Thursday 8 October 1987

…Michael and Stephanie have run away from school!
Not together, but separately.
Nobody knows where they have gone…

Both of these people were in my year, but not my class. Neither had particularly pleasant reputations, and both were bullies from the “rough” side of town. Nonetheless their actions came as a surprise and caused a major scandal.

Various people claimed to have seen them disappearing over the fields, including some who weren’t even in school at the time.

Rumours flew. They’d been in fights with teachers. They’d been caught having sex. One of them had brought a condom into school. One of them had vandalised a classroom. They’d thrown food across the canteen, or into the face of a dinner lady.

I don’t think the truth was ever established. Neither of them was expelled, and it was hard to tell if their continued absence was due to a suspension or them simply not bothering to turn up.

But eventually they did both come back, and I know this for sure because I have a later memory of spending an entire lunchtime hiding from Stephanie in a thicket of trees.

Wednesday 7 October 1987

…My watch strap has broken and I don’t know why.
This morning we had our class photographs – our individual ones, not a group one.
Ugh – it was awful.
You just can’t get away from them, even at secondary school.
We had a supply teacher for a bit, who was called Mrs Parker.
Imagine if she was Mrs No C. Parker.
But of course there is no name as “No”, so this would not work…

I never looked my best in my school photos, but I could have done without other people calling attention to this fact. The nadir occurred when, after being “done” at some point in my mid-teens, a teacher came up and said to me (and everyone in the vicinity): “What’s up with you? You look dreadful. Haha!”

I tried to think of a pithy comeback, but I was too humiliated.

Thankfully I was now at an age where I could plead pointedly and successfully with my parents for them not to order copies for their family album.

I was happy for them to remember me this way:

Yes, that is what you think it is on my jumper

Friday 4 September 1987

…The third day at secondary school and my first PE lesson.
It was outside and we were doing football, which as always was
utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly boring.
Worse, after that we had to have showers – YUK.
In French we learned the basic numbers.
They really are written down in a VERY strange way.
Well, they are written down in French – what do you expect?
I could just about afford to have one fish finger, some chips, a banana and some
milk for my lunch…

Two watershed moments today: the first time I’d ever worn proper football boots, and the first time I’d counted up to 10 in a foreign language.

Neither had been expected of me at primary school, which I regret as far as the latter is concerned. The same can’t be said for the former, but that was more a matter of convention: nobody had been allowed to wear anything bearing studs.

Now I was at secondary school where everything was suddenly noisier, dirtier, less comprehensible and more competitive.

Four things that also applied to the business of taking showers.


Wednesday 1 July 1987

…Another morning at Woodbrook for the induction, and it began with us having
to do some French.
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
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.