Business Studies was the future, the way forward and the subject I chose to take at school during my final two years, in the mistaken belief that I would have a secure job for life, when I finally set foot in the big wide World. Of course nothing ever pans out the way it should, and the path I followed took many twists and turns as I tried to navigate my rite of passage, after compulsory education. Business Studies in 1985 was rather different to the technology lessons of today. I was proud to be studying a subject that was new, untried and untested in the curriculum, but its very nature would be alien to most youngsters today. My appreciation of 1980s contemporary education wouldn’t last for long.
The school bell rang out, signalling the final lesson of the week. It was Friday afternoon, as I begrudgingly meandered towards class, dragging my brown Adidas bag behind me. Scraping it along the floor, I knocked everyone and everything in my path, I just didn't care. Apathetic, unconcerned, with hunched back, looking downwards, I reluctantly moved into last position, in the queue outside room 18. Business and information studies wasn’t the most agreeable option I had chosen, and it seemed as though I was just going through the motions, turning up to a session, I didn’t enjoy.
‘Form a line, keep your chatter down and make your way into class; quickly, don’t dawdle,’ directed Mrs White. Her monotone voice used to grate on me, always the harbinger of migraines and an overbearing sense of gloom. She wasn’t a teacher I liked in any sense at all, there was no bond or respect and our disdain for one another clear as day. However, I had leant to live with her oppressive nature and her dulcet tones, just wafted past me; I didn’t even listen any more.
The scraping of chairs, banging of equipment on desks, jostling and high jinx, always took up the first five minutes of any lesson, this one no different. I slouched down in my chair, sighing under my breath, eyes rolling at the thought of yet another hour of languor and lassitude. Immediately I switched off, thinking about what I was going to do on the weekend. Escaping reality was invariably a big part of my day; I was a daydreamer, always looking for stories to tell.
‘Attention, all of you, settle down and put the covers on your typewriters, fingers on home keys, and we will begin!’ signalled Mrs white, as she stood hands on hips, looking over the top of her tortoiseshell half moon spectacles.
‘All of you need to get your words per minute ratio up, if you are going to pass your Pitman Certificates; you are not doing well, far from it!
Business studies in the mid 1980s consisted of an old typewriter, keys covered with a wooden platform and an expectation of typing as fast as you could. In all but name, I was training to be a secretary, there was no business acumen involved. Occasionally, once a week, we would make our way to the information suite, in the upper level of H block. Huddled around a single BBC B Computer, we created databases, printed out on reams and reams of perforated paper, spewed loudly from an old dot matrix printer. That was the only redeeming feature, of a lesson I hated more and more. Losing interest through lack of motivation and inspiration, I longed for the day, I would never have to see Mrs Whites face again, it couldn't come soon enough.
The wooden cover was great for resting ones head on, through an hour-long episode of clicking keys, headache inducing fluorescent lights and the booming voice of a frustrated old spinster, who gave up her position in the civil service, to dedicate her life to the torment of children like me. My only saving grace – getting caught having a brief snooze at the back of class and being sent outside for the duration. Oddly, when the results were in, I passed my certificate with flying colours, to the indignation of my school time nemesis. The look on her face was priceless, the expression on mine was amazement; relief, it was finally, all over!
Children’s television in the late 1970s, early 80s was hit and miss. During the school holidays there was an eclectic mix of children’s shows to watch, to suit every taste, my favourite ‘Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead.’ In the early evening during term time, there were other exciting programmes, forever linked with my childhood - ‘Grange Hill,’ ‘Emu’s World’ and ‘Think of a Number,’ with the unforgettable Johnny Ball. There were of course many other productions too numerous to mention; at the time they were a link to the outside World, that a small boy like me could only dream of. I became interested in television, the celebrities, their lives and always dreamed of being an actor, in a World far removed from my own.
Children’s TV was an escape from the difficulties at school. As a child I was brought up on ‘Blue Peter,’ ‘Playschool’ and my favourite ‘Chorlton and the wheelies,’ a rather psychedelic, at times disturbing, typical of the time, animated children’s television show. They were a big part of my childhood and hold many happy memories for me, sat with Mum, happily involved with the saga on the screen. After watching similar, modern performances today, I can safely say the shows are a poor relation of those produced in the 1970s.
The school bell sounded twelve fifteen, it was time for lunch, my brown Adidas bag was already packed, as I sneakily put my school work into the holdall ten minutes before we were due to leave. It was the early 1980s and I was walking home for lunch each day. Our house was situated a short distance away and I no longer wanted to stay at school, eating the by now unpalatable school dinners. Getting home as quickly as possible was important, not only was I hungry, but my favourite television show was only fifteen minutes away, ‘The Sullivans,’ a period Australian drama, following the exploits of a middle class family in Melbourne, living through the stress of World War II. This show was popular with all my peers in the time before ‘Neighbours,’ that other famous Ozzy show, took to the air. The Sullivan’s was a stepping stone into adult television, leaving the early years behind.
Running down the side of the house, I could hear the opening credits playing on the box. I threw my bag and coat down on the kitchen floor, shouting ‘Hi Mum,’ as I turned right into the lounge, laying flat on the floor in front of the set, just in time for today’s episode. ‘Remove your shoes!’ I heard Mum shout, just before I began to kick off my scuffed pair of shiny black Clark’s that I had forgotten to take off. Excited, I laid fixated on the screen, not wanting to miss a moment, oblivious to everything else that was going on around me.
Mum called through the kitchen hatch. ‘Come and get your dinner, eat it while it’s hot.’ Still glued to the television, I walked over to the dining room and took the plate from Mum – Beans on toast, with a sprinkling of strong cheddar cheese, followed by a hot cup of tea and a chocolate Swiss roll! As I sat there eating, watching the television I was conscious of the time, constantly watching the clock.
Seconds after ‘The Sullivans’ ended, I ran into the hall, replaced my shoes, laces left undone and grabbed my discarded satchel and jacket, that had by now been neatly placed on the hooks in the porch. ‘I’ve got to go, I’ll be late!’ I exclaimed, jumping up, kissing Mum on the cheek. ‘Don’t run, you’ve just eaten, you’ll get indigestion!’ she shouted, as I scooted out of the back door, heading towards my friends house in Fareham Park Road, picking him up on the way to School. We both began to short walk back to Henry Cort, talking about the drama on the screen, what would happen tomorrow, and what we had for lunch? Falling through the gates, we headed towards the gym for an afternoon of PE, my least favourite subject; it was time to work off our tea!
As I sat in the lounge on a decidedly chilly afternoon, I began drifting off to sleep once again; I had only been up an hour, but after the shenanigans of the night before, staying awake was just too much. Gently I closed my left eye, gradually flickering under the light pouring in through the window. I rubbed my right eye with the back of my hand, took a large yawn and closed both lids. Head falling to the side, I nodded off; just forty winks before Sunday lunch.
Ten minutes passed and a was awoken suddenly, my slumber rudely interrupted; hissing and spitting from the kitchen and a plume of smoke filtered through the serving hatch, as Mother put the par boiled potatoes in steaming hot lard on the stove. Mum’s taters were the best, well second best to my Grandmothers anyway; cooked to perfection, basted frequently, vigorously shaken in the roasting pan and customary seasoned with salt pepper and occasionally a few well chosen herbs, picked fresh from the garden; but never garlic! In the good old days, the dreaded bulb rarely featured in the British diet. These were the years when you could only buy a bottle of olive oil from the chemist and purchasing a container of vegetable oil was considered terribly posh; Vesta curry’s were all the rage and Blue Nun was the wine of choice. I used to think, looking back, that Mum cooked everything in lard, I’m sure she didn’t, but it was the late 1970s and times were very different; austerity was the order of the day!
I always enjoyed school dinners; whenever I feel in need of cheering up or am just having a bad day, I look bad at these lunches with fondness. Cooking a similar meal at home, when it’s pouring with rain outside and the wind is howling down the chimney stack is a memory that makes me feel secure and content with the World. Roast potatoes were very much on the menu then as they are now; my love affair with the humble roastie, began way back when; a love affair that continues today.
I was first in the queue, I could smell the scorching spuds, as the Dinner Ladies brought them out to the front of the canteen. There was something about roast potatoes at School that were so different from any I have ever tasted. To be honest, they were rather soggy, not crisp like Mum used to cook, but the taste was great and I always had second helpings, thirds if I could, which is probably why I was and still am a little on the larger size. I am a product of the seventies and all that decade threw my way. Political correctness didn’t exist and it was OK to be normal, eat humble and not have delusions of grandeur. The lunch menu was a reflection of the values and aspirations of the time; nothing over the top, hearty, filling and basic, ideals we should adopt once again today!
At home, sat at the dining table, the dinner plate was piled high; thick slices of sirloin, three or four different vegetables, pigs in blankets, home made Yorkshire puddings and piping hot gravy made with the meat juices from the joint slowly cooked in the oven. To the side, each of us had a plate of bread and butter; proper butter, not that margarine stuff; natural wholesome unprocessed. Eating with gusto, I would always make a roast dinner sandwich, filled to bursting with goodies from my plate; always left to last, washed down with a cheeky glass of wine, only allowed on a Sunday afternoon!
Today my love affair with the humble roast potato still exists, cooking them as often as I can. Today I will cook them with garlic, balsamic vinegar and even Marmite. Unlike the past I will only use olive oil or beef dripping at Christmas, as a one off treat; with high blood pressure and cholesterol, lard is most certainly a no no. Suddenly the World became more health conscious and my spuds adapted to mark the times in which we now live. The basic recipe remains the same, the taste as good as ever and the memories persist, always transporting me back to family occasions, laughter around the table and stories of decades gone by!
Assembly and prayers seemed to drag that day, our headmistress had more to say than usual. Sitting in rows along the length of the hall we sang the Lords Prayer, finally filing outside towards our classes and the beginning of the school day. It was nearly Christmas; always a time for celebration; as part of the schools annual festivities, our class had an appointment with God. We were due to go on a school trip to our local church, St Columba; a chat with the vicar and religious instruction was on the cards and I for one was looking forward to the journey ahead. In the 1970s, religion and church attendances were on the decline; an excursion to a Christian house of worship, would most certainly not be on the cards today. As a child I had always felt spiritual in some way, eulogising Christmas and Easter with gusto, even saying prayers before I went to bed, it was yet another difference between my peers and I; something that made me different and a part of my personality I still haven’t lost today.
Walking hand in hand we left the school, travelling along Hillson Drive towards the Church at the end of the road. Compared to children today, we were well behaved, listened eagerly to our teachers and never spoke until we were spoken to; a testament to the times we grew up in, a mark of respect unheard of in 2018. St Columba was large and imposing, a modern building built during the housing boom of the 1960s, The structure was surrounded by a large Council estate, well maintained with residents taking great pride in their homes, very different to the extensive developments we are used to in the 21st century. This is where I was Christened, celebrated Weddings, harvest festivals and sang Christmas Carols; it was an edifice I was very familiar with; friends and family living in and around the grounds in which it sat.
Walking inside the Church, I was amazed by the sheer size of the hall, eagerly looking around in every conceivable direction, trying to take in everything before me. Standing, still grabbing on to the back of the last row of pews, holding on for dear life, out of fear or incredulity, I contemplated this vast space, gazing straight ahead towards the alter; the letters IHS stood out, a monogram for Jesus Christ. The large white candles, the font, Bibles, stacked neatly on each chair and as I moved my head upwards, the open, monumental dark wooden ceiling, illuminated by spotlights on either side of the auditorium. This was a wondrous site for a young lad, unable to contain his excitement at this oar inspiring vision; wide eyed I continued to walk up the isle behind my class mates, turning towards the vestry beyond, briefly looking back towards the large wooden doors; it was a magical site, just as it was intended to be.
We all stood huddled in a group, facing the vicar as he gave a talk about the Church and St Columba. It was then he pointed to me, and asked if I would come to a large cupboard at the back of the small room. Not knowing what to say or do, I did as I was told, everyone turning their heads, following me as I walked across the parquet floor. He opened the door, revealing a row of vestments inside; robes, religious attire and cassocks, all neatly pressed, covered in plastic. Some were brightly coloured, embellished in gold, beautifully embroidered ruffs for the choir and a musty smelling cloak, looking as though it had seen better days. The vicar asked if I wouldn’t mind putting on one of the outfits to show the rest of the class, which I duty did; turning red in the face, looking down towards the floor, I stood, rather embarrassed as our mentor described the clothes I was wearing. I was a person who liked to blend into the background not wanting to stand on show; for me this was tantamount to hell, hardly religious.
Approaching school, after our religious outing, I was philosophical about my excursion to the Church. Back then I believed in God and for the brief stroll back to class I even thought about becoming a priest. My life took a very different path, one could hardly call me a saint, but I will always remember that day with fondness, when we went to meet God in his house, in the church at the end of the street.
It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole damn process.
As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.
It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.
Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.
There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.
I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with Loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.
In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!
There was a distinct chill in the air, lots of glum faces; a rumbling of discontent throughout the school, as pupils digested the latest attempt to reshape our place of learning, conforming to more traditional ideals. It was a few days earlier that each of us were given a letter to hand to our parents announcing the introduction of a new school uniform in keeping with the schools new name and status within the community in which it served. In was 1983, I was in my second year of senior school, at a time when Britain was suffering the spectre of recession. Money was in short supply, unemployment was high and the cost of living out of control. The last thing families needed was another bill to contend with; the price of our new identity would not come cheap. Understandably disaffection was bubbling to the surface, as pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.
It was late afternoon, double Science, probably one of my least liked subjects. Looking around the room, there seemed to be a lot of absences, the class was rather sparse and lackluster; the few of us who were there had thoughts elsewhere. As I glanced out of the window onto the playground below, I could see a group of students milling about, talking, shaking their heads, arms raised in consternation. Even I felt anxious and I didn’t know why. There was an atmosphere of revolution and insurrection; rebellion was in the air.
I could hear whispers behind my back, two classmates talking about joining the growing throng outside. One tapped me on the shoulder, ‘are you coming?’ they said. Confused I asked what they meant; I was oblivious to events unraveling around me. ‘We are going on strike; there’s a protest on the all weather pitch, everyone will be there!’ they exclaimed, encouraging me to join them and make our voices heard. I understood that there could have been a demonstration about the new rules being introduced at the school, but really brushed them aside as ‘just talk.’ I was surprised that my friends were taking matters into their own hands and a little apprehensive about what would happen to those of us who took part!
Briefly I thought about what I should do; looking out the window, I could see more and more classmates joining ‘pupil power’ in action. I turned back to face my peers, nodding my head in agreement. As our Science Teacher continued his lesson on photosynthesis, I duly packed my brown adidas bag and abruptly left the room, all three of us heading downstairs. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come back here now!’ I heard Mr Roche shout as we left the room; running quickly down the stairs and outside into the busy thoroughfare below, we joined everyone else in our campaign for justice!
I don’t remember the exact number who took part that day, though it was quite a few. Chanting and cursing we made our way through the school and onto the playground beyond, refusing to move until the powers that be, retracted the requirement for compulsory school uniforms. A sit down protest on the edge of school created waves, as teachers tried to encourage us to return to class. Of course as time went on and stomachs began to groan, pupils started to leave anyway. In truth when I look back to this time, I was carried along with the sea of emotion surrounding this stance. I really didn’t care if I had to wear a shirt and tie or not, in fact it was the best thing for the school, but when you become part of a crowd you tend to follow the course, losing all sense of reality, forgetting just what the initial action was about in the first place. As children, fickle to the core, a few hours off last thing in the afternoon, became our overriding ambition.
The school uniform remained, those of us who took part were given detention and we had our day in the local rag but the reasons for our discontent didn’t go away. Changing the identity of anything, whether school, person or brand, can only be done with the support and influence of all of those impacted. In future pupils and parents were consulted every step of the way. New rules were implemented without the frustration and anger that surfaced that day.
I had just fallen asleep; no more than half an hour ago. I remember looking at the clock before I drifted away, it was 10.24pm. I could see the bright hall light at the foot of my bedroom door. Even then I had to have the room dark, no luminescence at all, covering anything up that interrupted my line of sight; I just couldn’t sleep otherwise! Despite my need for darkness, I was always scared of the night, often diving under the covers at the slightest hint of something suspicious in the room. Like the story of my life, I was contradictory in every sense of the word; most definitely the product of a bipolar mind.
I woke up panicking twenty four minutes later; another bad dream. I often experienced those strange reoccurring visions that never went away; I still do. I was standing in a newly ploughed field, not a soul in sight for miles around. Behind me was a small white house, rather dishevelled, leaning slightly to one side; broken windows, broken door; holes in the roof, illuminating the abandonment inside. The number on the letterbox, held on by a single screw, was 24. In front of me was a tall white picket fence, with no gate, a barrier yet to cross. This was the first time I remembered this dream and wouldn’t be the last. The details changed a little over the years, but essentially the theme was always the same.
I could feel the warm light of day on my face, eyes still tightly shut, avoiding the early morning sun; Mother banged on my bedroom door. ‘It’s time to get up, you’ll be late for school!’ she shouted firmly walking back downstairs. I laid there for just a moment remembering the night; once again the number twenty four popped into my head. This number meant something to me and I didn’t know what. I was always a young lad who thought too much, reading significance into the most ‘matter of fact,’ ordinary events.
Last thing in the afternoon, before home time, it was double mathematics. I hated it despite getting an O level in the subject. I would often day dream, thinking about what I could write in my journal, my passion, even at eleven years old. In front of me, sat my orange coloured exercise book, pristine and clear, not a mark or blemish anywhere to be seen. I picked up a black biro and began doodling on the surface. The number twenty four, enclosed with a ring of ink; again and again I wrote the number down, heavier and heavier each time, marking the pages inside. What was that number all about, what did it mean to me and why was it still in my head. I sat there glazed eyes, shook my head, trying to shake the number from my mind. I got a smack across my knuckles that day for defacing my work book, but was worth it; a reminder of things to come.
As a young boy growing up, I always remembered the dream, the time on the clock, the number in my head; it remains with me to this very day. At twenty four years old I met my partner, in 1995; the most significant moment in my life. I’m expecting great things on our twenty fourth anniversary next year. The first house we bought together was, yup you guessed it, number twenty four; a beautiful stone cottage on the Lancashire Yorkshire boarder and the house we moved to in Spain, when we left the UK was once again the number twenty four.
I am a firm advocate of fate and believe this number runs through my life line, playing a major role in my destiny. Mumbo jumbo, I hear you say, well maybe you are right, but maybe you’re not. For me it is special; a reminder of my childhood and a suggestion of my future as yet unknown. It isn’t until it pops up again that I recall its importance, just like today, at the checkout in Mercadona, 24,24€!
Mrs Brooks class was a hive of activity; each table had their own projects to complete. Paints, Crayola crayons and multicoloured pencils were laying haphazardly across the desks; all of us chatting with each other. I was in a mischievous mood, flicking paint at the girl sat next to me. By the end of the lesson, we were both covered in an assortment of acrylic, not even the plastic aprons would save us. Mrs Brooks walked over, she looked angry, the frown on her face revealing. Taking us both to one side, she gave us a good telling off and a smack on the back of the legs. I’d been spanked before, standing outside the headmistresses office for the rest of the day; I was an old pro, so hardly reacted; the young lass shed a few tears and we were both ordered to the toilets to clean up before lunch. By the time I had finished, I was in a worse state than before, soaking wet, dripping all over the floor. Cautiously I walked back into class, hoping to avoid catching Mrs Brooks eye. Sheepishly, I sat down at my desk, looking away from her gaze. My friend sat next to me facing the other way, so I did the same; friends no more!
It was dinner time, the bell sounded in the hall. Everyone started to tidy their desks. ‘Quietly, do it quietly!’ shouted Mrs Brooks, trying to make herself heard over the commotion in class. ‘I said quietly!’ she repeated once again. Suitably calm and composed, sitting in our seats, we always said a little prayer before dinner. ‘Close your eyes, hands together,’ shouted Mrs B:
‘Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.’
Everyone queued in two neat lines, boys one side, girls the other, holding hands as we made our way to the hall. We were on the last sitting today, the canteen was running a little later than usual; the queue unusually ending outside the door. Children jostled for pole position, pushing in front of their peers, wanting to get their food first. I was leant up against the wall, patiently waiting my turn. Mum had always taught me how to behave and never to bulldoze my way to the front; it wasn’t the right thing to do.
My new Clark’s sandals were rubbing the heals of my feet; lifting each one up in turn, I tried to ease the pain. Someone kicked me in the back of the legs. The procession of school children was so long, I didn’t see who it was. Turning, I faced the front, standing up straight, arms folded in protest. Scuffing my shoes, backwards and forwards (The mark of a petulant child, Mrs Brooks always said.) Trying to pass the time, I eventually reached the front of the calvalcade; picking up my mint green coloured plate. Today, soggy roast potatoes, lots and lots of cabbage, boiled to within an inch of its life and minced meat in gravy. Funny enough, I still cook this today; comfort food if you like. For desert, chocolate pudding with thick, lumpy pink blancmange; another dish I look back on with fondness.
The noise in the hall was deafening as I hesitantly walked to the table at the back of the hall, where my friends were already sat. I took the chair at the end, leant back and waited for the Dinner Lady to appear. I can’t remember her name now, but she always came over and helped me cut up my food into bite sized pieces and filled the large metal water jugs on the table, that needed two hands to lift. I precariously charged my glass, most of it spilling over, quickly wiped away by another monitor; dressed in a pink and white tabard, wearing a small white hat and hairnet, that really did nothing to stop hair falling into the food. Part of the course when you ate school meals.
Dinner over it was time to return to class, each of us waiting in turn, to be escorted back for an afternoon of ‘Drama and Dance,’ my favourite lesson. ‘Time to work off all that extra energy after lunch,’ said Mrs B! ‘Time to get big and strong!’
I always have fond memories of school lunches; plain, basic filling food, typical of the time; in contrast the lunches of today. As a product of the 70s, we appreciated the simpler things in life; as children we had very little, none of us any more than anyone else. School Dinners are a reminder of the happy times, spent with friends, enjoying those first steps into childhood; a period when peoples values were different; a time of innocence in a changing World!
I was always a worrier, about everything and anything. At thirteen years old I had more to worry about than most; my sexuality being at the forefront of my thoughts. The beginning of my teenage years was also important in the academic sense; it was time to pick options at school. At such a young age, I was expected to know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, electing subjects to study for the next three years. The forms were duly handed out to the class; it was time to decide our destiny.
As I sat there at my desk, my mind preoccupied, I drifted away to a better place. A feeling of despair was descending over me; I closed my ears, blocking out the voice of my form tutor Mr Campbell, not wanting to hear another word. Looking down towards the paper in front of me, I just saw a jumble of words, none of them making sense. In my head I was sat at the bottom of the school hill; it was green, the sun was out, shining brightly overhead. As I looked left, my cat Ben was jumping through the long grass; a faint summer breeze, blowing through his newly combed coat. In my hand, a cheese and Marmite sandwich, between my knees an ice cold glass of orange. This was my safe place, away from the troubles life always threw my way.
As a sufferer, the weight of the World was firmly on my shoulders; my emerging homosexuality, the threat of nuclear war, death and dying, the newly discovered AIDS epidemic and how to be popular at school, all areas of concern; no wonder I turned to cigarettes! Picking options was just another trouble to contend with and it was right at the bottom of a long list of difficulties. In truth I wasn’t interested in my future at such a tender age, I was too busy fighting my own demons. In my clouded mind, I didn’t have a destiny; not a good one anyway, so I might as well just give up now.
Looking around the class, there was feverish excitement in the air, as my classmates chatted to their peers about what they should do; their favourite lessons, the ones they never skipped and the subjects they never tired of learning about. Others wanted to choose the same courses as their best friend, not wanting to be split up or being seen as a bit of a ‘boff,’ exercising judgement that may be at odds with the mainstream. When you are in your teens, you don’t want to be seen as different, certainly not taking a module that would make others see you as ‘gay’ or ‘odd.’ So as a budding conformist, trying to blend in with the crowd, I chose the courses I felt would be most acceptable to friends and family.
Mum and Dad had said that computers and business were the future and I needed to get a good job when I left school, so I immediately picked ‘Information Studies.’ This was actually a decision I regretted over the years. It was the first choice I made, that proved to be disastrous for my eventual attainment. As a young boy, I was creative and wanted to express that creativity in writing. I enjoyed English language, but never felt satisfied with the lessons. I wrote short stories from a very early age, as I continue to do today. Back then I also wanted to be an actor and would have preferred Drama as an option; it wasn’t to be; far too ‘gay,’ for the likes of me. I wasn’t prepared to go through the last three years of school, suffering yet more bullying. The most important thing for me at age thirteen was to finally begin fitting in with those around me.
When I look back at this time of change, I am horrified at the way I acted. Had I been born thirty years later, I may well have made the correct selections for my future direction in life. As a young gay boy, growing up in 1984, I just didn’t have the willpower or desire to be who I wanted to be and my whole life changed as a result. If I had my time all over again, things would be very different; since I don’t have that chance, I must learn to become content with what I have; not keep thinking, what could have been!
It’s that time again, the worst part of the year, a day I always dreaded - competing in Sports I couldn’t stand, in front of family and friends. Today was hot, very hot; as a big kid, taking part in our schools annual sports day, activity was the last thing on my mind. Sat in my classroom, I could see the caretaker, walking up and down the field, with one of those old-fashioned oil filled mowers. As usual, it kept stopping and starting, spluttering back into life; the smell of petrol fumes drifted into the class. I coughed as the vapour hit the back of my throat; eyes watering I asked to use the toilet. Standing in the lavatory, I was alone with my thoughts. Placing both hands on either side of the sink, I lowered my head, looking down towards the plug hole and sighed. Leaning over, my right elbow slipping down the side of the porcelain, I gently turned on the cold tap. Cupping my hands, I filled them with water, taking a sip, throwing the excess over my face; this was going to be a long day!
The classroom was buzzing, a hive of activity, everyone excited about the day ahead; everyone except me that is. I went and sat back down at my desk and finished putting on my PE kit. My teacher, looked over from the front of the class; I turned and looked away. Briefly glancing back, she smiled, stood up and walked over to where I was sitting. She knelt down on the floor and told me not to worry; straightening my legs, pulling up my crisp white socks. I took out a pair of new, untouched plimsolls from my bag and Mrs Brooks helped me put them on. Gently tapping the side of my leg, she encouraged me to stand up - shoulders back, chin up, it was just another day.
People were arriving outside, Mums, Dads, Brothers and Sisters, all lined up neatly behind the rope fence erected around the field. Classroom tables were placed at either end of the freshly cut grass, trophies and ribbons neatly arranged. It was time to go and make a fool of myself once again. Walking outside, I was in a dream, floating on air. I imagined myself far away, from the cheering crowds, all the while scuffing my feet along the floor, hunched back, head bowed, not looking ahead. I heard Mothers voice in the crowd and looked upwards, waving briefly, placing my arms down to one side, walking slowly across the field.
Sitting down I waited to be called - butterflies were fluttering unabated in my stomach. Fidgeting, scowling, I focused on my feet; then all at once, my name shouted from across the arena. Red-faced, I made my way towards the track - eight of us lined up side by side, none of us wanting to play our part. A sport for the afflicted, a competition for the physically challenged - the dreaded egg and spoon race. The whistle went, and I began the undignified crawl to the finish line with two left feet. Bumping into a fellow contestant halfway along the course, I fell to the ground, grazing my knees, grass stains adorning my shorts. All the while the whole school looked on, fixated on me, no one else, just little old me. Hobbling across the finish line, I was patted on the back by Mrs Brooks “never mind” she said, as I was presented with a green ribbon, for endeavour, for trying hard, to make me feel better, to ease the pain. Forever green, that was me, never red or blue, just plain old green; could do better, must try harder, there’s always a next time - I was invisible once again!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.