Friday, 16 August 2013

My Back Pages

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

     I think I've mentioned before that messiness doesn't bother me. But for some reason, last weekend I was suddenly filled with the need to sort out all the boxes that are in the garage. I got as far as box number two, when I struck gold. A mass of work and letters from my schooldays.

     As we're in A Level results week, I ought to confess something. I did well at school. Really quite well (like top 5% at the time, I'd probably be bottom 25% now). And I have always felt horrendously guilty about it because I know it was undeserved. Up until the age of 25 I was blessed with a ferociously good memory that meant that facts and dates stuck to my mind like tomato soup on the face of a toddler. So I have always felt a bit of a fraud, knowing that one night of frantic cramming got me the grades, whereas friends who had special revision plans, all catalogued, colour coded and highlighted didn't do as well. And going through my old schoolwork, it's clear just how much attention I didn't pay.

     The first find was my old German dictionary. Flicking through it, I discovered lots of underlined rude words and in the back cover a conversation between my friends and I that took place during our German exchange trip. We were in a German Literature class and had been very gamely trying to follow a discussion, in German, of the Teutonic equivalent of Great Expectations. I remember frowning quite convincingly and nodding as various people made their points. Then my friend Vicky reached for my dictionary, appeared to be looking up a word, then passed it back. 'I'm totally lost. Jesus. I spy mit mein little eye...' and from that point on, we clearly gave up all pretence of trying to understand and just played I spy for the rest of the lesson.

     Delving further into the box, I found some old cardboard folders with sheaves of paper inside. I'd forgotten that my filing system during those days was to stuff every single piece of paper into the folders in no obvious order and hope for the best. So there were essays, print outs, school newsletters, tourist information brochures (why?) payslips, various letters from friends and ex-boyfriends and an awful lot of notes written during classes.

     At least that's what they appeared to be. On closer inspection, some of them (mostly from British History A Level classes, dullest of classes and always the last lesson on Friday afternoons) start out as note taking with one or two comments in the margin to the person sitting next to me. And then, usually about halfway down the page of A4, I abandon the notetaking and just start chatting to my neighbour instead. So my 'notes' read something like this:

     Wellington gave speech to Parl, sd no need 4 ref, misjudged mood, GE, Are you going to the Waterfront this weekend? No, I'm away, but I think the others are going. Yeah, to see him, got to get the loony bus straight after school, bag's in my locker. If I give you Amy's Bluetones CD, can you give it back to her? Ta!

     And then occasionally, if the teacher looked like she was going to walk past my desk, I'd scribble down

Corn Laws fr 1815, mfacts opposed, Anti Corn Law League (ACCL) achieved aim in 1846, R Peel

before continuing

     I am SOOO boredUH. I think I may have fallen asleep for a few minutes there. Disraeli led opp to Peel, resp for P losing PMship Chartism 3mil petition, but failed 2 make impact Six aims were:
  • Losing the will to live
  • Really sleepy
  • This classroom is too hot
  • Have you heard the new Manics album
  • I KNOW!
  • You well fancy Damian off Home & Away

     And it wasn't just the notes I didn't take. The number of barely started essays I never completed and handed in is shaming. There are too many several where I have neatly written:

     My name
     The date
     The subject
     Essay title

     And nothing more. Nothing. And I know that I never went on to write them on another piece of paper because I would remember. On the few essays I did manage to complete, there's a despairing quality to the notes from the teachers, questioning why, when I clearly grasped the subject, was I failing to hand in more than half the requested work? And missing a significant number of lessons (simple answer: I couldn't be arsed).

     Then there are an absolute wedge of letters I wrote, but for some reason never sent, when I was supposed to be having a 'Study Period' in the Common Room. Reading them through again is slightly cringeworthy, but also very amusing, remembering that time in my life and the events that, without wanting to be all mawkish and sentimental about it, moulded me into the person I am today. Some letters, had they made it to the intended recipient, would have undoubtedly changed the course of my life in ways I can't even begin to contemplate. But for the most part, they're just me burbling away about not very much.... Err, kind of like this blog, I suppose.

     And music. Good lord, I'd forgotten just how much of a music head I was. The amount of transcribed song lyrics that made it into those folders. Why did I write so many down? For whom? What was I intending to do with them? From the tearstains and smudged ink, it's clear that a lot of them reverberated with me, but looking back it's not always that clear why (although I will confess that yesterday I heard Suede's The Wild Ones for the first time in years and dissolved into a tearstreaked snotty bubble of teenage angst. No idea).

     So it's been fun, if slightly discomfiting, to look back at those days when finding a hastily scrawled picture of a spurting cock in a textbook was the funniest thing EVER and to accuse your best friend of loving New Kids On The Block was to win all arguments. In those pre-internet days, the only methods of communication were the phone and letters, so for the most part I still have a record of the people we were, and can see why my schoolfriends and I have turned out as we have now that we're 33 and apparently have to pretend to be grown ups. I'm even considered responsible enough to herd children. Sometimes children that aren't even mine. But in my head, I am still not listening to the teacher and trying to make the person sitting next to me get the giggles.


Marina Sofia said...

This made me laugh! I haven't kept my old schoolbooks, but I suspect mine might have been a little like that. I remember some pretty intense discussions written in pencil on the school desk - but that would be the social media of the day, because it would be rubbed out by the next day.

Lucy Benedict said...

'the social media of the day' - LOVE it! I know I have more stuff *filed* away somewhere, will have to seek it out one day.