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…

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