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…

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  1. Not getting involved enough is one of my biggest regrets when I look back: I was happy to have the summer for doing sod all in, or if I did work it would be in something which broadened neither career prospects or experiences, like bar work. At least you got that ITV thing down, and Camp America since: it’s already more than most will have done.

    It’s the number one thing I emphasise to my students: “Sod doing the reading or getting the essays in on time; get yourself a decent and useful summer job (even if you do it for free) as it’s what a potential employer looks for first on your CV. Now, where are those essays?”


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