For various reasons, I am in a reflective mood and I finally have a few weeks in which to relax. This creates its own problems in that when I have time to relax, I have time to think and when I have time to think, that’s usually not a good thing.
As a means of procrastination and to keep myself busy for a while, I thought I would talk about me! I know, it’s something of a digression in this weblog, but it had to happen one day didn’t it?
I am not very good at spelling and I am generally dreadful at punctuating. I don’t have a clue about grammar although I have read every edition of Fowler as though it was talking about some sort of foreign language. But I come across as relatively literate and clever don’t I? Even if I did just start a sentence with “But” – I mean I occasionally write for a living, I should hope that I do.
The problem is in two parts, both somewhat unrelated. Sit back whilst I tell you a story if you are interested. The dates will be screwed up and some things may be in the wrong order but who cares?
I started school at age one and a half. People these days seem to find this somewhat barbaric but I don’t think it was considered particually abnormal then. I was a day-boarder at a small, private boarding school in St Annes. I remember parts of this life; I remember the little red/pink uniforms we had, I remember having to march every morning for half an hour. The boys marched, the girls did ballet practice. I always remember wanting to do ballet too but then I was odd that way. They didn’t have assemblies and there was no concept of religion there. This latter part I feel was a very good thing. I have read some other people’s memories of this school (which is now closed) on friendsreunited and they tally somewhat with mine. I remember liking the school nurse whom the boarders put across as a tyrant though; maybe this is because I never suffered from being forced to wear my soiled bedsheets all day as punishment for wetting a bed. Damn those under fives for their inconsiderate behaviour hey?
They taught me to read and write there pretty much as soon as I started in a curious mixture of phonetics and real language. I remember being taught my alphabet as phonetics and to this day I spell words out when people ask me in this way. Ah, ber, ser, der, eh, eff, gur. I have to translate to normal alphabet in my head later. I can read phonetic books without thinking about it still but then I also remember copying out endless cards saying things like “Mummy, daddy, Bill and Anne, are standing by their caravan”. Why they operated in this mixed way I have no idea. I am tempted to think that they enjoyed screwing with kid’s heads but I enjoyed my time there a lot so I have no complaints at all.
When I was about 7 my family lost a lot of its money when my Grandfather died. I had to move from that school because we moved away and for a few weeks I was put into a state infant school. That was terrifying! It wasn’t terrifying because the kids were bad or anything, they were just all so utterly dense. They couldn’t read, they couldn’t write. I had consumed most of Enid Blyton’s entire output by this time and they were struggling with the fact that Peter liked Jane and the dog had a ball. Luckily, I didn’t stay here for too long and we moved to the Isle of Man where I started in a junior school there. Within about 2 weeks the teachers had complained bitterly about me and they moved me up a couple of years to a class that I may actually get something out of. I was still far too ahead of them but at least there was something that interested me. It is something of a tribute to the Manx school system that they were happy to do this. I don’t know if they still do but I hope so.
Of course… At some point we lost all our remaining money and we moved back to England where I was soon to discover that the English school system lacks a lot in terms of progressieve thinking. I started at a new school and they put me back in the year appropiate to my age. I did the entire year’s maths text book in a lesson, I did the same with every other class. They had no idea what to do with me so they just left me alone. The only lessons I got anything at all out of were History and Religious Education; the former because I had never really studied any British History and the latter because religion was entirely new to me and fascinated (and still fascinates) me in the way that watching Big Brother fascinates me now.
I lost the ability to learn completely. I had nothing to do for a couple of years, I had no challenges and teachers just avoided me. We moved around a lot and I went to a few schools; all with the same issues and all I really learned in the end was to pretend to be like the rest of them so I didn’t have to do any work at all. I managed to miss learning to spell, I managed to miss learning any formal grammar and anything about punctuation. I never did manage to learn to handwrite, I had learned to write in print at age 2 and never learned any different. Teachers would tell me off for printing and not doing joined up writing but none of them ever thought to teach me. I tried to learn from a book once, trust me the results are somewhat amusing. One plus point at this time is that I had been thrown out of games lessons for being a monumental pain in the arse and I had to spend every games lesson playing with computers instead as an alternative. Mostly I spent 1980 and 1981 playing Colossal Cave on a 380Z. It seemed like a good thing to me.
Eventually I think I discovered that during my few years of hiding the world had caught up on me. People around me were being taught stuff I didn’t know and I was falling behind. I was no longer the cleverest person in the school, not by a long way in fact. Of course by this point I was not only behind in a lot of things, I also had no clue how to learn any more and was far happier in the middle classes than in the top ones anyway. I coasted and blagged; I got the smallest amount of O-levels required to get into college after school and then got the absolute minimum qualifications that I needed to get into University. It wasn’t quite all coasting; I enjoyed things like photography and at this point I still wanted to be an Archeologist, something I was never allowed to do in the end because I hadn’t studied classics – In industrial schools in Central Lancashire they don’t tend to study Latin and Greek.
At University I pretty much coasted. I got the worst maths mark ever at the end of my first year. When they made me resit it they kindly told me that I had to double my original 4% to be allowed to come back and just in case I couldn’t work it out, that was 8%. I slept through all my psychology exams (literally) and failed that as well. In my second year I attended just under 20 of the few hundred lectures I was meant to. I had no intention of coming back for a 3rd year by that point but I had to stay till the end so I wouldn’t have to pay my grant back. I had a job to go to, my Supervisor, one of the very few members of staff I liked was about to leave and I had zero respect for most of the members of staff and students on my course. I did no coursework at all and I guess my faculty got sick to death of trying to nag me. I had been suspended more times than I care to think about. They hated me, I hated them. The exams were hilarious because I didn’t have a clue what most of the papers were about but I guess there were some I already knew a lot about so somehow, to my horror, I passed the year. This was a problem now – I didn’t expect to pass, it was never on the cards. The job I was going to take fell through so I decided to take my third year and eventually graduated with a Third which was probably the best I could ever have got at that point really. They did make me do my second year coursework before they awarded me my degree. They really didn’t want to make it easy.
Leaving University with a Third Class Honours degree doesn’t usually allow you to take up a funded postgraduate but I had a friend, David Stretch who was looking for some students to take up a European funded postgraduate in Psychology at Leicester University in the Hospital’s Psychiatry Department. I had nothing else to do so I decided to go. That was when everything changed. I was 21 at this point and although it was a little late, I finally met that “teacher that changes your life”. David didn’t push anything, I don’t think he ever really tried to teach me much but he did suggest things and set seeds of things that interested me and then allowed me the freedom to explore and learn in my own way, with support when I wanted it and without criticism. From then, I went back to my old University to work much to the horror of my former faculty and carried on learning. It’s amusing really, looking back that most of what I have learned academically I learned myself after I was awarded my degree. My writing style I have discovered I owe to Cassandra; I fear he would cringe at how I occasionally butcher it though.
So that’s it. That’s why I can’t spell. Now you know so am I forgiven now?