Posts Tagged ‘childhood’


The middle tier at school was easy. The tests for the top tier were easy. Life in the top tier is so different. Everything seems harder to learn, more intense. I’m struggling to take it all in, to understand what is happening, what is expected of me. Maths is especially difficult. Algebra make no sense at all. I’m lost in a sea of knowledge and learning. I don’t know who to turn to or where to go. I don’t want to be at school anymore. I wish I hadn’t passed the tests.


Getting to the top grade at school was a big achievement for me. Maths and English tests and I was selected above everybody else, just one person, me. However I soon began to struggle and was overwhelmed by the harder lessons and tougher expectations of me academically. In the grade below I was near the top of the classes and was effectively cruising at school. I coped with the lessons and homework and had plenty of time to play with my friends. School was not a worry for me. Moving to the top grade was a very different matter for me. There was more homework, tougher questions, algebra was a new concept for me, how could you do maths with letters? I’m still confused by algebra but I can add up, subtract, divide and multiply, what more do you need for life! Moving home didn’t help either. Everything happened at once, moving home, moving up a grade at school and looking back I couldn’t cope. It was all too much for me I was overwhelmed and collapsed under the weight of everything that was going on and retreated into my shell, unable to talk to anyone about how I felt because I didn’t understand what was going on and I couldn’t even begin to put into words how I felt. I felt lost in the world and took to my bed as the only place I felt comfortable and safe in the world. Maybe if I hadn’t moved away from everything I knew I would have been fine in the top grade. Maybe if I hadn’t moved up to the top grade I would have coped better with the move. Life is full of if’s and but’s and so many unanswered questions and we all have them and all we can do is think about what might have been and move on as best we can.


Teaching in the 70s and 80s at state run schools in the North of England was a vastly different experience to the ones I read and hear about today. Teachers were in charge and they let you know it. We called them sir or miss, no names to ensure there was an invisible barrier between us that we could not cross. Yes the teachers were in charge and they let us know it. I remember one teacher who would trip you up if you ran down the corridor and simply say ‘don’t run boy’ as you lifted your face off the floor. Another teacher would hit you over the head with a piece of wood covered by a newspaper and when you asked him why he did it he replied ‘because I can’. One incident I remember is being in maths and the lad behind me was talking so the teacher threw the board rubber at him which bounced off the desk and smashed the window. The teacher just pointed at him and said ‘that’s your fault boy’! and it wasn’t worth going home and complaining to your parents because you just got a clip round the ear and told to behave yourself if you did. There were plenty of other experiences that I have forgotten now and a lot of the teachers were very nice and didn’t do anything they shouldn’t but it was a very different time and I’m glad I experienced it.


It’s my first year at Tong and I’m doing well academically. I’m getting top grades in all my subjects and soon will be progressing to the top tier. I’m still living on Holmewood at this point and walking to Marks everyday to call for him and go to school with him. I’m enjoying life, enjoying school. Everything seems so easy, so much fun. Little do I know how life is going to take a turn that will forever alter my life and turn it upside down. Life won’t be as easy after this event. This is when life gets hard for me.


It’s the day when dreams come true. My first day at big school, Tong Comprehensive. I remember looking at Tong when I was at Holmefield First and dreaming of what it would be like to go there, be there, feel so grown up, feel like an adult. And now that day has come, I’m here. I stand in the playground surrounded by children and teachers. Everybody seems to know what they’re doing. Except me. I am in the eye of a storm. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t feel grown up, I don’t feel like an adult. I feel adrift in space, floating like a piece of driftwood in the ocean. Is this what it’s like to grow up and be an adult? Lost and not knowing what you’re doing or where you’re going or what you want? If it is take me back to that moment when I looked over at Tong and dreamed of going there. I knew where I was that day, I knew where I was going, I knew what I wanted. Take me back to that moment when life was to be enjoyed and not now when life is a continuous series of never ending storms taking me everywhere but where I want to be.


One of my favourite and most enduring childhood memories is of the long summer holidays. They couldn’t come quick enough and seem to last forever. The summer of 1976 is one that sticks in my mind as it was also the first time I had experienced a heatwave. The skies had been crystal clear blue since May that year and we couldn’t wait to finish school and be free from the classroom and play out and enjoy ourselves. Every day was a special day that year as we played football, went down the valley and messed about on my mates, dads truck. We were happy and carefree and had no idea of what life had in store for us. It was all about living in the moment and enjoying every moment. On one particular day my brother had come home from the army and everyone lost track of time. It was at least 10pm if not later before my mum realised I was still out and called me in to go to bed. Other years whilst not as warm were as long and as happy. The innocence of youth providing a protective barrier for all of us from the pain that life can sometimes bring and providing us with day after day of pure childlike pleasure. They were happy times, good times and I’d go back to them in a flash to relive them over and over again before the storm clouds arrived and it was back to school and the reality of life.


I still remember the very first time I saw Mark Holdsworth at Holme Middle. It was in the playground and Mark was leaning back against the railings that went around the school in his school uniform wearing a pair of Doc Martens surrounded by other kids. He seemed very popular and I remember thinking how I wished I could have a friend like Mark and be popular with kids to talk to and play with all the time. I can’t remember the first time I spoke to him, but we did, and we clicked too as we’re still friends I what must be forty years on from that moment. After that meeting, we were at each other’s houses, playing down the valley, down the woods and on Black Hill. We were pretty much inseparable, and Mark introduced me to other people, some of whom are still my friends and others who drifted away as time went on. These were good times, fun times, times when life is perfect because you don’t understand the world and what is going on in it.


I still remember two people from my early days at Holme Middle. One is a lad called Thomas. He was mixed race, what we called half caste at the time although it must be remembered that we quite often used terminology without understanding it and there wasn’t the awareness back then that there is now. Thomas lived in the children’s home on the other side of the valley. I don’t know the circumstances of why he was in the children’s home and never asked him. The children’s home was the biggest house on the estate and stood out because of this. I can’t remember anyone thinking any differently of the children from the home, they were just kids like us. I started hanging around with Thomas and he started coming back to my house. This ended when my mum caught him stealing money from her purse. I never saw Thomas again. Another lad whose name I can’t remember stood out because he dressed in a more feminine way. It didn’t bother me or anyone else, not in the way it seems to do in today’s society. He was a nice kid and we never said a bad word to each other. I met him again many years later. I was collecting loans on an estate and he lived in a flat there. He’d had a sex change and was engaged to a man who loved him. I was really happy for him. Despite growing up at a time when it was perceived that acceptance of difference was less tolerant he’d trod his own path and become the person he always wanted to be and believed he was, and he’d found love as well which is a very special thing indeed.


I’ll always remember Mark Lloyds dad. He was a big man and scary too. Nobody messed with him and I never saw anyone speak to him, ever. He went to work and came home and that was it. I was friends with Mark for a time and I went inside his house. He had an end house so had a bigger garden then the other houses. It was nice and tidy and Mark’s mum was friendly and talkative, the complete opposite of his dad. I remember once Mark and me were playing outside my house and his dad came walking up the street towards us. As he got closer he asked me to leave as he had something he wanted to say to Mark. Instead of going inside as anyone normally would I opened the garden gate and walked down to the valley! I’ve no idea why I did this as it would have been the accepted thing to walk inside my house but no, I decided to go off in a completely unexpected direction. I can imagine Mark and his dad watching me now wondering what I was doing and why. Having said that I could never work out what the attraction was for Mark’s mum to his dad but life can be strange like that. I might have seen Mark after that but I can’t remember if I did for certain. Life can be strange life that.


Despite mums best efforts money became increasingly tight and we started to get behind with the bills. I think we kept on top of the rent but I know for certain that we got behind with the gas and electric because we had it cut off. Two men came round to do the job, one in an overcoat and bowler hat who looked the stereotypical enforcement officer of the time, the other stayed outside keeping watch. Everybody on the street much have known what was happening. No gas and electric meant no fire, no TV, no lights, no cooking. Everything we take for granted now and to a certain extent did then was gone in seconds and would not be restored until the arrears had been paid. We huddled round a coal fire watching it go from a blaze to a pile of smouldering embers. The TV was replaced by a battery powered portable radio. Lighting was done by paraffin lamps carefully placed around the house to ensure they could not be knocked over potentially causing a fire. My mum cooked on the coal fire pans of vegetables and potatoes and I can only assume we had some meat. I always marvelled at how my mum could prepare and cook a meal to perfection with everything coming together at once. It was even more remarkable how she did it during this period swapping pans of food on the coal fire but still making a lovely meal for us all. I can’t remember how long it was before we had the gas and electric restored but I do remember one lad from school asking if he could come to my house and me having to say no. I instinctively said no and instinctively felt shameful for saying no and for not being able to say why I said no. I don’t think I fully understood why I was saying no or why I felt ashamed at the time but I knew deep down it was the only thing to say. We kept living in the house but I can imagine that was only just. Things were so tight during those times and no one helped us.