I have been invited to a school reunion.
Since leaving school over 20 years ago I haven’t seen any of my old school mates, except for a brew with a one once, and a couple of chance encounters when I’ve bumped into them while out n about, once literally.
When I say ‘mates’ I should point out that the majority of people I went to school with were not my mates at all – In fact I have very mixed feelings about my time in secondary school, there were some funny times, but on the whole I felt like I never quite fitted in and spent most of my time just trying to get through the day without drawing too much attention to myself .
I only had a small circle of real friends, finding the best way to get through school was to stay out of the way of the ‘cool’ kids whilst trying not to activate the nerd radar.
I did manage to make my way through school mostly unscathed but wasn’t as successful at dodging the nerds. This worked out pretty well though to be fair, many of my memories involve eating my packed lunch in a corner of the playground with a variety of weird and wonderful characters.
Speaking to my parents about my time at school it became pretty obvious that education during the ‘swinging sixties’ was rather different to the experience I had, and miles apart from the school kids of today.
Those were the days of ‘proper education’ – Nitty Nora, Big gym knickers, smoking in class (teachers AND pupils, allegedly) as well as cross-country running with the last one to finish punished with the cane…Can you imagine the headlines today?
My mum speaks fondly of board-rubber throwing teachers and playing a friendly game of ‘knuckles’ in the yard, things that would be totally alien to the bubble wrapped kids of today. There’s so much health and safety legislation around playtime that some schools have even banned conkers and football.
Me, well I’m a 70s baby so I was at school during the nineties and things had changed dramatically by then.
We still had cross-country running and, although we weren’t encouraged by the threat of a cane, we did have the horror of communal showers when we reached the end.
I’m not sporty, not even a little bit and found the whole PE experience a total nightmare. I’ve never been any good at things that require hand/eye co-ordination so I really struggled to hit/catch/throw a ball, meaning I was always one of the last to be picked for a team. Not so good for your self-esteem when you’re 13.
And what was the craic with communal bloody showers?
Basically, once we had finished whatever form of exercise they deemed fit that day, the whole class had to shower together – supervised by our allegedly female, yet very manly looking teacher.
She would literally stand on a bench in the changing room overlooking the shower and insist that at the ‘very least’ we each walked from one end of the shower to the other while holding your towel above your head.
As an adult I realise just how wrong this was on many levels – I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed by anything else before or since. Think about it – when you’re a teenager the thought of your own mum walking in on you in the shower is enough to send you into a total meltdown, let alone parading your naked body in front of 32 classmates n a teacher.
Eventually, some of us (ok – just me then) developed distraction techniques such as bringing an umbrella, rubber ducks, even armbands. To me it was better to make a joke out of the situation than anyone realise that actually I still wore a vest and had no sign of ever growing boobs.
On a brighter note, I do have fond memories of playing with the gas taps in the biology lab, sneaky cigarettes behind the bike shed and my first ever crush on a teacher who shall remain nameless.
Now I’m an adult and wear my vest with pride – incidentally I also shower alone these days, unless you can count an annoying 7-year-old who always seems to need something urgently as soon as I head for the bathroom.
I also have children of my own with the youngest three still at school.
My daughter is at secondary school herself and is about to turn 15. She’s far more sensible than I was at her age and I don’t have to worry about her smoking or having a questionable crush. Today teenagers are more health conscious – in fact they’re more likely to offer facts and figures about smoking related illness than ask you to buy cigs for them.
As for a crush, my daughter doesn’t have time for that, she’s far too busy practicing the drums with her band or reading some obscure yet amazing literature she’s researched on the Internet. As I said, today’s youth are clued up and, in my experience, it seems that they do learn from our mistakes – if we admit to them that is.
The youngest two are in junior school meaning that a vast chunk of the summer holidays were spent buying uniform, sourcing shoes, choosing bags, naming PE kits and other essential school paraphernalia.
I’m hoping that this year we will still be in possession of (most) these items come October, if last year is anything to go on it’s highly doubtful and I will be losing my shit about the kids losing their shit by Halloween.
My boys have both, on separate occasions, managed to lose a shoe on the school roof. Unbelievable, right? I’ve discovered that this is only possible with a loose shoelace, an amazingly good shot and some determination. I’ve also discovered that while the caretaker is not insured to retrieve shoes from the roof, the wind will blow them back down again eventually.
This September we’re full of good intent. The boys have promised to behave well and work hard. I’ve already set my alarm clock and taken a vow of punctuality – the disapproving looks from the teacher as I signed in late yet again on the last day of term has seen to that. No more ‘late walk of shame’ for me.
Uniform at the ready and school bags packed ready to go, the kids are sorted and I can relax, briefly. Won’t be long until Nativity season, along with letters home asking us to make some obscure costume requiring hours of searching the internet for the strangest of things – like the year school decided to perform a ‘contemporary nativity’ and we found ourselves making alien costumes while all the other (lucky) parents from neighbouring schools picked up a ready made shepherd outfits or Mary ensembles.
With that in mind I’m off to get a head start before they sell out of neon leggings and doody bopper thingys. Now, where did I put that tinsel?………
This was originally written for Within Magazine – September edition….;)