Wednesday 16 September 1987

…RE was first at school and the subject was beliefs.
I BELIEVE I was by myself until breaktime because Eddie had to go to the doctors.
I was all on my own.
The Design lesson was just writing out all the letters of the alphabet in different
styles, both capital letters and normal.
I don’t see the point…

More new subjects. RE was actually RS: religious studies. There was no indoctrination involved. We were being educated – quite properly – on all of the world’s big religions: how they began, what they believed and how they continued to shape history.

All good, enlightened stuff. And it was just as well, because in my class there were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and a Jehovah’s Witness. Yes, it was the equivalent of a 1970s advert for Coca-Cola – and in a state-run, mixed-ability secondary school.

Take that, Michael Gove!

Tuesday 15 September 1987

…We had our first Dance lesson, and had to do a really silly workout.
First of all we had to twiddle our hands, then swing our arms, then waggle our
elbows, then swing our heads round, then wiggle our hips, waggle our knees
and finally kick our feet, before repeating the whole thing over and over again.

Welcome to the “performing arts”, late-80s style.

We had two lessons of this every week, alternating in a ramshackle fashion between dance, drama and music.

The only time I ever enjoyed dance was when the teacher brought in her tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Greatest Hits and got us to do a routine to the theme to the South Bank Show.

This would happen roughly once a year, and on each occasion she would ask us if anyone knew the name of the piece of music. I was always first to put my hand up.

Well, it was the one time I could actually show sincere interest in the subject at hand. Sadly it was also one of many times I would find myself edging closer to peer-led ostracisation. Why couldn’t I just keep this sort of knowledge to myself?

Tuesday 8 September 1987

…My lunch money got stolen today.
I don’t know how it happened, but it was in my pocket at break time and
wasn’t in my pocket when it was time for lunch.
I had to borrow some money off Edward.
It was lucky he had some change instead of a single one pound coin, otherwise
I would have been famished…

There might have been an innocent explanation for this, but it being only a few days into my first term at a new school, I instinctively thought the worst.

Rather than report it or take practical steps to stop it happening again, me being me I merely entertained fanciful ideas of how to give the thief an unpleasant surprise if he* tried a repeat assault. A mousetrap in my pocket? Stinging nettles? A small polythene bag containing cold baked beans?

Instead I ended up spending much of the following day with my right hand clasped around a one pound coin. Yes, that was all the lunch money I was given by my parents. And no, I always ended up with some left over.

*I assumed it could only have been a he. But I would soon discover that my secondary school had just as many girl troublemakers as boys, and that all my primary school gender-based assumptions were in ruins.

Monday 7 September 1987

…Mondays for now and the foreseeable future will begin in the worst way possible: PE.
At least it is in the gym and not outside, and at least we do not have to have a
shower afterwards.
Then in Science we were taken through the way to write up an experiment

And so began one of the enduring motifs of my life as a teenager.

Between now and the age of 18, at least twice a week for around 30 weeks every year, I would find myself writing the following five headings on a sheet of lined A4 paper:






Beginning with an observation of what happens when ice is melted in a beaker above a Bunsen burner, all the way through to three-day long studies of the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, the next seven years would be punctuated by hundreds of laboratory-based scribblings.

Most of these write-ups still exist. Most of the information they contain left my brain decades ago.

The principle of empirical analysis, however, has not. I know that I approach the task of, say, planning a train journey or moving house or writing a blog the same way that I approached the task of heating diluted copper sulphate.

In this instance, the apparatus and method speak for themselves. The results and conclusion I leave up to you.

Copper load of this