Friday, 27 June 2014

Those Pointless Early Years...and Burning Down the Disco

An OutspokenRabbit revival in 2014 - who would have thought it?

I'd like to thank and acknowledge two people before we start. First up, the brave and dignified person who took the time to share a personal story with me the other night. You will remain nameless on here, but I'm honoured that you trusted me sufficiently to take me into an immensely private space in your life. We all have a bubble of sorts that we occupy as a sort of safety net – it consists of in-jokes that we might have with our friends, personal stories that perhaps mean more to us than they do to anyone else, along with the dark and unfortunate stuff that is only really shared with our nearest and dearest. You know who you are and please believe me when I tell you it really means something.

The second person I'm thanking is for an altogether different reason. Whoever has managed to get me banned from a school reunion that I had no intention of attending anyway must surely understand by now that the joke is on them? I actually feel rather sorry for you, whoever you are, and hope you make a full recovery from whatever the fuck is wrong. You have no idea what you have started and need to know that you have loaded some TNT into what was until now a vague concept over which I was not quite sure – a book concerning my young life that promises to blow the lid off a few things. Be assured it will be (in various places) amusing, explosive and revelatory. Let me know if you feel let down.

So, suitably provoked by 'the popular crowd' here goes...

Please - never confuse being good at something with actually enjoying it. Formal education never really got my motor racing, nor did I particularly see a constructive point to the overwhelming majority of what happened between the ages of four and eighteen. I just happened to be good at the seemingly endless cycle of tests and exams that offer no indicator whatsoever as to your use in wider society. It took me far too long to understand that your memory is much, much less important than how memorable you are, that formal education is really nowhere near as important as it's cracked up to be by teachers angling for job security and parents who see their kids first and foremost as some sort of reflection on them.

As you'll see time and again in the book, I fell for the crap peddled by my teachers and parents alike at the time. I may have been smarter than them, but there is still a sense when you're very young that someone a generation older has read a few hundred more pages than you have. Of course I know now that success in formal education does not magically open doors for you and that relative failure will not automatically leave you in a life of sleeping in a shop doorway giving sexual favours for loose change. Some of the lies that adults tell you when you're a child go beyond ridiculous and are thoroughly dangerous, building up false and utterly misplaced senses of both hope and despair.

Primary school has a totally different place in people's lives now that the eleven-plus is something of a minority sport. It is essentially pointless and I'll admit to learning pretty much nothing – ok I did learn that telling a young child about the non-existence of Santa Claus is a fucking good laugh at the time, but on reflection that's pretty sick and in extremely bad taste. My view on formal education as I've got older is that first and foremost, it's a way of getting kids off the streets and giving Mum and Dad the security of knowing where they are while they are at work. Knowing that not attending primary school at all would not have done me any meaningful harm contributes to this viewpoint significantly.

The place was permanently flat broke and in disrepair, at least while I was there. We were constantly in fundraising mode, paying for glasses of orange juice dressed up as cocktails, custard pies that were actually paper plates covered in shaving foam and 'beat the goalie' competitions against morbidly obese men from over the road. We were also told about the stupendous sums raised by our respective parents and yet I never saw one shred of evidence that it had been spent on something constructive. Perhaps the staff room had been equipped with a pool table and minibar, which would explain one of the stories I'll share with you later.

You could tell we were skint simply from the references by teachers to 'the' school computer, which was a pretty dismal effort even in the later 1980s and early 1990s. It ran at about the speed that I did when I tried to play football last year, and I managed to get on it twice in seven years. New Labour screwed many, many things up in this country, but insisting on computer literacy and the availability of them for kids was one of their smartest moves. I suppose the serious question, besides where the money went, is why it was being demanded of people who had already funded the school through taxation in the first place. Look, you're either a public service, a private enterprise or a charity. Make a fucking decision.

I have a couple of friends who are teachers and might be offended by this, but there are far more thick teachers out there than there once were. My formal education started at around the time that the real decline in standards was just beginning, when basic intelligence had stopped being a given if you wished to impart second-hand knowledge onto a younger generation. Most of the teachers at Primary school were airheads and if you were stuck with one of them for a year you could expect to learn the square root of zip for the next twelve months. What you did was also very much dependant on the predispositions and mood swings of the teacher concerned, so if they just didn't like history, sports or whatever, that was pretty much it until you were drawn with someone else.

Occasionally, you'd get the spectre of a 40-something, 40-a-day specialist (the tide on smoking was just starting to turn in the late 1980s) teaching 'physical education' to vibrant young kids who could happily take a trip down two flights of stairs and feel nothing. After 35 minutes of rolling around on the floor, throwing a few star jumps and doing nothing particularly tiring, she'd haul herself from the point of collapse to get herself a well-earned fag and hip replacement. You, on the other hand, would be absolutely fine. Competitive sport, however, was distinctly rationed, restricted on the whole to girly/homosexual games like rounders – and the one guy who was cool with you playing soccer took it way, way too seriously.

I never knew Phllipson's first name and I don't want to. What was quite obvious was that the school pitch was the arena on which he would live out the career robbed of him by, er, being a fat bastard who was thoroughly shit at football. Waddling around with his monumental arse covered by ill-fitting and unflattering shorts, he'd get the ball midway inside the opposing half, trample over a few opponents and then twat the shit out of the thing, full pelt, past a terrified nine-year old goalkeeper. AND THEN WILDLY CELEBRATE THE GOAL A LA BEBETO AT THE 1994 WORLD CUP!! He was like the ultra-competitive Dad from the Harry Enfield television programme and I know all this because, on more than one occasion, I was that nine year old goalkeeper.

What a fucking bellend. All I knew was that he was the headmaster there, then a certain Mr James was brought in over his head.

No idea what that was about, but he left around the same time we did.

Then there was Richards, who was essentially Miss Trunchbull from Matilda minus the hardcore violence, which had fortunately been outlawed in British schools in the early 1980s (probably the best thing the EU has ever done for us as Thatcher, Tebbit et al were keen exponents of the view that kids needed a good hiding every now and then). She was the classic case of the teacher for whom the banning of corporal punishment represented the end of the world as we knew it. On reflection, I'm thoroughly amazed she was a Mrs and have no doubt whatsoever that she wore the penis in that particular relationship. Deprived of the ability to brutalise kids, she came up with 'the bad book' for those who had misbehaved, which I can quite proudly announce I made my way into on more than one occasion.

Why are adults too fucking stupid to realise that kids regard this bollocks as a badge of honour?

And why do those who so obviously hate young people go into teaching?

Being called into the school hall was a big deal. It was usually for a bit of kumbaya and/or other religious indoctrination, something which made little sense in a comprehensive school and cannot end soon enough. Ironically, the one lad who was able to opt out of the god squad treatment was the least Jovo Jehova's Witness I ever met. Unless I'm mistaken, they aren't suppose to drink, smoke or watch pornography? We, on the other hand, were constantly fed religious tales by idiots who weren't remotely religious themselves. A demoralising and utterly unnecessary experience for all concerned.

There was the time that someone (quite rightly) flooded the school changing rooms and the wholly ridiculous reaction of the powers that be was to call the entire school into the hall for a grilling. Richards patrolled the perimeter, hoping that somebody (not necessarily the person who had done it) would be on the verge of wetting themselves and confess. I've no idea why, but she quite clearly and demonstrably hated my guts and kept staring me out. Whose bright idea was it to unleash this nasty piece of work on 300 of us, 299 of whom had done precisely fuck all wrong? I really hope she's sat in a wheelchair now, requiring round-the-clock assistance and a nappie change every hour. A quick and painless death is far more than she deserves.

Then there was 'the film'. I can only assume that the teachers fancied an afternoon playing pool and drinking in the staff room our parents had paid for, but we were subjected to a film so bad I would rather have been learning about ox-bow lakes (and I attempted to watch Judge Dredd, so can speak from a position of experience and authority). There seemed to be no obvious plot, complication or resolution aside from the moment that the film ended and we were relieved of our collective hell. I have no idea regarding the name of this cinematic nightmare, but vaguely remember seeing the same kid in an equally awful film later that year – it was 5am and we were up early as Irene was in hospital giving birth to my sister.

Last but by no means least was 'use it or lose it' day. Basically, we were marched in and force-fed dessert for an entire afternoon, for no apparent reason. The canteen staff had been kept on for the next three hours and concocted various offerings based on sugar – trifle, chocolate cakes and what have you. Despite incorporating responsible eating as part of their educational repertoire, the school was positively encouraging us to gorge ourselves with as much of this junk as we could. James, the headmaster, was roaring us on, “c'mon you can do one more trifle, don't tell me you're a quitter!!”. It was only much later that I would understand precisely what had gone on here. Schools were effectively punished if they did not spend all of their budget, so faced with that situation, they decided to gorge the kids. A school that did this now would (rightly) be closed down.

On a more general level, the food was awful – let me ask you something. Has anyone here eaten 'Chicken Supreme' since they left school? And am I right in thinking that the inclusion of the word supreme was strictly ironic? All of the stereotypes about school dinners were balls-on accurate on this occasion - they somehow managed to make hospital food look glamorous.

No wonder I'm a fucking vegetarian...

We officially left by dancing like twats to 2Unlimited in front of our parents. It felt embarrassing, childish and immature, even at eleven years old. I could already sesnse a chasm between the adult perception of childish amusement or enjoyment, and the reality. A moody and intense sullenness was already gripping me by this point. Exactly where I belonged remained elusive, but it clearly wasn't here.

The Dutch techno outfit were already a familiar soundtrack to our lives since their ghastly song 'No Limts' had been played more than once at the first of only two school discos I ever attended.

Burn down the disco, hang the fucking DJ.

I only got school discos way, way after the fact, in the same way that I only got my head around limerence when I was 28. There's a subtle overlap in the stories in the sense that the only 'real' school disco I ever attended was circa Christmas 1996 while my first limerent episode was sprouting and spiralling out of control. Within 20 minutes of the Spice Girls and immature 'fun and games' more suited to infants, I was wearing a melancholy expression and thoroughly regretting the decision (pushed by a friend, I should add) to turn up. I still had two and a half hours ago, but I was already deep in the bowels of hell. NO I DO NOT want to get off with anyone other than you-know-who, NO I DO NOT want to dance with just about anybody, NO I WILL NOT play musical fucking chairs.

NO I WILL NOT smile for the camera or look like I'm enjoying this, you fucking muppet.

What I really wanted do was go home - and if it wouldn't have left my mate fending for himself in pitch darkness and sub-zero temperatures later that night, I would have done.

And...what the fuck was this thing about demonstrating your affection for someone by biting them? I have never seen so many people wearing polar necks in my life. You could tell when a school disco had taken place since the following day half of the guys turned up looking like Val Doonican...and half of the girls turned up with fucking fangs. A few years ago I blacked out and had a brief encounter I would know nothing of, waking up with bitemarks in my neck and wondering what the fuck I should do. I went apeshit - nothing 'romantic' about it whatsoever. To this day, the fucked-up state I was in at that point in my life leaves me broken and haunted, but at least I escaped the Luis Suarez treatment from the girls at school. Not for me, babe...

It's only now that I realise how these things work – you have to be drunk to enjoy a school disco, just as you have to be on drugs to 'get' a rave.

Thanks for being here and for being you – take care and I'll catch you soon.