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.

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