Joining the Invisible Dots

A surprising amount of birthdays happen at this time of year for me. Alongside my own in July, my brother’s, my dad’s and my nephew’s are in June. Add to that my cousin’s in July, and my aunty’s in the same month, and then my sister’s in August, it can become an expensive time of year if present purchases aren’t kept under control. Yesterday was my brother’s birthday, and his rather spoilt demands for tonnes of rather expensive presents were slightly annoying. I’m pretty sure I was never that demanding. I used to remember thinking about birthday presents and being concerned if my requests had gone beyond the £30 mark. Now that would be seen as the starting point.

I don’t want to get dragged into the perpetual debates I have in my mind about whether we really are sinking into a capitalist love-in, with every man for himself, as the generations get progressively more and more used to the delights of the free market… because I find them utterly frustrating and counter-productive. It just seems to be something we are forced to accept now, and that it must be good for us. It is not possible to question this assertion either without being classed as some kind of communist. So much for democracy.

It is amazing how small events like birthdays are actually a small-scale representation of a much wider society. I can’t help but draw parallels like this all over the place, and it makes being me a rather boring individual at times.

Anyway… it seems that another month is about to slip away from us. This is rather alarming given the fact that it is then my birthday on the 9th. This development concerns me for the reason that while I’ve been doing my Youth Reviews, I’ve been considering whether in my earlier childhood I ever dreamed about being a certain age. I know for sure when I was very lickle, I used to think often about being “older”… which back then was classed as being at the end of primary school, aged 11. Then it was dreaming of being a teenager. Then it was extended to being 16, and then 18.

I never at any stage considered that being 21 would be a particularly exciting or worthwhile achievement. And I still don’t. I guess I have reached the point where birthdays become meaningless. And that is definitely a sign that I am not an ankle-biting whippersnapper any more. As a kid, I made the now unfortunate observation that I couldn’t understand why an adult would not want to celebrate their birthday. What strange individuals they must be, I would think, to not want to mark the passing of another year, and receive lots of great presents and well wishes for the successful attainment of another year. Why, as a child, I could not bear to imagine the horrors that would befall me if I ignored one of my Very Important birthdays!

These thoughts are now so alien to me that they are almost from a different person. Perhaps when I’m old, rich, miserable and senile, I won’t recognise my principled yet impractical wish for the radical scaling down of capitalism either.

Look. There I go drawing weird parallels again…

Youth Review: 18-19

It’s hard to know where the official end of “youth” is, but for this youth review, I’m going to go up to 21. Even though I complain bitterly about arbitrary dividing lines between things, I have to stop somewhere. Perhaps it’ll make me accept that real “youth” is now well behind me, and adulthood is where it’s at…

We continue this sorry tale in July of 2003. My life is in complete disarray. I’ve just finished my A-Levels, and have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. My denial is certain: I cannot go to University, even though I have a deferred entry for 2004 in place and will likely be confirmed when I get my exam results, barring total, unmitigated disaster in my results. But there was me thinking my life had begun, and I had to do something with it.

I applied for a couple of real jobs, both of them chained to a desk and computer. They were utterly low grade, data entry or administrative assistant jobs, and I didn’t even get an interview for either. This was very disheartening. I thought I would at least get asked for an interview, although I was actually dreading it happening. In truth, it was probably good that I didn’t get the interview, because my nerves would have been shot.

So I had to lower my sights. I went to my local shopping centre and strolled around looking for jobs. I handed in my CV to a building society, and they said they would get back to me. I asked in Game to see if they needed anyone, and they said not until Christmas. I was expecting the same response everywhere.

Except for the card shop. A well known, high street card shop, no less. It was never frequented by any of my family, because we all believe that paying £5 and above for a card is extortion. But I wasn’t going to be choosy. There was a sign in the window, and it had a closing date of today on it. So I went in, spoke to the manager, and got an immediate interview. I should have been suspicious about the lack of interest in the job: maybe it meant something. The interview was easy, I filled in an application form, and was effectively told I had the job. Hooray.

It took a few days before it was confirmed to me, but I was just glad to have something to do. I had no idea where it was going to take me, but I was utterly bore of sitting in the house all day, every day. I at least had something to get up for now.

The job began in earnest. The staff were half good, half bad. The manager was an utter bitch. Nasty, spiteful, bitter and obsessed with the latest targets thrown at them by her area manager. It seems to be the story of retail as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, the assistant manager was much better, and it meant that the manager’s day off was a cause for celebration. I was not happy about the fact that I only had a part time job of 16 hours a week, paying a miserable £4.13/hour. I wanted to work much more to make it worth my while… but with hindsight, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t have to go in any more than I did. I don’t think I could have stood it.

The worst of it was that the 16 hours was split into four four-hour shifts. In my previous job at the petrol station, I was working two eight-hour shifts, and actually getting paid more for it. I contemplated going back there, but I don’t think I could handle the stress. My new job was OK, apart from the manager. I had spells on the till, spells in the stock room, and other exciting duties putting stock out on the shop floor, especially in “my” card section, the humourous cards.

In truth, I was good at everything there – it was hard not to be – except for keeping in control of what was on “my” card section. For a card shop, this is a pretty disasterous flaw. I always blamed the manager for not giving me enough time to work on my section. I had so little time to work out which cards were out of stock, and order them. Then I had even less time to actually put the stock out. This whole process would take many hours, but I would often get no more than 30mins to do it, as there would always be some other tedious job to do.

In the end, exam results day rolled around very quickly. This was to be my last trip up on the train to my college, the final long journey to destiny. I thought all the exams had went well, and I had marks in the bank from last year, so I wasn’t expecting disappointment. There was a total lack of nerves. I just wanted to move on. I met up with all my friends and we collected our results envelopes together. There was a lot more riding on it for them as they were all going to universities that October, and some had been set very high grades to achieve.

My first results were for maths. I was expecting a poor result on P3 – Pure Maths module 3 – which confused me endlessly. But when it came out to be 72/100, I knew there was no possibility of me scoring below a B any more. Then I noticed my P2 module was 90/100, and so maths, the qualification I was most worried about, came out as a safe A in the end. I was overjoyed.

I turned the page to examine my Business Studies marks. Astonishingly, I had scored 100% on both module 4 and module 5, and 111/120 on module 6. Over the six modules I had a total result of 571/600, and I needed 480/600 for an A. I was gobsmacked. Maybe I should have been doing business studies for a degree…

On a roll now with two A’s, I thought another A in politics, my favourite subject, was guaranteed. On turning the page, I was deeply surprised. There in front of me was a B. But not just any old B. It was three module marks that when added to my first three totalled up a score of 479/600. I had missed an A by one mark. Two years work, and in the subject I wanted to do for a degree, and I had missed out on the highest grade by one lousy mark. Just one more paragraph, or maybe even one more example or sentence… it could have made the difference. Despite a B being an excellent result, I couldn’t help but feel really gutted. My politics tutor had told me he’d never met a student more naturally fluent in politics before, and so if anyone should have gotten an A, it was me. I had high expectations… and they had been dashed. It turned out that no one had done well at all on any of the politics papers, so something must have gone wrong. One particular paper had been a disaster for all concerned – the synoptic paper 6, in which I only got a D.

The teacher said he would appeal all the marks for paper 6, and recommended all of us pay for a remark on paper 5. So we all did so. I crossed my fingers, hoping that somewhere amongst the pages they could find another mark. It seemed mean to miss out by just one…

So the anticipated exam celebration didn’t actually happen. I was ecstatic with my other grades, but not acheiving the other A by one bloody mark was a real annoyance. It annoys me in life if things come down to something so tiny and trivial, but it is very frequent that one small thing can have massive repercussions at a later point.

I put it out of my mind and went to work. It was, as expected, boring, and a terrible, crashing way to come back down to earth. Meanwhile, my friends had done as good and as bad as they had expected, and all managed to get on their preferred university course. I had also done as well as I needed to, and a few days later got a letter from them congratulating me and telling me a place had been reserved for me on next year’s course, and to enjoy my gap year. I discarded this letter, and returned to a state of denial. I was not going to university.

Eventually the pay started coming in. It helped to mitigate the feeling of worthlessness I had. I stashed almost all of it away into a bank account, just as I had ever since I started working. But I despised the job. As the time went by, I eventually received a letter from the exam board, telling me that they had managed to find those missing marks, and the B became an A. I was relieved to say the least… but I always wonder if they really did find the marks, or if they just decided to be kind and give me them…

Christmas soon came around, and so yet another year of the 21st century was behind me. 2004 emerged, and news came from far afield that my friends were all having a great time at university. We went out for a drink (or two), and a degree of envy began to rise. There was me pretending I had started a Real Life, with a McJob, and there they were having a lot more fun. The wheels in my head began to turn…

Months after I put in my CV to the building society, I received a call from them, asking me to do a telephone interview. I did so, and it was quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever done. It was extremely difficult to think up answers to their long and pointless questions about me and what I’ve done or haven’t done in life. It was even worse having to use examples from my current unstimulating job in the card shop. But it must have went well, because I was told at the end that, once more, I would be “hearing from them” shortly. Hooray?

I had a little think about it. If I could get a Real Job, then I could make my Real Life complete. It would pay better, and there would be a chance of going places in a bigger organisation. I crossed my fingers…

Weeks later (not a good sign of an efficient company), I received a letter. I was expecting this to be a note telling me I had been successful and could start work for them. It wasn’t. It was an “invitation” to join them at a recruitment day, where I would be tested to buggery and interviewed in front of groups, with groups of fellow interviewees, and individually. Then there was an “application form” enclosed, for me to fill out. All 10 pages of it.

Deciding that this was thoroughly over the top for a desk job, taking people’s money off them, giving some of it back, and having to cold call after hours trying to sell life insurance to them, I told them where to stick it. Well, I wish. In fact, I just didn’t go to their recruitment day. And that was that. Weeks later I received a letter asking me why I didn’t go. That went straight in the bin. What on earth were they expecting? It was almost like I was being recruited to work for the secret services, the amount of hoops they were asking me to jump through.

So that plan went to rack and ruin, and I was now deep into March with no prospect of achieving a Real Job. So much for all these “excellent” qualifications I had. Employers didn’t seem to care, and that was despite the fact that so many people don’t even possess a single GCSE.

One day in work, I had a barney with the manager. Her endless picking on me for the tiniest of mistakes, which we all make, was just too much for me. The manager had her favourites in the other staff, and they made the same small mistakes every now and then, and they were simply waved away. I could do a small thing like leave some cellophane wrapping in one of my stock drawers, and she would come around on one of her many “inspections” and tell me that they were not up to the required “standard”. Even though most of the drawers in the shop were like that. I really didn’t know what she was expecting.

She did seem to have it in for me, so much so that it would be such an ordeal for me to ask for some change for the till, because there was never any in the shop. The manager refused to get five pound notes from the bank, and would instead supply me with one or two bags of pound coins, £20 worth in each. All it would take would be for two fools to buy a 99p card with a £10 note and I would be wiped out of change, having to ask her again. It was always her own fault, as I couldn’t control what money people gave me… but she would act as if I was deliberately calling her over just so I could annoy her.

Then there was the bell, which the person on the till could ring once for another assistant, twice for the manager, and three times for security. One time, the manager was on her lunch break, and as normal, I had no change to give out. I rang the bell twice. The manager came storming up the stairs with the security guard, who was also on his lunch, and other members of staff who were in the basement. She asked me who the villain was, and I looked back with a quizzical face. It had become well known amongst other members of staff that the downstairs bell was faulty, and one ring would often be translated into several, and so two rings could sound like many individual little presses. This must have been what she heard, and so it sounded like we were being robbed blind on the shop floor. Meanwhile, upstairs, and with me having witnesses, the (seperate) bell only rang twice.

A stand off ensued. I was not going to accept any harsh words from her, because the broken bell downstairs was not my fault. But she wasn’t having any of it. She moaned and moaned for me daring to disturb her lunch, when she thought there was a riot in progress. A typical overreaction from such a snivelling cow. I wanted to resign on the spot and put her in the lurch completely, but I thought it would look very unprofessional, and I’d never get another job again because I wouldn’t have a reference from her.

This event tipped the balance. As I lie in bed that night, I realised what a hole I’d put myself into. The gap year was utterly unnecessary. I had to get out of this position and away. I had such an opportunity ahead of me, to go to university, something no other person in my family had ever done. Why would I want to throw that away? If I was going to throw it away, it would have to be for a bloody good reason. I churned it through my mind, and decided, that working for Clinton Cards was not a bloody good reason. In fact, neither would working for the building society. I decided. I had to go to University.

Probably just as well, because in April letters started to emerge from the university telling me of my course and what accomodation I’d like to stay in. Even though I’d take this decision, I decided to leave the letters for now, because there would be “loads of time”.

Then, out of the blue, my parents decided that we should go on holiday this year. Abroad. This was a most unusual turn of events, since it had been ten years since I’d last gone on holiday abroad to Portugal. Now we were suddenly going to go to Austria that summer. The discussions had been taking place about where to go between my family members, but when I suggested Austria I wasn’t expecting it to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to go to the same old destinations in Spain, just to lie on a beach. I wanted a more active holiday, and I suggested Austria for that.

So it came as a great surprise that it was actually going to happen. I paid for myself, and the date was set for mid July. It would be a coach holiday, which would be also rather unusual. At last there was something to look forward to…

Of course, there was nearly trouble in work as my manager moaned that I was booking time off when someone else had already booked the week off. Despite the fact that July would be the slowest month of the year, she couldn’t bear to have more than one member of staff off at once. It was the Rule from her area manager, but I strongly suspected that the remaining six members of staff would be able to cover. In the end, she was gracious enough to admit defeat, and “allowed” me to book the two weeks off.

The sad thing was that I had told my manager that I was planning to go to university at the very first interview I had for the job. I wasn’t being sincere at the time, as I didn’t think I was going to go back then, but it meant that it took all the excitement out of the fact that I was yet to remind her that I was planning on handing in my notice shortly after I got back from my holiday.

Then even that plan was ruined when in May my manager asked me if I was still going to university. Now that I’d definitely decided to go, I told her yes, and so I couldn’t serve her with the tiny one-week notice period in my contract. She now had months to prepare. I really wanted to leave her in the lurch, but she had defeated me. Argh.

May disappeared, and June went the same way. Nothing much else changed, and I totally forgot to send back my accomodation forms. All I had done was apply for my student loan… late. So I was definitely expecting trouble from that, but little did I know that I was storing up trouble with the other non-decision.

In the meantime, I had started working extra shifts in other shops around the region. After me asking me manager for more hours on a fairly regular basis, and her saying she can’t every time, she eventually “realised” that she could be getting more hours for me in other stores. This finally gave me some extra money, something I was beginning to realise I would need for university…

Suddenly, it was July, and a whole year had flashed before my eyes. The year had been an failure as far as I was concerned. I didn’t need to take a gap year, and I didn’t make that much money to make it worth my while. It did, however, teach me one important lesson: that I simply had to go to university. It would be the only way I could possibly stop myself getting into the same rut as my own parents did when they were my age. I had to try to better myself, to try to make something more of my life than I would if I’d just say back and let it wash over me.

So maybe the lesson was a good one. It taught me that I had to go further than the sharp end of life. I couldn’t accept remaining in that position any longer. I don’t want to sound patronising, but I have nothing but sympathy for everyone who finds themself in that position. It surprises me little that we have an imbalance in the labour market now as companies struggle to fill their menial jobs. I don’t blame people for not wanting to take them. There are better jobs out there, but the competition is fierce. People want to better themselves, and good luck to them.

It was the feeling I got. So perhaps it wasn’t such a bad year after all. But all I can remember thinking as I ate a slice of birthday celebratory pizza in Pizza Hut, was that I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I had become 19. I wasn’t really concerned about my age, because there is nothing remotely exciting about 19, just as there isn’t about 17. But I was still a teenager. And that was still good. I was going to have to enjoy my final year of teenagehood…

It was going to be an interesting year ahead…

A Snitch In Time

It never ceases to amaze me how children cannot help but make a fuss if they feel an injustice has been committed. The weird thing is that when I was in school, the snitch was the most frowned upon member of the school community. Let me quickly clear up the terms here though…

A snitch was OK if someone was doing something really bad: like bullying. I never saw any of that go on, but I know there would never be a problem on that score. What I mean is snitching because the snitcher is jealous of the fact that they haven’t been able to achieve what the people they’re snitching on have.

For example, today I went with the Year 5 pupils to a local zoo. A very good zoo. Most of the kids were desperate to go in my group, probably because I’m such a soft touch, but alas, only six of them were going to be lucky enough. Those lucky ones pushed the boundaries a little bit, but it would surprise me if any kid didn’t. But they were fine, and we had a nice time.

Unfortunately, they failed to tell me that they weren’t allowed in the play area. My group were at a loose end, and so when they asked if they could go in there for 10 minutes, I said they could. 10 minutes of fun in the play area followed, and we left shortly after. No harm done. Of course, why teachers need to make up such ridiculous rules in the first place, I don’t know, but there you go.

It later transpires that we were spotted by a rather bitter child from another group, who informed all and sundry, from teachers to other pupils, that we were in the play area. I knew nothing about the rule, so I didn’t know what the fuss was about until my kids told me what the problem was. My reaction: I shrugged my shoulders and dismissed it as simple jealously on the part of a fusspot kid. I suspect most people know the kind: the ones who are obsessed with rules, even daft ones, and will enforce them to the letter, to the point of snitching on people because they’re jealous of what they didn’t get to enjoy. I tried to make as little deal of it as possible, telling my group to just get on with it and ignore it, and the chances are the teacher won’t say anything to them… it was meant to be a fun day out anyway, and I don’t know why the teacher would want to ruin that.

But it was not possible to stop them fussing. Other kids couldn’t resist making snide comments – “You weren’t meant to go in there!” – and the like. It made it rather frustrating, because the result was that my kids had no choice but to start making up additional lies to wind people up in response, such as saying they went on the water ride when it was closed for the day.

The fussing continued further when we bought sweets that were probably a little unnecessary – large candy dummies – and other groups complained that they weren’t allowed to buy them. Then they other groups were moaning that we bought stuff from the vending machine when their group leader had not allowed them to do so. The constant nagging and attempts to outdo each other were very very boring. I don’t remember it ever being like this when I was there. It makes me really concerned that this is how pervasive the capitalist society has become…

And at the end of it all, there is not that much thanks. About the best compliment you get is normally coded in the form of “this was the best group” and “I liked this group because you know how we think” and that kind of thing. There’s nothing direct. I even gave one of the kids in my group half of my Twix because everyone else had had something and he hadn’t. I don’t remember him saying anything to thank me…

Then there were the teachers. I’ve already mentioned how I can’t stand them making up arbitrary rules… but I also hate the fact that they are constantly very defensive of their profession. They ask me if I still want to be a teacher: and I say yes, and they laugh. I would love to say to them: “if you really don’t like teaching, as you seem to be claiming, then why on Earth are you here?” I don’t have the guts. They don’t like the fact that other people are coming along, motivated by whatever it was that brought them into the profession in the first place and what they have since lost through becoming utterly jaded and out of date. Perhaps they’re jealous too.

And despite all this, it was a pretty good day: me and my group had a lot of fun. The above are just my observations. I don’t let them stand in the way, as it’s what I believe I would like to go into teaching to try to help change. It’s naively optimistic to think I can take on the whole of society, but there’s something that definitely needs changing and we have to start somewhere. I can only make a tiny difference, but anything is a start. All those other miserable teachers have to retire eventually…

The Changing of the Clothes

Tuesday is my day off from school this week, which gives me a chance to get up a little bit later, and decide what I want to wear for the day on the same day as I iron it, whereas normally I don’t have time to do that, and so have to guess the weather (because I think weather forecasts I wrong 90% of the time) and thus the appropriate clothes in advance. So you’d think today would work to my advantage.

It hasn’t gone that way. It looked a bit chilly this morning, so I thought, “what an excellent opportunity to wear the new long-sleeved t-shirt I bought three weeks ago, you know, the one the weather hasn’t let you wear so far!”. I agreed with this excellent analysis from my brain, and so ironed it beautifully, as always. To go with that, I chose a pair of jeans that are some years old, and have always been a little bit too big on me. But I like them, and they have been loyal to me. It would be a delightful combination of old jeans with new t-shirt. Very vintage look.

Upon getting out the bath, I put on my new clothes: and noticed there was a problem. The brand new t-shirt is a very deep red. You can see it will fade away with several washes. But not at the moment. It is very very red. It clashed most badly with my aging jeans, which were now faded in parts that they were very light blue. This combination of deep red with light blue did not work at all, as you can see in the following table:

Very red t-shirt
Light blue jeans

Something had to be done about it. This development was very concerning to me, as I deliberately only buy clothes that will work with everything else in my modest wardrobe. This makes choosing what to wear a very simple task, which is essential for any male. Now I have an extra factor to consider.

So I found my new pair of navy blue jeans. This combination worked fine – two deep colours together – so I ironed them and put them on instead. A good match.

I sat down at my computer and realised how warm it was. There was something not quite right about this long-sleeved t-shirt. All my other long-sleeves are very loose, and allow much air circulation. This brand new one didn’t. The sleeves were tight around my arm, and the sun seemed to have come out while I wasn’t paying attention. So, the long-sleeved red had to come off. I ironed my white Home Star Runner t-shirt, possibly the coolest (in both senses) item of clothing in my wardrobe. This was a success too, if a little optimistic.

With the new t-shirt, I decided I might as well put my old jeans back on. I knew they worked together as I’d worn that combination before. This would let me save my new jeans for the red t-shirt when the weather allows it.

Then I decided there was still a problem. My jeans… my loyal jeans… were decidedly crap. I don’t know how this happened, but I suddenly realised that they were far too loose on me. They always have been slightly loose, but now they are just wrong. They are too old; they’ve worn away too much. Perhaps I’m becoming conservative in my old age. To cap it all it was nowhere near warm enough to allow the white t-shirt to be worn. So it was all change. I decided to change the t-shirt, as maybe it was that that was making me look really thin in my old jeans.

It was going to have to be a long-sleeve t-shirt to solve the dilemma. I dug out an older long-sleeve, ironed that, and put it on. Another success. Until I decided once and for all to put the old jeans out to pasture. They are officially no good any more. Maybe I’ve lost weight recently, despite having hardly any to begin with. Or maybe I’ve been wearing crap jeans for years and have only just noticed. That is more likely.

So the new jeans came back out. Perfect. And now I’m £25 down as I’ve just bought a new pair of jeans to replace the old-old ones.

I suppose it’s a minor reward for the bizarre and utterly ridiculous injury I suffered this morning. When putting the toilet seat down (as a courtesy to the ladies of the house, because I’m such a gent), the top part of the seat, the cover, decided to stick to the seat-proper. As I put the down the seat, this makes the weight of it much heavier than my brain anticipated, and so the right muscle resistance was not used. The seat comes crashing down, trapping my thumb inbetween the two lids as it hits the bottom. The result: bleeding and a whacking great bruise at the base of my thumb, and me shouting “bollocks” repeatedly.

I’ll never put the seat down again. Unless it’s necessary. Which it is.

Youth Review: 17-18

Before the school year could begin, there was the usual stressful wait for the exam results. They were just a few weeks away, but it was a very long time when I had nothing else to do all holiday. I briefly considered getting a job, but decided it would be too much effort. I didn’t need the money and I wasn’t saving for anything, so I continued to sponge off my parents for a little longer…

In the end, time ticked away, and by mid-August my AS-Level results were out. I had to make yet another train journey up to my college just to pick them up. This boring ordeal was made up for by the fact that when I got there, the results cheered me up no end. I’d got an A in every module I’d sat, and the bonus marks above the A in some of them would come in handy to ease the pressure next year. Life suddenly seemed very very good.

Buoyed by the news, I started to look forward to the next school year. It would be my final year of A-Levels. Then I realised. What am I going to do after that? As Madness once almost sang, “It Must Be Uni”. But the thought was an odd one. No one in my family had ever been to university, and all I wanted to do was to become financially independent. With some A-Levels under my belt at the end of next year, surely I’d be employable and be able to get a decent job?

Within days of the next term starting, my (new) form tutor organised a meeting for all the second years in my tutor group. I really liked my new form tutor. He was more down-to-earth than the last one and very funny, with an accent that sounded like he came from the same background as me. So me and him got on very well indeed… something which was vital in order to get a good reference to apply to university through UCAS. The meeting itself was a little daunting though. He essentially told us that university is now vital to achieve anything in life, and so encouraged everyone to apply. I wanted to disbelieve, so I could leave school for good, but a nagging thought at the back of my mind was telling me that he has a point… Sure there were plenty who succeeded outside of university, but they tend to be the exception that proves the rule…

Meanwhile, the decision to drop Media Studies was paying dividends. Now gifted with several extra free periods, I had more time to do my work in the college’s library. This was perfect as it enabled me to do most of my homework while still in college, and so freeing up lots of my time at home. This would be to come to some use shortly.

I had also taken the decision to do a new maths module instead of doing coursework. The thought of maths coursework bored me silly, so I got together with several other students and nagged the teachers to offer Discrete Maths 1 (D1) as a module. Given that one of the teachers had taught the module before, it was not too difficult to persuade them once they saw the demand. I just didn’t want the stress of so much extra homework from the coursework module when I had so little time to do it in the first place. I was happy something went my way…

The beauty of the extra free time was slightly offset by the fact that one of my friends had passed his driving test. This meant more trips up to Tesco, but now in a car, making the journey take just one minute instead of the 10 by walking. This extra time in Tesco (how exciting!) meant we would often show up at the exact time the “Product Testing Centre” opened in the shop. This was a glorious experience. We were often invited in to test many new products, from crisps, cakes and biscuits to a rather more mundane plate of green beans. It was often difficult to write anything of value on the forms, especially as they would ask for the differences in taste and looks between very similar things (distinguishing between Plate Of Green Beans A and Plate Of Green Beans B was memorably impossible) but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of free food.

So instead of doing something more productive with my free time in college, it was once more frittered away. I did stand to be my class’ representative on the student council, but I was predictably defeated by my lady opponent who was more popular than me. The vote was also held on the same day one of my friends was off. If he was there, it would have been a tied vote, 5-5, I’m sure. In the event, my D1 maths class took place at the same time the Student Council met every week, so it was probably a good job I didn’t win…

The term proceeded as quickly as the last, only there was now the additional pressure to produce a “personal statement” for my UCAS form from my form tutor every week. I think he was a little concerned that I was hesitant about going to university, and the evidence for that came from the fact that I had not yet considered what courses I wanted to do, ordered any prospectuses or given any of it a moment’s thought. My teachers were all badgering me in certain directions, with my tutor and business studies teacher telling me to do that, while my politics teacher told me about politics courses all the time. I just knew one thing for sure: if I was going to go to uni, I would not be studying maths!

Eventually, my thoughts turned to money. It couldn’t be helped. I suddenly realised that the only cash I had was a couple of hundred quid sitting in a bank account that was the product of several years saving of 50p’s and £1’s that I used to get off my mum every day to spend in the school tuck shop. But I realised that if I was going to go to university, I would need to start saving some money. Plus, I realised there were things I wanted to buy, and one of which was a new guitar. I was fed up with my nylon acoustic cheapo one I’d bought from Argos. I wanted a real one.

The solution was quickly found. My mum’s friend’s mum was the franchise owner of a Shell petrol station. They were looking for staff after several of them had just been arrested for large-scale fraud with credit cards. It says a lot that they were prepared to trust a 17 year old young adult than any other one, but then again, it was in a very rough area, and the local folk were not particularly the employable type. I felt a confidence boost coming on.

But my enthusiasm for the job was sapped when I discovered that I was going to work 7am-3pm on Saturday and Sundays. I had no choice in the matter, as there were no other hours I could possibly work. They didn’t want me doing the afternoon 3pm-11pm shift, and the night shift was out of the question. So… mornings it was.

I turned up for my first training shift around the end of October 2002. It was an enlightening experience. I would say it was my first “real” job. The desk work I did last year for Yorkshire TV was nothing compared to this. Here I was on a pittance £4.44/hour to do an 8-hour shift with no proper breaks. Nothing could possibly prepare me for customer service work… but I picked up the till/petrol pump interface very quickly. I wouldn’t be long until I was ready to take shifts on my own without anyone there to help if it became too busy.

On the whole, I’d say 90% of customers were fine. They would say thanks, and some would even say goodbye and maybe add a smile. But there was the remaining 10% miserable bastards, who wouldn’t even say a word. Some of them you’d be lucky to get the money off, as if they were doing you a massive favour for actually paying for their petrol. Then there was also a significant proportion of cheats who would go a penny or two over, drop off a rounded off sum and walk away quickly before I could ask for the penny or two. This resulted in many unbalanced tills at the end of the shift.

It was not an easy job. I was surprised at just how much was involved. Because it was also a convenience store, there were also newspapers to put out, count and organise (often having to put the magazines in each newspaper was a terrible waste of time)… and then there was delivery of milk, sandwiches, bread and other short dated food. So I had to rotate the stock. It was just me versus hundreds of customers. I would spend almost every moment doing something. It was practically impossible to do everything, as alongside all this I was always having to monitor the forecourt to see if anyone looked a bit suspicious… because yes, drive offs were a daily occurence. If someone looked dodgy, I could ask them to pay first, as that was the official policy, although not enforced.

And then, of course, there were the miserable, moaning, whinging taxi drivers, who thought the whole world owed them a favour. It was always endlessly amusing watching them rock their cars/cabs to get all the petrol/diesel out of the nozzle. Then they’d have the cheek to ask you for a paper receipt, “so they could write in the numbers afterwards”. You would be hard pressed to find a taxi driver who wasn’t cooking their books…

So the stress levels were very high indeed. Add to that the fact that there could also be people robbing you blind in the shop, while you’re watching for suspicious customers, and it was too much to control. There would be nothing more disheartening than watching someone put the pump in the holder and just get into the car and drive away. I only ever witnessed that a few times, as mostly they got away while I was distracted with big queues. It was extremely busy almost all the time, with me taking thousands of pounds every shift. But the worst drive off was when I watched someone sail away and noticed that they had taken off their registration plate so I couldn’t phone the police. How didn’t I spot it and refuse to turn the pump on?

I was now working seven days a week. I did have the bonus of being able to go in slightly late on a couple of days during the week as my new timetable allowed some later starts. But it was a lot to juggle, and I look back on it now rather impressed. I don’t think I could handle that these days. I must have either been desperate or very stupid. The stresses between the job and my college work combined were very high…

Back in school, I had had enough of thinking about universities. I eventually took the decision that I wanted to study politics, and so all that was left was for me to take some quick decisions about which courses I wanted to do and where… all without visiting any universities. I had no time for that as the deadlines were upon me in days. Thankfully, my politics tutor delivered the goods, when he suggested to me the course that I’m currently on. It seemed to have everything, and with the added bonus of a year working in Parliament. I had to choose it, and to hell with the consequences. It just sounded so good. I made up the numbers by randomly pulling out politics courses from the UCAS website, and fired off my application. And then at the last second, I made the strange decision to put my whole life on hold, and checked all the boxes to “defer entry”… in other words, I made the decision to take a gap year. My plan at the time was to hope that my life would take some unforeseen course during that year that would make university unnecessary. I was still not inclined to go… but I didn’t want to tell anyone that.

Eventually the year was over. Another good Christmas was followed by an unusual New Year 2003, for I had to take the first shift of the year in the garage. I was on double time, which was not bad at all, but it did mean I couldn’t enjoy the traditional family party as I had to go to bed. And then as soon as I got home I remember having to do some maths revision…

Because it was exam time again. But not as seriously as previous exam periods. There were no “mock” exams this time around… these were proper exams, but there weren’t many of them. I had two maths exams, and three General Studies exams. I had no intention of answering the General Studies exams properly as I viewed it as such a waste of time. No university would accept it as a qualification in order to secure entry… so it had no value to me. So I made a protest by writing a bunch of gibberish, song lyrics and references to Richard Hillman of Coronation Street in all three papers. Meanwhile, the maths exams went as well as could be expected…

No sooner did I think I was free of the shackles of thinking about university, did letters arrive from them all inviting me to come to open days to see what they were like. Ack. The thought scared me. It suddenly made it all real. The numbers and sentences I had been writing onto an application form only a month before suddenly had lots of consequences that I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know why I thought that at the time… perhaps I was stunningly naive, or maybe in denial that this was actually happening to me. My teachers were wanting me to apply for Oxford, Cambridge and other pompous institutions, but I declined all of their advice to plump for good old Hull instead. But I didn’t want to go them. I didn’t want to sound arrogant. I had already quit a private school to get away from the sneering mentality of those who go to the “better” institutions… and thought I would take a chance in a less reputable establishment, just to see how it goes. Would it make that much difference?

Of course, the fatal flaw in my argument at the time was that there was no way of telling otherwise. Whichever path I chose to tread, it would be impossible to go back and work out if taking the other decision would have made any difference. All I can do is guess… which is in itself a pointless exercise. I have no idea how different my life would be if I’d gone to a different uni. Probably very different, but that is about as specific as it gets. All I knew for sure was that my parents had always thought I would do something a little more traditional than politics. But my mind was made up, and there was no turning back…

I decided I better had arrange a visit to Hull. Maybe that would convince me to go to University? Maybe that would finally help me make up my mind once and for all. College was ticking over nicely, and my job was still stressful, but the cash was now coming in very useful indeed. I bought myself a new guitar, which would be my pride and joy for many years to come. I also bought a real musical keyboard, and the investment was well worth it. I had only ever had cheap and phoney ones up until then, but now I had something I could make real music with. I couldn’t really play the piano, but that wasn’t going to stop me. The rest of the money was just being saved up… very wise choice, it would later turn out.

Unfortunately, the eventual visit to Hull in February didn’t help me make up my mind. They asked for me to get three B’s to get on their course, but said they didn’t need to interview me. I would later learn that almost everyone else on my course was interviewed. This is rather strange in hindsight, as it means they took it on trust that what my form tutor wrote in my glowing reference was true. I explored the site on the day and met several of my future lecturers and tutors… it all looked very big and scary, but I just tried to put it out of my mind. I didn’t want to think about it.

March soon ticked away, and April was soon upon me. The stress of the garage was getting too much to cope with, and I had by now grown to hate my job. The money was no longer worth the considerable worry I used to spend every shift thinking about who was going to drive off on me today… and so I handed in my notice. Funnily enough, my employer completely understood. She told me that she was going to quit shortly as well, as she’d had enough of the franchise she had been awarded. That made me feel a little better, as it felt like I was letting them down. But they understood… especially as I really needed my free time now to start revision for my final exams.

The school year just disappeared. I wish I knew where it had gone as I had been enjoying it so much towards the end. I’d finally hit my stride in there: confidence, personality and a good smattering of humour… just in time for me to leave. All of a sudden teachers were wishing me good luck for the exams and handing me endless past papers for me to revise from. And then I realised that all the friends I’d made here would soon be no more. It hardly seemed worth it to have these great friends for such a short space of time. But they did make my life in college worth living. They taught me a lot, and I saw much more of youth culture than I could have done anywhere else. It broadened my horizons considerably, and even though I can’t predict how different my life would/could have been if I’d stayed in my original school, my intuition tells me that I wouldn’t have been the same person I am today if I hadn’t taken that bold step into the unknown, changing schools at that stage in the day, and seeing life from a different perspective.

I revised my arse off. There’s no other way of putting it. The material was difficult, but this time across only eight exams, less than last year, and way down on how many I had to do for GCSE. I don’t think I emerged from my house for weeks as I would sit down with my gigantic folders of notes, read them, write them from memory and rewrite them again. The only trips I made outside were to do the actual exams in the college, and every time they felt like they’d gone well… but I was probably confusing that with the relief of just finally having done them.

They were over, and it was now June. College was done. My friends had gone their separate ways, but we planned to reunite on exam results day in August to celebrate/commiserate accordingly.

As I approached my 18th birthday, I realised that I’d just gone through the two most extraordinary years of my life, and they were now behind me. The fun, games and hard work all seemed to be in perfect balance overall. There were difficult and dark times when my workloads and other stresses were too high… but I got through them, and chalked them up to experience. But they were good tests. Now they were all over, and I was finally about to become an adult. The moment I’d been waiting for all my life was here. I could finally call myself an adult. I’d been thinking of myself as one for ages now… but at last I could now legally say I was one. And I could finally get myself into debt with a bank for the first time in my life! This was an exciting and liberating prospect…

My birthday was a great occasion. I spent it with my extended family as we all went to a restaurant, and then came back to my house for yet another famous family do. It went on deep into the night and the next morning, ending with me watching the sunrise at 5am. It felt a real humbling experience. I don’t think I realised at the time, but it was quite a fitting end to all those years of childhood. All that frustration, and all that desperation to grow up. All that trauma, and all those decisions, both consciously and subconsciously, about who and what I wanted to be. And there was the end product of all those processes, watching the dawn of yet another day – his 6,575th, to be precise (if I’ve got the sums right) – and wondering what lies ahead…

It makes me feel very small and insignificant. But maybe that’s just because we are all small and insignificant at the end of the day. We only get a limited time to prove ourselves, and in the end we suffer the humiliating irony of realising that in fact we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone.

But from the sublime to the bloody ordinary, life had to continue. I now had a whole gap year ahead of me, and absolutely nothing to do in it. I was soon going to have to learn what being an adult really entailed…

In Time For Tea

I don’t like to be too controversial on here, as I mostly try to avoid my opinions on the world, but I can’t resist today. I’m not the biggest fan of religion by a long stretch, but with today being the feast of Corpus Christi in Catholicism, the religion I was born into, all the kids in school today went to Mass. With it being a Catholic school I work at, it shouldn’t surprise me…

But obviously there is no place for my views in school, so I keep them to myself. I highly disapprove of religious schools, for the simple fact that they are prescriptive and do not allow children to ponder life’s deep questions and injustices for themselves. Instead they are told that something is “God’s will”, or it is “the mystery of faith”. Faced with these kind of explanations, most children either look baffled, but accept it because they know no other, or, more likely, just stop listening.

So I had to go with the two classes I help out in to Mass today. It was a strange experience. I have been dragged to churches since my eye-opening moment when I realised the religion thing is a sham, and in those occasions I have sat at the back and not participated. But this time I had no choice but to “take part” with the singing and the prayers, as all around me were children who would start to get suspicious, and some might follow my example. You have to be careful when kids are around you… as they are incredibly sophisticated observation and repetition machines. I couldn’t look sarcastic or uninterested either. I had to pretend I was paying attention.

I’m not really sure why, because all around me the kids were listening, but the blank expressions or the frustrated glances to the ceiling were telling me that the lights were on but no one was home. How fascinating it would be to listen to their thoughts at the time the priest is telling them of the Last Supper. I can’t remember what I used to think, because I used to just believe it, as a good Catholic should, while being put on a guilt trip about all the sins I’m told I have done lately.

For these reasons, I don’t believe religion should be part of school life. It closes the mind at an age when it may be extremely difficult to open again. It is not quite indoctination, but it is certainly socialising them into a way of thinking that religion is that important and worthy of a lot of brain time.

It struck me as also being rather unfair. If you sat a collection of adults whose minds were as blank a canvas as a child’s with a priest while he tries to explain the mystery of the faith, you would expect a healthy degree of scepticism. But kids aren’t like that. Religion takes advantage of you when you’re at your most naive. And that makes it a little disturbing to me.

So I was sitting there, pretending to take part, while wondering what was going through the minds of the hundreds of children around me. A strange experience, but a fascinating one nevertheless.

The past few days have been OK on the whole. I was in school yesterday and today, but spent most of it doing rather tedious admin or other odd jobs for the teachers. Not really what I want to be doing as it hardly gives me a chance to communicate with or help the kids, which is the kind of experience I want to get. Today I spent almost the whole day making little drawer labels for the kids who are coming into Year 4 next year. 59 drawer labels, which took 3 hours, and I didn’t finish. I would have done so if I hadn’t been asked to go to Mass. But the other hour was spent in a much more fun way, playing Kwik Cricket with one of the classes. That was very cool, and they seemed to enjoy it.

I also spent far too much time wondering what one of the kids had written on his apology letter to the teacher. He got severely told off yesterday for failing to greet a visiting teacher into the class with the usual “Gooooood moooorning Mrs Naylor”. The teacher reckoned he was being cheeky, and he probably was a little, but the reaction was way over the top considering this is not a typical “naughty” child. So he had to write an apology letter. I was desperately trying to keep track of it all day, waiting for the moment the teacher would leave the room so I could dig it out… but the moment never arrived. Then the note disappeared from its last known location. I was disappointed.

We all make mistakes, and I think the teacher felt her response was disproportionate too, judging by the fact that she changed her mind, deciding that missing one break was enough, and that she didn’t need to see his parents after all. Another lesson learned, methinks… don’t take decisions in the heat of the moment when you might well have lost your temper. Take a few minutes, then decide in a more rational, calm light, when you’ve regained your perspective. This was really a trivial incident compared to some of the way more serious ones that go on.

I do wonder, if I keep on going down this road, what kind of teacher I’ll be…

And I’ve just finished in time for tea… Result.

Tested To Destruction

If there’s one thing that annoys about schools and the education system in general these days, it’s the amount of testing that goes on in them. Mostly they have no purpose but to fulfil government targets, or for a “progress update” when the last test was probably only last week, but when they also seem way beyond the intended target, you know something is up.

For instance, today I was with the Year 1’s. These are very small children (I didn’t quite realise how small until one of them asked me how tall I was and then asked me how tall I thought they were… they were nearly half my height) aged 5 or 6. And yet, this morning, they did a 90 minute test on maths questions, some of them rather complex like, “If I buy 2 apples, which cost 10p each, and a loaf of bread, which costs 55p, how much change will I get from £1?”. The end result was almost tear-inducing. The poor kids just sat there scratching their heads and looking baffled. Others were reduced to tears saying the questions were too hard, while some kept asking how long till break time. Then there was persistent mumbling as they “helped” each other answer the questions, making the whole exercise a waste of time anyway.

We really need to relax a little in this country. Education is being sapped of all its fun – where were the Lego sets, the dolls, the toys and the sandpits? No wonder kids grow to hate school at such an early age now.

So this was a rather disappointing lesson from my trip into school today. But I couldn’t resist winding up the kids a little. They were at the perfect age to do so… as too many of them kept asking me if I “made” the fans that had just been put into each class. I’d put them together during the break, straight out of the box from B&Q. So I carefully explained how I bent the metal into a beautiful criss-cross pattern and melted some plastic into the fan shape. Their faces were a picture.

But that was mostly what I did today. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy Year 1 for the fact that I’m not actually going to be able to do any work with the kids. The teachers are just going to ask me to do displays (like I did today) or other admin work for the kids’ records of achievement. They seem to be well staffed in Year 1 anyway, unlike other years, which further reduces the amount of time I might get anyway. Here was me hoping to do some painting or something really fun and I ended up pulling staples off a wall display all day…

Things are pretty good at the moment. I feel I’ve got a good balance of free time and very productive and interesting “work”, which doesn’t really feel like work. And now I’ve finally been in all the classes I’m going to, I feel quite settled. No more new teachers to meet, and no more new names to learn. Out of the six classes I’m hanging around doing various odd jobs for, that’s 180 different kids. I’d say I’ve got about 20 names so far. The chances of me getting anywhere past 50% will be greatly limited by the fact that I only have six more weeks left.

I would like to say it’s testing my brain’s memory to destruction, but I would want to avoid such an obvious circular reference to the title of this post, thus making it feel “complete”. That would be too easy.

Youth Review: 16-17

No sooner had I turned 16 I decided that it was, in fact, not the age I wanted to be. In fact, it was something of a let down. Now the internet was in full swing, I wanted to be able to buy things on it without having to ask my dad to borrow his credit card. So my target was reassessed, and I now couldn’t wait to be 18.

Unfortunately, there was still some time ahead of that. So I resumed wishing my life away, just as I had done all those previous years. Back then I never really thought I’d live to regret it. To be honest, looking back, I don’t really think it was that costly, at least up until this point. I have always said that if I could go back in time, I would never go back before my 16th birthday. It was just too frustrating being a “sensible person” (in my own humble opinion), trapped in the shackles of youth as required by our society. It was also too stressful, particularly with GCSEs, and at times, as I talked about in previous reviews, too unhappy.

But things were starting to take an interesting turn. I’ve mentioned before that I had took a keen interest in TV/film production, and this was being inspired by a friend of mine over the internet. But another person who I met over the internet was, by sheer coincidence, actually working for one of the regional TV franchises that make up the ITV network. He said he could get me a job as his assistant, and it would pay reasonably well.

The only problem was that he lived a long way away from me. He made the offer that I could stay in his house for the duration. To be honest, I’ve no idea how on earth I ended up convincing my parents to let me go. They met him, and in the end agreed, after much nagging from me, to let me do it. With my cynical mind now it all sounds rather more suspicious now than it did then. I could never imagine my mum and dad approving such an idea if my now 16-year-old brother suggested it. I think it was a sign that they trusted my judgement, and thought I was a pretty sensible person…

With it all set up, I made the trip, and spent my whole summer holiday working for £160/week. I’d never worked before, and so it was rather unusual, but the money was also rather nice. It tempted me to give up education altogether, but my friend told me to carry on because GCSEs just aren’t enough. He was right, of course, but at the time I thought he was being just another bossy adult who think they know best. Turns out he did.

I learned a lot that summer. It was interesting to see life from a different perspective, seeing how somebody else lived and worked, and understanding how to “manage” the tedious details of life like shopping, cleaning, cooking, paperwork, etc. It was a great taste of independence for me. I really enjoyed it. I never once thought that I would struggle being away from home, and it turned out that my suspicions were right. I missed my family, of course, but I got on with it and learned to live without them. Turns out that would be a useful glimpse into “freedom” that I would then repeat a few years down the line when I went to University.

The whole thing taught me that I really really wanted to go into the media. As an impressionable young man, it all just looked to much fun. I didn’t mind hard work, so that wouldn’t be a problem. I just thought it would be cool to do a job I actually wanted to do. In the end all I did was work on a website for weeks, but it gave me the opportunity to see real media productions at close hand, and be in that environment. I wanted to be there…

Back home, my GCSE results day came around. But I was still living away from home. I arranged to get my results faxed to me, and they would be there when I arrived to work that morning. I had barely thought about it all summer because I had too much to do. But the night before I was suddenly struck down with worry. I had to get a certain number of good grades to get into my 6th Form College, and for some reason I started doubting that I had.

In the end I arrived at work, turned over the fax that was on the machine and let loose a big, beaming smile. There was never going to be a problem getting into 6th form, and I knew it… but it didn’t stop me worrying. I got 5 A*’s and 5 A’s … I couldn’t really have asked for any more. I was ecstatic to see all my hard work over the many years finally being rewarded. At long last, I felt like I’d succeeded. Of course, the media let loose its usual cries of “GCSEs Not What They Used To Be!” and “Students Pass Just For Writing Their Name On Exam Paper!” which rather made me feel rather deflated. All that hard work and people telling me that all my effort was a waste of time. Just another reason why I continue to despise the media…

The results being good, the course was set. I eventually came back home and had to start getting my mindset into studying again. I’d been off for two and a half months, probably the longest I’d been off school since I started it. Now I had to start working again. It just seemed a lot to have to motivate myself all over again…

I had doubts. The first morning of my new school life arrived. It was a misty September morning, and it was far too early. 6am was not a time I had witnessed very often, but it was going to be a very common one for me given the choice of college. I was extremely anxious about what was facing me. The number of friends I had there would be measured on one hand, and there would be 1,200 people in there of either my age or just a year above. This was unusual…

I could also dress however I felt like it. This was a bit strange to me. I was not one for playing out, so when I came home from school I’d just sit in my uniform until the end of the day. And weekends I’d just pick something random from the cupboard and wear it for both days. Now I had to pick my clothes for every single day of the week. Worse than that, I would also have to iron them myself. Ironing was a major source of annoyance. I soon realised that I didn’t have enough variety in my clothes…

What shocked me in college was the fact that people actually did dress differently. Being a kid who didn’t really think about clothes and what they say about you, unless they were rich kids with branded goods – who were obviously toffs – I tended to just layabout in sporty clothes… tracksuit bottoms and t-shirts. But here I noticed that people were different. There were people with longer leather coats and all in black. There were others who wore jeans and baggy clothes. Then the people dressed similarly to me, who were not looked upon favourably to say the least. Plus a multitude of others. In fact, somehow whole subcultures of society had passed me by. All of this was brand new to me… and yet it had been going on all around me for years.

Yes. I soon discovered the extent to which I had been wrapped up in cotton wool. People were expressing their individuality through clothing and subcultures. There was none of this at my old school. Either that or I just didn’t notice. So now there was a whole new load of things to learn about. Whatever though, it was a good experience. I can’t believe I had no knowledge about goths, skaters and all the rest of youth’s strange cults.

In the meantime, I had to establish some friendships. I had just been put into a form group with lots of weird people, including those only a year older who looked like they were ten years older. I had new people in every subject, and it was going to be a little complicated if I made good friends in all of them.

The solution was a sort of vague mix of the two. I made some friends in my form group, people who I could just talk to to start the day and for my General Studies lessons. But there were a few people who had come with me from my previous school who I started to become really good friends with. I knew them before, but I had only established a sort of “nodding” terms relationship with them. But it didn’t take long for it to improve, possibly out of convenience for all of us concerned. Then a couple more people magically appeared in the group, through classes that other people in the group were doing. These would soon become really good friends as well. If there was one thing I was worried about it was wondering if I was going to be able to make friends again. I struggled so much when I went to secondary school that it took me months to find my feet. But it happened far more easily here, and that helped me settle down surprisingly quickly.

Just as well really, because the government’s new A-Level structure had just been implemented the year before. At the end of Year 12, which I was now in, I would have another set of vital exams for my AS-Levels. So from day one in every one of my four subjects: Maths, Media Studies, Business Studies and Politics, every second counted. There was a whole syllabus to cover, and the pace was going to be frenetic.

My new subjects and new teachers took a little while to get used to. Maths was as boring as ever, but now was far more difficult. I had a struggle to keep up with certain aspects of the modules, particularly in pure maths. Business Studies was still mildly interesting, but given that I’d already done two years of it, and there was no requirement to have a GCSE in it to do the A-Level, a lot of the material was familiar to me, but just went a bit further. This was a little frustrating, but my two teachers were pretty good. I was also just starting to tire of thinking in the mindset that Business Studies tends to require.

Media Studies, however, was rapidly becoming a bad choice. The course was dull as hell, and there would soon be many pieces of coursework due in. It annoyed me immensely that I had made the decision to go to this college almost entirely on the basis that I would be able to do media studies, because that was what I was interested in. In the event, the course was extremely boring, and the teaching was very bad indeed. We had a newly qualified teacher who just didn’t know how to teach. He was too quiet, too timid and was easily ridiculed. This is bad of any teacher, but it’s particularly difficult for media studies for the fact that a lot of people see it as an “easy subject” (it’s not) and so there are lots of lower ability types in the class. These tended to be a little more disruptive than most. Particularly the girls, who would often mock the fact that the teacher appeared to have no arse whatsoever. This was an endlessly amusing observation.

Media Studies, however, did have the saving grace that in the class were many people who I made really great friends with. In this class I got the chance to be a new kind of me. It gave me the opportunity to test out my new confidence streak with my cutting sense of humour. Add to that a little intelligence, but enough humility to make me not look a swot, and I seemed to click with a lot of the people in that class. One of my biggest regrets is not keeping up with the people I made friends with in this class, as they were a lot of fun. They were different people to the friends I had had in the past. They were all witty, street-wise, but had an inspired streak of creativity that meant you never knew what was going to happen. I loved it, and I think some of their confidence rubbed off on me. This friendship group, including two girls for the first time in my life, was a great help to me, and we had a lot of fun together especially when working in groups on our coursework. It definitely taught me that the dark days of struggling to talk to others were behind me, and I was now a definitely personality, respected by others. That’s crucial for a young person to have.

But there was also another saviour. Politics. It seemed that fate had in fact not dealt me a bad hand. In fact, the subject that I picked just because I knew something about it was actually right up my street. The modules were interesting and covered a wide variety of topics to some depth. To me it was relatively easy, but I know others in the class found it difficult. Whatever though, I thought it was a great choice, and totally justified my decision to change college.

The amazing thing about all of this is that I look back now and am amazed at the fact that I showed so much motivation to come to this college. I had to leave my house at 7:10am, walk to the train station for 7:30am, get a bus at my destination for a few miles, and arrive in college for 8:40am. Then I’d do the same thing all over again in reverse at the end of the day. Three hours or more of travelling all day, every day. I had no choice but to cut my sleep pattern down to six hours a night, as otherwise I wouldn’t have got all my work done… but it didn’t seem to be a problem to me. I took it all in my stride, and just caught up with a bit of sleep on the train. I wonder now where all that motivation has gone! Maybe I used it all up in the course of two years…

So the year started to wear on. No sooner had things started to run smoothly, Christmas arrived, and 2001 was over. Naturally, that was preceded with yet more exams as I continued to proceed through the exam factory that is the British education system. They went reasonably well, and gave me a little confidence that I was going to do OK at this level. For some reason I couldn’t help but feel that I would find A-Levels beyond me, but I never seemed to take account of the fact that as I got older, I would be able to be stretched further. A-Levels were definitely a big step up, but it was good to know that I was progressing well.

2002 arrived… and I was now finally seeing through the fact that the new year was little more than an excuse for a piss up, combined with lots of empty promises about things one intends to do in the coming year. It also brought with it the usual meetings of family relatives I’d not seen for ages, and they urged me to keep going, lavishing me with too much praise for GCSE results as they went along. I didn’t like the attention at all. I just didn’t know what to say or how to react.

It soon dawned on me that another set of exams – but very important ones – were just around the corner. Because first year of sixth form is easier than the second, it’s important to do as well as possible in first year so it takes off the strain in the second year. So there was added incentive to keep working, and then second year would be relatively easy, especially since I would then be able to choose a subject to drop. When I first came to the college, my intention was to drop Maths. But with the benefit of experience, it soon became obvious that Media Studies would have to be the sacrificial lamb. I also wanted to drop maths as well, and take up a new subject, but my form tutor, thankfully with hindsight, told me that was out of the question. I hated maths so much I just wanted to get rid, no matter the consequences. Turns out that my form tutor was right to insist I carry on with it, but I didn’t agree with the decision at the time. The impetuousness of youth…

One of my biggest regrets at the time was the fact that I didn’t get that involved with the many activities that went on in the college. I had told myself that if I wanted to get into the media I would have to get involved in any college production, like I did with Bugsy Malone in my old school. Only, I didn’t. I was so drained by the endless travelling, that I couldn’t bear to be giving up my lunch and breaktimes as well. Instead, me and my friends would walk up to Tesco and buy cheese rolls for 29p. Pure stodge, but given that I ate my breakfast at 6:15am, I was starved to death by lunchtime at 1pm. Those outings to the supermarket were often very entertaining, as they would sometimes involve the usual games of Tourette’s inspired comments or swearwords while standing next to other shoppers. A friend of mine produced fits of laughter when he stood next to an old dear and said “Make love?” in an inquisitive tone, and proceeded to look her in the eye until she sidled away rather embarrassed. I suspect these games of dare are nothing new in such naughty teenagers, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they go on these days. Just have to take it on the chin, I suppose. We all can’t help a little rebellion at that age…

Like I say though, this was a very different me to the one who struggled at the start of secondary school. I was enjoying this new phase, partly inspired by “G” – the one I referred to in previous posts who I tried to emulate and learn from in terms of giving me confidence. The irony of it was that he went to this college too, and I ended up in hardly any lessons with him, barely ever hanging around with him, and so not speaking with him as much as I used to in the old school. I suppose it was a good thing as it probably wasn’t good to keep “copying” someone else. It forced me to apply what I’d learned for myself… and the results were pretty good.

The term rumbled on, and the pressure increased. The school soon issued the exam timetables, and it was once again time to get into the usual revising mindset. Life closed down (although I had very little “life” outside of college) and I retreated into my extrememly disorganised computer room, which basically contained almost everything important to my life at the time. My mum used to come in and moan that it was far too messy, and she’d sometimes move things, which would cause me great hassle as I’d have to try to find it. It was a mess, but I knew where everything was. Artistic, in other words. But it was the nature of revision. Four subjects, three modules in each… there was just thousands of pages of material to absorb. It couldn’t all be neatly tidied away, or it would take too long to get out again each time…

As is typical with exams, there is something which I call “exam weather”. Just at the right time in the year, the sunshine breaks out and the temperature rises through the roof on the exact day you’re either revising indoors or, worse, sitting the exam. As you slave away writing an essay, boiling hot, the sun beams in and you wish you could be anywhere but there. I recall this summer being no different. The stress was high, and was made thousands of times worse by the daft policy of the exam boards to hold all three modules for the Politics course on the same day. Worse, it then clashed with one of my maths modules. So my worst exam day ever was had… it didn’t go too badly, but I had to sit for three hours doing three one hour papers for politics, one after the other. Then I was locked away in a room with about six other people to be supervised while we ate our lunch, so that we wouldn’t tell other people what the politics exam questions were. Then we came out to do the two hour maths exam at the same time as everyone else, while my fellow politics students who didn’t do maths did their politics exams. It was an interesting time… but it was both good and bad that in one day I’d finished off a third of my exams. With hindsight it was way too stressful, but it was good to get them out the way…

As usual my exam season went to the last day possible, as the media studies exams went right to the end of the period. The difference this time, however, was that once the exams were done, I’d be back in college immediately to start with second year of A-Level, known as A2. This would make sure there wouldn’t be as much rush or stress to cram in the whole course by the end of second year…

By now it was late June. Exams were over and freedom reigned once more. The year had flown by and I had barely given my looming 17th birthday any consideration. It was also odd that I had already completed half of my time at my “new” college. But with hindsight it was absolutely the right decision to make. It exposed me to far more people from many backgrounds, which was something I wasn’t getting in my old school. It was good to see life from different perspectives. Plus I got a fresh chance to start again, making new friends, and doing subjects I actually wanted to do.

My life was riding high. Now I had to wait for my exam results in August. And my 17th birthday arrived… but I wondered what the fuss was about. 17 seemed such a let down. A pointless age which gave no rewards, and removed no barriers. 18 was the important step… and it was now exciting that I was in the final countdown to make it there.

The weird thing about these reviews is that I barely mention life at home. It’s funny how you take something that went well for granted. I had nothing to complain about. My brothers and sisters were nuisances at times, and got in the way, but they were still cool. My mum and dad were great. What else can I say about it? They helped me become who I am today by giving me the support and love I needed. Without them I wouldn’t be where I was… looking forward to becoming a true adult – 18 years old – at long last. Something I had always dreamed of… being an emanicipated individual.

I couldn’t wait. But I had a whole year of school ahead of me first. And I still hadn’t really decided what I wanted to be… or even who I wanted to be. There were many crucial decisions ahead, and they were going to affect the rest of my life…