After all my talk in recent blogs about simultaneous posting, inspiration particles and coincidental subject matter convergence, I’m now going to write something directly influenced by two other bloggers.
Adam at A World Of Pain wrote a great post about geeks in school last week and Marcia at Menopausal Mother posted a very touching piece called A letter to my younger self, giving advice to herself as a teenager from the perspective of the present.
Having commented on both posts, I got to thinking about my own school days.
Would I have warned myself of what was to come if I could have done so?
My mum had died only a couple of years earlier, would I have given myself prior knowledge of that awful event?
I hope not, and I’m glad now that I didn’t.
And following on from Marcia’s blog, I guess this post is to explain why not.
I went to school in Crowborough, East Sussex, at what was at the time (1977-83) the largest single-site comprehensive school in Europe.
The first two years or so were fairly uneventful as school goes. Finding new friends for your parents to disapprove of, learning who to steer clear of in the playground, seeing how far you could push your teachers before they exploded, all the usual stuff. Oh, and lessons of course.
It wasn’t until the third year that things began to go awry.
There were a lot of skinheads at our school, and I was weedy metal and prog rock fan whose parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair.
I may as well have had a target painted on the back of my slightly oversized blazer.
My nemesis was an acne pocked, shaven headed, hard little bastard called Paul, who was the head of a pack of delinquent skinheads that roamed the playground and corridors, pushing around those smaller and weaker than themselves in the age old manner of bullies everywhere.
Somehow I had come onto his radar and he appeared to have made it his mission to make my life Hell.
I still very clearly remember the evening of the school “club” (weekly disco and surreptitious smoking session) that began possibly the worst couple of years of my childhood.
Lured to a darkened area of playground behind the newly erected sports hall on some spurious pretext, I was suddenly surrounded by a dozen or so wild eyed glue fiends (a pretty serious epidemic of glue and solvent abuse was in progress at the time) and from their midst strolled their top knuckle-dragger, Paul.
I honestly can’t recall what it was that I’d supposedly done to incur his wrath so intensely, but he already seemed enraged at my very existence.
He was however prepared to be reasonable, explaining that if I beat him in a fair fight he’d say no more about it. (I’m paraphrasing here, his grammar wasn’t that good)
What followed was without a doubt a massacre.
I had no idea how to fight and still don’t.
I tried to duck my head and met a fist coming upwards, breaking my nose with a crunch I can still hear now in my head. A black eye was the result of a straight jab, and the bruises on my ribs demonstrated my inability to block body blows.
The whole time I was being pummeled, the circling pack would push me back and forth, never allowing me to get my bearings and preventing my escape in the process.
Eventually they got bored, or Paul got too tired to keep hitting me and I was left to bleed onto my new black and white checked shirt and to go and beg for sympathy cigarettes whilst still suitably covered in gore.
As it turned out, I was pulling slivers of cartilage from my septum for several years after.
And so it began.
Almost constantly from that point on, I was chased from one class to the next by groups of these animals, who seemed to work in shifts to keep me permanently harassed.
I had to sprint home at the end of the day sometimes, to avoid the sentries on the various exits from the school grounds.
It started becoming unbearable to go to PE or games, because of public ambush that inevitably awaited me in the changing rooms.
The cycle of bunking off, getting behind in class, intercepting letters home to blissfully unaware parents (who’d swallowed all the “walked into a door” type excuses) worsened.
I developed a convoluted exit strategy to get safely off the school grounds at home time, crossing the playing fields avoiding the waiting thugs, until this deception too was discovered and I was caught and given another pounding.
Except this time I managed to land a good satisfying punch full in the face of my tormentor, and this was enough to allow my escape.
Soon after this minor victory I was released from my torment by, of all people, a sports master who caught two of the ringleaders red handed, about to give me another kicking in the changing rooms and quite literally banged their heads together.
Out the other side, bruised but unbowed.
I’ve heard experiences like this described as “character building”, usually by those that haven’t experienced them, and it always pisses me off. But that’s only because of their unthinking ignorance, not the sentiments expressed.
You see, I do actually believe that my treatment by those cowardly little monsters played a part in me becoming the person I am today.
I am not in the least bit violent, I’ve never had a fight since leaving school.
I refuse to bow to any bullying or intimidation, most bullies are insecure cowards who just pick on people they think will crumble in the face of aggression.
I have always been fiercely independent, a fact I attribute to losing my mum and having to pitch in at a young age.
Above all, I always try to have a sense of humour about life.
I’m pretty pleased with how I turned out, even if I do say so myself.
But I think that if I’d had prior warning about all these and other personal tragedies, I might have reacted differently, taken a different path, and who’s to say whether that would have resulted in a better me?
No, I think in the case of hindsight, ignorance is bliss.
So in the interests of completeness, this is the comment I left on Marcia’s Letter to my younger self post.
It is also styled as a letter to my own child self:
Not sure where you’ve got up to, but I expect you’re hoping for some useful tips and hints about what to do in a whole load of sticky situations that may pop to ruin your life (and there will be quite a few).The thing is, I’m petty content with who I am, and I can only assume that who I am has been shaped by all the events you are soon to experience.
So telling you in advance how to avoid all the bad decisions, disastrous mistakes and idiotic bad calls that you WILL make can only serve to reshape you into someone I’m not familiar with. Therefore I’m going to allow you to suffer all the indignities and pain of my past (your future) for the simple reason that I don’t want my present self to change one iota.
To sum up: tough shit buddy, some of your life will be crap.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way, and when you get here you’ll thank me, because life may be what you make it, but you are what life makes you.
And I for one like me just the way I am.
Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…