Saturday, 8 January 2011
I was having a chat with a couple of work colleagues the other week about the subjects we all did at school and I started to think more about school days. The picture above is me aged twelve. Just look at that bloody hair!!!
I’ve already mentioned a couple of my exploits as a child at school but I’ve never really written anything about the school itself.
At junior school, I was regarded as quite a clever kid. I was one of the stars of my year and I excelled in everything I did. Ultimately I took an exam called the 11-plus, along with all of my fellow pupils, and I passed easily. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. I certainly didn’t consider the reward for this achievement.
My father had been told that I was good enough to apply to the local grammar school in Walsall. It was a boy’s only school (there was an equivalent girl’s only school) and it was considered a privilege to go there. Most parents wanted their kids to enrol but in order to qualify, they had to pass the 11-plus. Since I had sailed through that exam I was accepted without question. Some of my mates didn’t quite do well enough and one or two had to take a further entrance exam.
Unfortunately, amongst the kids of Walsall, my school was considered a school for toffs or rich kids; we were mocked mercilessly by them. To be fair, most of the kids in my year did come from more privileged backgrounds.
Sadly I didn’t. My father worked in a factory and my mother didn’t work at all. We didn’t even own a car.
And this is where I had a huge problem.
I lived within spitting distance of the local comprehensive school which meant that when I walked to school I had to pass kids from the two comprehensive schools every single day. But it was worse than that, dear reader, because on the way to school I had to pass yet another comprehensive school. The journey to and from school took about half an hour and it wasn’t pleasant.
First of all, I was forced to wear a school cap in my first two years. It was a bizarre school rule to say the least and obviously something that was traditional. Such customs were irrelevant for my eleven year old self; all I thought about was a safe and trouble free journey – I rarely got one.
No other school in the borough of Walsall had a similar stupid rule about caps, meaning that I stood out like sore thumb. It was even worse than that, dear reader, because as far as I know, I was the only kid in the entire first year who lived in my area and consequently I was alone in my journey home. You can imagine what happened.
“Look – it’s a TOFF!” a voice would cry and then before I knew it I would be surrounded by kids from one of the other two schools. My cap was their target.
I had to try to fight them off or run away from them. I wasn’t always successful. That bloody cap was run over by a buses and cars, stuffed into dustbins and hurled around all the time.
I actually stopped wearing it for a while until I was caught by a teacher who just happened to be passing. This cretin stopped his car and screamed my name.
“Where’s your cap?” he said.
“I forgot it,” I replied thinking of the worst excuse possible.
“Detention, lad!” he said before driving off.
I was bloody annoyed I can tell you. The school’s idea was that wearing a cap would show that you were from a great school and that “you should be proud to wear it”. I wasn’t – I hated it.
I’m convinced that this episode was the beginning of the anarchic streak within me. I actually had an argument with the teacher who had stopped.
“You don’t have to walk back through a bunch of kids whose idea of a joke is to steal my cap,” I argued. “That’s why I don’t wear the fracking thing.”
“Don’t argue with me boy and how dare you use language like that!” he snarled. “Every time I see you on your way to or from the school without your cap you will get a detention.”
“That’s not bloody fair,” I cried. “My parents don’t own a car so I can’t get a lift. Everybody else leaves school, gets into a car and I’m willing to bet the cap comes straight off. It’s not fair.”
My arguments fell on deaf ears and the idea of rebelling against these stupid and idiotic rules was born. I became a rebel because of that bloody cap.
I managed to get away with not wearing it most of the time and only got caught a handful of times – each time I got a detention and sometimes I argued myself into yet another one.
Thankfully, when I reached the third year, the cap became optional. I ceremoniously burnt the bloody thing at the bottom of the garden by hurling it onto my dad’s bonfire.
It wasn’t just the cap the got me into trouble on the journey to and from school. One day a week I had trombone lessons and I had to carry the bloody thing for half an hour each way, sometimes with my sports bag and briefcase (yes that’s right – I had a bloody briefcase while other kids had Adidas sports bags or no bags at all).
Sometimes I looked like a pack mule.
The kids from other schools absolutely loved trying to steal my stuff. Thankfully, I used the trombone case and whatever else I was carrying as a weapon and swung them around hoping to make contact. It was sometimes like running the gauntlet, I can tell you.
The other problem I had was my background. My father was fiercely proud that his son had managed to get a place in the best school in Walsall because, at the time, it was considered quite an achievement. He worked in a factory in Darlaston and I was one of the only kids in my year whose dad wasn’t a businessman or some similar profession.
Consequently I ended up on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from certain arseholes in my year. Some of the posh kids considered me to be a pauper and called me names like “El Cheapo”. I gave it back, I can tell you, but it hurt my feelings, especially because my parents were so proud of me.
In the end I developed a thick skin and tolerated it, occasionally lashing out when the abuse got too much (as I did here). And because I regarded some of the school rules as totally stupid, I also gained a reputation for being an impudent child, arguing with teachers, taking the piss out of teachers and even calling them names to their faces while questioning their intelligence.
In summary, dear reader, I don’t really look back at my schooldays with too much affection at all.
I liked some of the teachers (they weren’t all arses) and I liked a lot of the kids; my problem was that those I didn’t like made it quite difficult sometimes and turned me into the rebellious arsehole I am today.
I simply do not believe that stupid rules have to be obeyed just because they are there.
Nevertheless, ultimately, I have to be grateful because the school made sure that the kids were driven and pushed academically. Without that grammar school I would never have gone to university and I wouldn’t be where I am today.
And I thank the school and the teachers for that – even though the buggers made me wear a bloody cap.