Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Joe XI – A levels

‘Tell me about school, and try and do it without saying “It was alright” or “I don’t know.” Go.’
‘I hated it. It was shit. How’s that?’
He looks impressed ‘Brief, to the point, certainly. What happened? Did you get into trouble a lot, or get bullied or what? I seem to remember, before you said not.’
I look about. I don’t want to talk about this shit. Can’t he tell?
He flicks through some papers, finds something, reads rapidly, moving his lips and gesticulating a little as if re-enacting our conversation. ‘Blah blah blah... invisibility. You relied on being inconspicuous apparently.’ He raises his eyebrows. I nod.
‘What were you avoiding?’
‘Obviously. Why?’
I want to say I don’t know but I stop myself just in time. Then I decide I really don’t know and just say so.
‘Did you think you might get into trouble?’
‘Not really. Mostly it just seemed less complicated that way.’
‘Dealing with people was complicated?’
‘But you had friends.’
‘Sort of. There were a few I hung around with at breaks sometimes, but we weren’t close. Actually they were really irritating. I spent a lot of time on my own.’
‘So, why didn’t you go and make other friends?’
‘I don’t know... Shit, sorry.’
‘I’m going to install an “I don’t know” box if you’re not careful, except there’s no money here of course. Anyway, go on. Other friends?’
‘I just didn’t want to hang around them, make a nuisance of myself. That sounds pathetic doesn’t it.’
‘It didn’t occur to you that they might want to be friends with you?’
‘No. And I’m fairly sure they didn’t. Everybody was just in their groups already – they didn’t want me coming over and saying (I do a whining voice)“Can I be in your gang?” It would have sounded feeble anyway, like I thought they were so cool.’
‘But other kids do that all the time, though not usually in that voice. They go up and say “Can I join in?” or, you know, “Can I come along?” well, Kirsty did anyway.’
‘But she was a kid wasn’t she, and girls are different anyway.’
‘I don’t know. Little girls can be complete b... I don’t know whats.’
‘Well, maybe I was too proud.’
‘So you stayed with the losers because that way you didn’t have to risk rejection. Is that it?’
I think about this. Was I just too proud?
‘No, I really think the other groups didn’t want me around’ I decide finally. ‘I was a bit of a weirdo. It would have just been pointless humiliation, and actually, if I’d been in with the cool kids it would just have been complicated in a different way.’
‘I think they were quite, like show-offs, you know, joking around, being cheeky, taking the piss out of the girls and so on.’
‘You weren’t really like that I suppose.’
‘It would have been really hard work.’
‘Whereas with your loser friends you didn’t have to try at all. Wasn’t there anybody else you could hang around with?’
‘I can’t think of anyone in particular. We didn’t mix much with other classes, so that was it – weirdos or dudes – take your pick.’
‘Or girls presumably.’
‘There weren’t really any boy-girl friendships then.’
‘What age was this?’
‘Secondary school, up to about sixteen. It was better later, in the sixth form.’
‘How was that?’
‘Well I hung out with the people who’d been in the class above and they were kind of weird, but cool too – university types I suppose. Some of them went travelling – inter-railing and or went to a lot of concerts. Some of them were really clever. Some of them actually discussed chemistry in free periods...’
‘God how dreadful.’
‘I know...’

‘How was your school work?’
‘I don’t remember much about it actually. It all seemed a bit of a mess – I was always handing stuff in late, getting into trouble.’
‘And yet you were always near the top as I understand it – one of the brighter students.’
‘That’s not how it seemed at the time. It just all seemed like a huge mess.’
‘Did that worry you?’
‘I just didn’t think about it really. ‘
‘But it must have become a problem, with dead-lines and so on.’
‘I suppose it was always in the back of my mind. It just all looked like a horrible muddle, and then it got worse because I missed stuff or didn’t really understand and then we moved on to the next topic and I was just completely lost. I have no idea how I passed my O levels.’
‘But would you describe yourself as fairly relaxed about it?’
‘No, I just stayed away from it as much as I could. I think if I’d actually thought about all the stuff I was supposed to be doing I’d have had a breakdown or something. I had quite a lot of time off, feeling sick, headaches and stuff. Or in the sixth form I just went away.’
‘Where to?’
‘Over the Downs. I’d set out for college in the morning and just walk straight past the school and up onto the hills.’
‘And the teachers? What did they do?’
‘I don’t think they knew really. I mean, obviously they knew I wasn’t doing very well. They didn’t know what I was doing.’
‘Did they ask?’
‘Ask what?’
‘Did they talk to you about why you were having trouble?’
‘Well, they did the whole “Pull your socks up or else” speech. Everybody was just fed up with me.’
He gets up and begins to pace about ‘You see this is what really pisses me off’ he says. ‘They can see you’re struggling, or something’s not right anyway and they know you’re bright, so if you’re not stupid they assume you can’t be bothered and the only strategy they have available is to give you a bollocking, like that’ll do the trick. It really gets my goat – I mean, it’s not the fifties any more – haven’t these people heard of educational psychology?’
‘But it’s not all that easy to talk to teenagers...’
‘What? Who the hell told you that?’
‘Er... well my mum, for a start...’
‘I bet she did. I bet she did.’ He’s really pacing now, double time. ‘Shit I can’t believe it’ he says. ‘Really makes me mad. So I suppose when you came to do your A levels that’s when it all fell apart because you couldn’t just muddle through any more, and I bet they still didn’t ask you what was going on, just told you to buck your ideas up.’
‘I don’t think I knew what was wrong either, to tell them I mean.’
He shakes his head frustratedly. ‘How long is it since this all happened?’ he says.
‘A year, eighteen months? It was before the end of the first year things started to go really wrong.’
‘You think you’ve changed much in that time? Apart from having died and so on of course.’
I shrug.
‘But we’re having this conversation now, and are you “hard” to talk to? Are we not having a conversation?’
‘Yes but...’
He leans over me, a hand on each arm of the chair. He looks intently into my face. ‘I could have helped you’ he says fiercely ‘and I’m not even a trained fucking shrink. Even I could have got you your passes. Shit!’ he says and bangs his fist down. He goes and resumes his seat. ‘I wish we had more time’ he says.
To continue reading, either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog.

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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.