Monday 25 January 1988

…First thing this morning [my teacher] asked us all to stand up and stay standing
only if we had:
a) brought in our homework diary
b) had completed all our homework
c) come in on Friday when it was snowing
d) brought in our play money
e) had brought in our Parent Evening slips
Only three people were left standing – and I was one of them…

Oh dear.

Yes, it’s all very well playing by the rules and being good, but did there need to be this kind of rigamarole that left me embarrassed and isolated from everyone else? I ended up feeling like I was the one who was in the wrong,

The “play money” was for a trip to the town hall theatre on Wednesday to see a pantomime that I would sum up in my diary as “absolutely useless”.

The “Parent Evening slips” were bits of paper on which my mum and dad had indicated which slots were most convenient for them to come and meet my form tutor.

Because both my parents were – by now – lucky enough to be in work, these slots were always in the early evening, usually after 7pm. I don’t recall there being much competition from other families.

Monday 18 January 1988

…More PE, or Physical Exhaustion.
We finally got to go on the gym apparatus, but I got put in a stupid group that could only go on a feeble springboard, a mat, a bench, and THEN ANOTHER MAT!
Dreadful.
In science we had to decide what would make a harmful pet and a normal pet.
What this had to do with science was beyond me.
In Blue Peter they showed you how to make your own personal organiser…

This was one “make” that I thought I’d have a go at. The results were disastrous. It fell apart almost from day one, and had to be held together with Sellotape. I covered the front and back with a garish polkadot design: white spots on a purple background. I then went to the Filofax section WHSmiths and bought a load of maps of places I would never visit in my life.

The whole episode left me so annoyed, and also embarrassed, that I never dared show the wretched thing in public.

I knew then I’d never be a yuppie.

Tuesday 24 November 1987

…The world, or rather the USA and Russia, have agreed to scrap
all medium-range nuclear missiles – hooray!
At last: they took so long about it.
But today they only agreed, and they will sign the contract next month.
In Dance this morning we had to do something about what we wanted to do
when we grew up…

I would have found this task more challenging than the usual dance-based fare thanks to the fact I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never had an inkling. Not once during my childhood do I remember ever alighting upon a profession and thinking: yes, that’s the one for me.

Instead used to tell people, rather cockily: “Well, I know what I DON’T want to do…” and sometimes follow this up, were I feeling particularly sardonic, with: “…and that’s be within a hundred miles’ distance of YOU!”

Understandably, this was not received well.

But by now I was defining my life through negatives, rather than positives (thanks, adolescence!), which people who know me now will recognise as a trait still very much in evidence. So I guess in that sense, I had alighted on something that I was going to do when I grew up. I don’t think that would have satisfied my dance teacher, however, so I’m guessing I probably settled for a) miming playing a piano or b) pretending to introduce an edition of Panorama.

Performing his usual humble function

Wednesday 1 July 1987

…Another morning at Woodbrook for the induction, and it began with us having
to do some French.
AU REVOIR!
It was actually quite good.
I have learned “Je m’appelle…”
This doesn’t mean “Seems like hell” but “My name is…”
Then we went down to the science labs for some science with Dr Something Or
Other, it sounded a bit like Dr Zopatzo.
The entire subject of the lesson was how a Bunsen Burner works.
Unfortunately then it was time for PE which was boring and afterwards we were
MADE TO HAVE A SHOWER.
Except I “forgot” my towel…

Yes, the tried-and-tested bogus memory lapse. But there was no way, absolutely no way, I was going to go into a communal shower with a load of strangers. It was enough of an ordeal being around them fully-clothed.

Later in the year, when I was at secondary school for real, the post-PE shower was enforced more rigorously. A teacher would patrol the changing room, drawling a little-too-enthusiastically: “Come on boys! What are you, nancies? Drop that towel! I don’t know why you’re shy, I’ve seen it all before!”

He’d also threaten not to return our valuables, which we’d had to hand over before the lesson to his tiresomely unoriginal cry of “Baubles, bangles and beads!” and which he kept in a Tupperware container.

If absolutely everyone had been forced into the showers, and absolutely everyone had shared the indignity and embarrassment, it might have been a little less unbearable. But the cheats cheated, the skivers skived, the bold ones answered back, and the remaining minority of us did what we were told and just felt even worse.

Thursday 18 June 1987

…Had to get a bus to school because the car is being repaired, so we arrived
very early indeed.
And then the very first thing at school was maypole practice which was terrible.
We had to do Maths till playtime, then project until lunch which was
chicken pie, potatoes and cabbage with semolina…

Not all at once, though.

The wretched maypole was dogging me right to end of my time at primary school, like some malevolent totem. I’m not even sure for what we were rehearsing, as my diary doesn’t record any more public performances. Seeing as the pole had collapsed the last time we’d done a show, I’m amazed it was thought appropriate we be let anywhere near it.

But then this was 25 years ago, when we were still encouraged to do PE half-naked and carry heavy boxes up unsupported ladders before getting lifts home with strangers.

I blame Kenneth Baker.

Tuesday 31 March 1987

…[Our teacher] grabbed me and Edward this afternoon and virtually
threw us into the staff room.
He gave us a talking to about sport and our attitude.
He said he wanted to be fair with us.
The results are that swimming will be made a lot easier – we won’t have to be in
the top group anymore.
However for PE we are now going to be expected to help teach the infants
as well as doing our usual lesson.
That increases PE to THREE HOURS A WEEK!
How is this fair?…

Imagine my fury at being compelled to do this, and just days after moaning that the rest of my class gave the impression that all they wanted to do was play sport. Yet here was I getting landed with more PE, while the rest of my peers just carried on as before!

Worse – my “attitude” was supposedly to benefit from helping five and six-year-olds learn to catch a ball.

Had I taken the long view I would have wryly accepted this silly arrangement, knowing it would all be over in three months when I left primary school for good. But I wasn’t good at the long view 25 years ago, and instead merely raged inwardly at having mounting attention drawn towards my inadequacies.

Naturally, none of this improved my “attitude” towards PE one bit. I’d been doing it for seven years and still hadn’t found a sport I was a good at. Surely I’d suffered enough?

Thursday 29 January 1987

…Last night I had a nose bleed.
Nose bleeds can be so annoying, especially if you have them at night
which is when I had mine.
It lasted about 40 minutes from 5.20am to 6am.
I was nearly awake [when it started] anyway.
This morning and this afternoon we had to do a workshop at the drama
centre, which is in the Fearon Hall [across town].
The theme was about two Americans trying to take over an
imaginary valley and we had to try and stop them.
I was one of the people who owned a windmill in the valley…

As usual, I’m not particularly forthcoming in my diary about just what all this role-playing was precisely in aid of. I have no memory of it whatsoever, and that’s perhaps just as well.

Although none of us were at a particularly self-conscious age, I’d imagine there was already a stirring of a precocious kind among certain members of my class* along with parallel feelings of shyness among others.

It was probably an occasion that was mostly inoffensive if a little bemusing. However I believe there’s another of these events coming up in a year or so, if I get that far, by which time I was at secondary school and hormones were very much a-bubbling. Euucch.

I’ve just realised that the theme of today’s role-play sounds like Once Upon a Time in the West. If you think that’s a bit highbrow for a bunch of 10 and 11-year-olds, be thankful we were spared something along the lines of the event that my sister, who’s two years younger than me, had to attend later in 1987 which was based on the Hungerford massacre.

*Apologies if you’re skim reading this and the only words that caught your eye in this sentence were “stirring” and “members”.