we’re singing a song that is so utterly morbid that I just couldn’t do it.

Me and three others were chosen to pick the song, each of us doing a verse as a solo and then all together at the chorus. I hated it with a passion. When the time came to rehearse I refused to go down to the classroom and tried to hide. This got me into a wee bit of trouble, and the Evil Headmaster (who was a nasty bastard) had to tell me off for refusing to take part. But they couldn’t force me to do anything. I sort of knew my rights, even then.

My mum had to get involved and she came in and talked to the teacher to express how much I didn’t want to do the song. The teacher was obviously just wanting someone good to sing the song, and she liked how I sang, so she insisted on coming to some arrangement. I was asked to join the teacher and my mum for a mediation session… and we eventually decided that I would do another song. This was a mighty relief. I didn’t actually mind singing. I just hated that song.

So I got me a solo performance instead! Perhaps my strop was in fact demanding to be centre stage rather than with three others singing a crappy song. Instead, I got to sing a song called “Dearest Lord” – which according to an internet search doesn’t exist. It was to the tune of Edelweiss, so it is possible, I suppose, that the teacher made up the words. I remember all the words to this day.

It was a nicer tune, and I accepted it. When the day of performance came, I was as nervous as hell. To stand at the front of the church on the altar in front of hundreds of eyes was utterly nerve-wracking. But I did it. And there is even video footage to prove it. The applause at the end made it all well worth it, and my mum claims that there were tears in several people’s eyes, but I suspect she is just covering for herself…

So it is definitely from there that I first gained a love for performing. It would take many years before I would come back to that ambition.

Meanwhile, the school playground popularity contests started hotting up. Starting to gain in confidence, and inspired by the Grand National (it’s very weird where kids get inspiration from…) I decided that me and my friends would play “horse racing” across the grassy section of the yard where we would do PE in the summer. The tracks were already laid out, so all it would take would be to assign horse names to everyone, put them under starter’s orders and then just watch everyone run up and down… and then I’d declare the winner at the end. I’ll never understand why this was so popular, but it appealed to my sense of organisation. I got to tell people what to do. I wasn’t a bossy child by any means. I don’t know, I think the idea of giving every horse names and organising real races instead of the random sort that would crop up across the yard, so that everyone could fairly compete with each other, seemed to command a bit of respect. Hey, it made me a few friends so I enjoyed it.

So Top Infants was probably the best bit of my school life up to that time. I’d well established myself in school… had several good friends and was doing pretty well. At home, I had a brand new brother, and my (elder) sister was always getting me involved in rather strange games and reading to me. I barely noticed what my mum and dad got up to, but all was well. Definitely happy times. So a very high benchmark was set for happiness in my life. Something worth revisiting in later editions, I think.

This brings us up to the summer of 1992. John Major won in a General Election… and I remember my parents being furious. Even then I was interested in politics, and as part of the fun I made my own “ballot papers” which not only gave you the opportunity to vote, but also told you who to vote for and why. Robert Mugabe would be proud. One of them says “Dont vote Conservative its a con” – exact quote. My mum kept them and I still have them today. I didn’t have a clue about politics obviously, but I picked up bits and pieces from my mum and dad and the news they watched… enough to know that John Major was bad, and Neil Kinnock was an idiot for not winning. Looked like another one of life’s competitions to me… and that was the message I was getting – that the competition in the playground doesn’t stop when you leave it. Adults are also involved in it too. A sign of things to come…

By now, I’m 7 years old. And that seems like a good place to stop. Infants was now over, and I would be moving up to the Junior yard in the autumn. Life was already moving on, and I had to go with it…

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