Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Things High School Taught Me, Part one: A Waist of Time

Back in March, I uploaded a quick list of things I’d learnt in my Primary school years that hadn’t managed to make it to the official syllabus. The post was fairly well received. Not in the usual X-Factor ‘I’m know I’m good at singing because my friends and family tell me I am’ sort of way, either. 

In the weeks following the post’s online life, I’ve been asked by some to write a sequel about my years in secondary education. To start, I wasn’t all that keen to do so - partly because I found high school rather an unpleasant period, and mostly because my alter-ego at that time would have to have been named Bland-Man or something along those lines. I had at that time of life, for example, a favourite vegetable; I had an unhealthy obsession with my Runescape persona (purely platonic, you understand); phrases like ‘outside world’ would all too easily strike fear into my innermost being.

As time has frittered away in the past month or two, however, I’ve found myself caught up in snippets of memories and quirks of my time at secondary school that hopefully merit a strongish post. Sit down, then, relax, never say the word ‘chillax’ in my presence, and enjoy part one of Things High School Taught Me.

Lesson one: Johnny B. Goode has been ruined by overzealous PE Teachers

Each year, between the annual downpour of sleet and the hallowed Christmas break, there existed a stint of several weeks where ‘Physical Education’, a grueling class that showcased my failings and flailings at sport, was swapped out for ‘social dancing’: a grueling class that showcased my failings and flailings at dancing with members of the opposite sex.

Every week, the classes would be marched into the games hall and the genders would establish themselves at either side of the room. Only the most beautiful and confident of souls would ever strut across the no-mans-land for a chat, while those at the other side of the social spectrum would watch these human peacocks and very much miss our virtual crossbows. Most, somewhere in between the extremes, stuck to their side waiting (perhaps a little nervously) for the teacher to bellow ‘Choose your partners!’ like some kind of failed gameshow host and, only then, venture across as a team.

If I had to choose one part of my whole social dancing career I really did enjoy, it was this ‘choosing of the partners’, which involved the entire group of puberty-suffering youngsters trying to toe the line between scoring the person they wanted to lock hands with while still pretending not to care about anything much, ever. Such a ritual usually includes deliberately positioning yourself within a ten-foot radius of your target; absent-mindedly/deliberately catching their eyes, then asking if they would like to double up - normally with as few words as possible:

“Want to dance with me?”
“Hi. Partners?”

As time went on, actually, these lines of questions became an increasingly honed art - by our fifth year all it took was an eyebrow twitch and you had three weeks’s worth of dancing and a prom date all lined up. 

After maybe a minute or so, ninety percent of the student body would be coupled and lined around the perimeter; the final ten percent were assigned a partner (though by their faces they may as well have been asked to read out a stack of ‘yo’ momma’ jokes to a firing squad), and one way or another I’d be facing a girl in my year and fighting the urge to apologise in advance. 

Now came the dancing itself: a terrifying prospect filled with all kinds of woe. For one, where was I supposed to look? Should I have watched my shoes? Should I have kept my neck snapped away or stared straight into her eyes as like I was about to whisper “and what became of your lamb, Clarice”? Usually, I ended up flicking between them all in three or four seconds like the star of a low-budget sequel to the Exorcist.

Another obstacle for the 13-year-old myself was the business of placing my hand round the girl’s waist - a move that at the time seemed next door to impregnation. I had no desire to become one of those underage fathers you read about on the news and so I always panicked, placing a closed fist on my dancing partner's side instead. 

Worst of all, these kinds of problems usually went by unanswered and piled up on each other. Doing my best to look like I was enjoying myself, attached to my peer by a single pair of joined hands and a few knuckles, I’d spend most periods of social dancing snapping my neck to the side, down to my shoes and then straight into my partner’s soul; all the while pondering why people were so anxious for Johnny B. Goode to go away in the first place. 

To this day, my favourite part of a ceilidh is when the nibbles come out.

Lesson two: Every pupil has their own ongoing skirmish with the office

You may recall that my primary school post featured a faction of pre-pubescent midgets joining forces to meet a shared goal, namely, the acquisition of the hallowed Hill. A high schooler’s War with the Office is generally of a different sort - each student is forced to carry his/her fight and shoulder his/her burdens by him/herself.

I have to admit that my personal conflict with the school office was kicked off by (A) my desire for a temporarily free lunch and (B) my tending to thrust all my problems on a future version of myself. At least twice a week for a large part of my second year I’d treat the room beside the school entrance as half office, half bank and ask the increasingly irritated woman at the window for a lunch slip intended for who’d forgotten their lunch money, and not for those who’d blown theirs on Jaffacakes the day before. 

I would always uncategorically swear to pay my debts the next day, though was fascinated by how ‘next day’ and ‘next wednesday’ could be so easily conflated.

After several months of taking advantage of the school in such a way, I realised my system wasn’t the most selfless of actions. Repentant, I turned over a new leaf, paid my dues and began to buy my lunch like any other. I thought, insodoing, I’d stopped any conflict with the office before it had started. I was rather surprised, then, when one morning I showed up with a single note to pay two seperate (and not lunch-caused) fees. Apparently, this was a heinous sin and very much not to be done. Instead of asking me to come back the next day with two seperate payments, the lady’s face in front of me puckered into a giggle before she turned to a colleague still at her desk. 

“Hey, guess what?”
“This boy” - I would have preferred student, pupil, gentleman, but I let it pass - “wants to pay for two things with one note!” 
Said colleague shook her head back and forth and began to chortle.
“We don’t do that”, she said.
“We don’t do that.” The woman at the window said, turning back to me, shaking her head and still snickering.

Maybe it was a running joke on that side of the glass, but if there was it was lost to me. Embarrassed, bewildered, and having not yet fully understood the concept of ‘turn the other cheek’, I fled back to class and prepared myself for the next round of war.

To be continued, etc, etc.

If you want to see the original primary school post, go here.
If you want to read about my long-winded day out in London, go here.
If you are interested in acquiring a black belt in the ways of the dish towel, go here.

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