At Primary school (not suggesting here for even a moment that I’m not over it), we had the option of an after-school art class, but only when we got to the sixth and final year.
The after-school art class was incredible. They marbled things. I still don’t know how. There was some gorgeous process with blues and greens dribbled onto the surface of a tank of water, shapes encouraged rather than made with a pipe cleaner, and A3 paper pulled through the silken watery depths, emerging – wet and punctuated with swirls and spirals of oceanic colour. It was as decadent as we got in south London.
As we left primary and made the slow walk up the path to secondary school, word reached our ears that the rules had changed. The year fives were allowed to attend the after-school art class. We had missed out. And we were furious.
We had gone from near-diagnostic running about and shovelling cherry stones up our noses, up to the big grown up world of breeze blocks and keeping to the left when opening doors and walking up stairs. The year fives, peasants as they were, had taken over our much longed-for, now much-missed, art class, and they had started learning French.
My word, eleven years old, and already we were aware of the advantages the younger people had over us.
Thankfully, we didn’t have time to be overly morose. Our daily scuttlebutt of reading, games and topic (an unknown celebration of essay-style writing and drawing) had deviated into an avenue of French, German, algebra, and heavy-duty history, geography, home ec, multiple sciences and literature. Plus art, music, drama, craft design technology and textiles. And phys ed. Oh, and RE.
Plus, a handful of us were now library monitors in the Resource Centre.
Exactly when the library became known as the Resource Centre is unknown, but it was well before we arrived. As such, its origins are shrouded in mystery and the Resource Centre pulled us in like a grandma cuddle. Also, we had to pass a written test before we could be approved as library monitors. This all happened shortly before it became uncool to be clever.
The only parts of the test which I still remember were 1) How do you spell ‘encyclopaedia’? (by copying, as it turned out) and 2) Using the following twenty-six boxes, can you write out the alphabet backwards? (Of course, by starting at the end and working back towards the left of the page).
When everybody else stayed, and we moved down to Devon, suddenly it was Advantage Me. The kids in Devon had started French in the first year of secondary school, but had only begun German a few months before my arrival. As if it needs saying, I didn’t stay ahead of the pack for very long.
But we were pioneers.
Ours was the first year of my Devonian secondary school to experiment with the idea of a yearbook. We watched a lot of television in the eighties; we couldn’t help but be influenced and everything was American.
We had a careers advisor. I seem to remember she had me clocked as a would-be politician. I went off her quite quickly. I considered myself built for a life of a different kind of fiction.
At one point, shortly after she had condemned me to a life of disappointment on a general scale, we were asked to sit career assessment tests.
These were the standard, multiple choice, afternoon-sapping, ambition-sucking sort. Most of my friends came back with two or three options, all related: doctor, dentist, psychologist. That sort of thing.
When my results were calculated, it seemed there had been a mistake. A very long-winded, thirty-two page, tree-munching mistake. I got everything: from brewer to fish farmer, from political advisor to lawyer. My results shouldn’t have been possible. I blame them heartily for the all-purpose lack of direction that has followed me ever since.
The yearbook never happened. The final year was shot through with stress and pregnancy tests, and no-one really had the time.
We adopted a fresh Americanism. The Prom.
My mother had a friend from the PTFA who used to come over weekly and make lasagne with her. After some weeks, Janet the lovely lady who chopped as instructed and enjoyed being bossed about by my mother, noticed a picture of my dad on the mantelpiece.
After a morning of skirting round the issue, she finally blurted it out: she had a lady, made of swirling shawls and liberally wafting with patchouli, who had described a man exactly like my dad who had appeared in her crystal ball. He had only recently passed. He was reaching out to his daughter.
It took my mother six months to tell me.
When we had the Prom, Janet and the other ladies who cooked left their PTFA meeting and covered a dozen trestle tables with a veritable feast of buffet goodness. We were fifteen and sixteen. We didn’t eat in front of people. The buffet sat and wilted, with The Verve and Radiohead playing joy and misery in the background. Actually, it was all misery, as I recall.
I spent most of that evening in the playground, smoking profusely, while the cool kids drank vodka on the concrete steps outside the main hall.
The perfectly-chaste-but-in-a-relationship kids danced on the netball court, and at least three people lost their virginity in the girls’ toilets.
I put this, and almost everything else, down to not being allowed in the art class until year six.