Youth Review: 7-9

Being 7 brought with it a new experience in school – moving up to the Juniors’ yard. This came attached with the baggage of now being on the same yard as those bigger boys and girls in Year 6. Some of them liked to abuse their position of authority on the yard by being mean or saying nasty stuff, but I guess it’s all par for the course in school life.

Year 3 was not the most enjoyable year, though. My teacher was not a particularly good one, and that makes all the difference no matter what age you are in education. She was older and nastier and it basically told everyone in the class that the days of fun were over and now we had serious maths to get down to. Yes. It involved not just counting to 10 and back down again, but there were numbers far beyond that. This quite unnerved me. How would I cope with the discovery that some things in life are just so weird that you can’t ever hope to understand them?

As one of the best spellers in the class, I was both quite proud and rather annoyed that my spellings book contained just one or two words. In Year 3, if you didn’t know how to spell a word you would take a small notebook to the teacher at the front of the class and they would write in the word so you could learn it. Other kids had pages and pages of words… while the only entries in mine were for stupid words that I must have picked up from somewhere and just wanted to stick them into a story. So, just so I didn’t feel left out, I would occasionally go up and ask how to spell words which I knew I could spell – and so did the teacher… which resulted in a rather suspicious glance. I wasn’t very good at covering my obvious ploy, as instead of asking about words which you could conceivably forget at that age like “laugh”, I would ask for phonetic words like “sleep” and “zebra”.

It was in Year 3 that I also discovered the game of chess. My dad had always had a chess set, and I had always been curious about it, but at long last I was now deemed old enough to learn how to play. I found it a fascinating game, and I suspect it taught me a lot in terms of logic and strategy. I recommend teaching chess to all kids of this age! I would try so desperately hard to beat my dad, but I always made terrible decisions and would get thrashed every time. It was an experience.

So I joined chess club. My ambition was to get onto the Chess Ladder – which the chess club teacher had on the wall of her classroom. You had to play other people on the ladder and beat them to get on, but I never did. Chess Club was full of the older kids. I suspect constantly getting beat was teaching me some rather hard lessons about life, and now I’m quite impressed with my persistence. I doubt I could be so resilient these days. I’ll come back to chess later…

Year 3 flew by, and by Year 4 the playground antics had to become a little more civilized. No more Batmans, as it was frowned upon. I don’t know who was doing the frowning, but it was just accepted that “big boys” don’t do that kind of thing any more. But the marbles continued. And the football games were much more dominant on the yard, and much more dangerous too. I didn’t play them, but neither did anyone else in my year as there was no space for us. Year 6 had the properly marked football pitch – and woe betide you if you went anywhere near for fear of getting whacked with the ball – and Year 5 had created their own pitch on a smaller part of the yard against two walls.

Year 4 was much better than Year 3. The teacher was nicer – Miss Evans – and my life was beginning to take shape. I suppose it had already, but self-awareness is now becoming very high at this age. I was definitely one of the cleverer kids in the class, and I had developed some great friendships with both boys and girls, possibly through the fact that most of the “clever table” was girls so I had no other people to talk to. Of course, it still meant that we couldn’t play games with each other on the yard… that was unthinkable at this age, as, of course, Girls Were Gay. Yes. Gay was a very common word in 1994. Go onto a school playground now and you’ll find it is still the most common insult hurled at each other. Kids may change, but somehow the meme of ‘gayness’ as a childish insult is forever passed down our society…

I had also started to get a bit good at chess. So much so that I was entered into a local inter-schools championship. This involved a whole day at a strange school at the weekend to play chess against others. I went with a friend of mine who was also pretty good, so much so that he got a little boastful about it. I preferred to let my game do the talking.

The day was a strange experience. I didn’t know anyone there, and, not wanting to play football (the universal communication medium of kids), I ended up hanging round on the yard all day not talking to anyone. That was a difficult day and I wasn’t impressed that I had to go on it in the first place. I was as competitive as the next kid, but I often found it embarrassing, possibly because defeats were now becoming rarer at chess, and so playing could potentially ruin my good reputation I was starting to build.

But the chess itself was fun. I played 12 games… winning 10, losing 1 and drawing with the eventual winner in the final match. From my calculations I should have won the tournament, as the winner only won 9 games. The suspicion between me and my chess playing friend was that the tournament had been fixed because the kid who won was from the school that was hosting it. Bah. But I also beat my chess playing friend, which knocked him down a peg or two. During the game he was singing “Doo doo doo do do doo do… under pressure!” Obviously his parents were Queen fans. And then he lost. This was a great moral victory for humility.

I also took great pride in achieving a Scholar’s Mate on one of the participants. He was clearly a beginner, and when I told him once the game was over that I’d just beaten him with a common beginner’s error in chess, he went and complained that “you aren’t supposed to use them in this tournament”. Whether that was true or not I don’t know, but it would seem a rather stupid rule. That was probably the only display of show-offness I made during the day… but I just couldn’t help it. I’d enjoyed the game too much.

I never played another tournament again. Feeling a sense of injustice at the either rigged nature of the previous one, or the bad scorekeeping by the person running it, I decided it was not worth it any more. So Year 4 carried on without much in the way of side entertainment. I also lived far from my friends, so there was very little in the way of after school socialising. I suspect this hindered me a little, as I ended up spending most of my time on computer games (the Mega Drive was good, but I much preferred my Amiga), and also messing around with the new PC my dad had just got. So began my unhealthy love affair with computers…

I can’t remember much else from Year 4, apart from the fact that schoolwork was starting to get harder, and the drudgery of homework also set in. I hated homework (who doesn’t?) but I got myself into a good routine of doing it as soon as I got home so that it didn’t play on my mind. I’m still like that to this day… although not always quite so prompt.

1994 also saw another addition to my family… another brother was born. This was a fascinating experience. Being much older now compared to when my other brother was born, I took a lot more interest. Sure, I couldn’t do anything really, but it certainly did have an impact on me, and in some rather unusual ways.

I’d be on the verge of completing another level of Lemmings… requiring utter deftness of timing in the placement of the builder… listening carefully for those warning “clink, clink, clinks” that you would get as the builder approached the end of his supply… preparing the mouse button to click at just the right moment… and then… just when you didn’t want it to happen… WAAAAAAAAAAA!… I missed the cue… the Lemming plunged to his doom… and the mission was failed. Then I’d join in the crying.

My other brother was also just at the right age to start being annoying. Now 5, his destructive tendencies were being set loose. I’m one of life’s great collectors, and I looked after my toys really well. But my brother didn’t look after my toys at all. Smash, crash and destroy. All of them bit the dust in one way or another. Books were the worst… since I’d often come back to our room (we slept in bunk beds in the same room) and find – not even attempting to hide his evil deeds – one of my favourite Thomas The Tank Engine books torn, or chewed – my brother was a big fan of eating anything and everything in sight – to pieces in the middle of the room. More crying would ensue, and probably some violence, although I did get as good as I
gave.

All in all, though, life was going very well indeed. Everything was fine at home, and I was enjoying school. My personality was shaping out well… I was happy, chatty and mildly popular with all. There were almost no negatives at that time. I wasn’t really an active child, but I still liked sports, and I started to gain a fascination with cricket on top of football. That would influence later events. And I loved music too. I just wish I’d done something about it earlier than I did.

I may be looking back with rose-tinted spectacles… as I’m sure it couldn’t have all been good at the time. But the general impression is that things couldn’t get much better. My family were quite poor, with four kids to feed at this point and only my dad working… so we didn’t exactly get much in the way of clothes and toys. It was, of course, frustrating at the time, but it was accepted, and so none of us ever asked for much. It was also good for us to appreciate the value of things… and so we never got greedy, just enjoying what we had. Too many kids are spoiled these days, getting whatever they want whenever. I really don’t think that helps their development… kids are capable of understanding the complex realities of life (i.e. the limitations of money and how it doesn’t necessarily buy happiness) from a much earlier age than people think. But now everyone has much money than then this isn’t given a second thought. Being somewhat poor made those rare treats even more valuable.

So the end of Lower Juniors came around and fizzled out with a whimper. Upper Juniors would soon follow, and the realisations of the difficulties of life were just around the corner.

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