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The fear of school

September 10, 2007

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about school. The previous attempt, read by a handful and commented on by some people did, sadly, get deleted in a fit of panic.

School isn’t, you see, something I look back with any particular fond memories.

Over the past few weeks there have been more and more people appear from school year on Facebook. Up until that point I had kept school and my contemporaries at arms length (it was never difficult – we never really kept in touch).

I never really felt like I fitted in particularly. I was interested in music. All the other boys in my class were into sport, or at least were able to determine exactly which half of the hockey pitch they were meant to be in. PE lessons were nothing but a cause of severe anxiety, so much so that one year I actually managed to convince the PE teacher that the reason my mother wouldn’t let me do any kind of sporting activity was because of my hayfever. When I returned home with an unused sports kit, I subsequently told my mother that the rotten PE teacher wouldn’t let me play any games because of my hayfever. The rouse lasted an entire term.

Extricating myself from games lessons probably wasn’t going to do me much good in the popularity stakes. There must have been plenty of others who liked sport as much as I did but I don’t recall hearing them complain about it. So maybe, the crux was that I had to participate. If I was a team player I would, quite possibly be accepted as part of the group. I could have put more effort in.

There are many other recollections which would make for an incredibly dull blog to read. Choosing which one to regail you with is challenging. (There is some video evidence but I suspect you’ll have to wait a long time before you get the chance to see that.)

But I’ve been reminded of one school trip I foolishly signed up for at the end of my middle school years, months before I entered the sixth form.

This trip – a water sports holiday in the Aardeche region of France – was billed by a casual acquaintance as exactly the kind of experience I needed to go on to make new friends ahead of the more grown-up sixth form.

It went against every bone in my body. Twenty teenagers, most if not all of them happily responding to the hormones which charged around their bodies, would set off from school in late July, arrive in the Aardeche valley and begin canoeing their way to the end of the trail. During this four day mini-trip, we’d all camp out in tents along the way, munching on water-melon and downing as much cheap wine as we could lay our hands on. At the end we’d stay in another campsite and partake in a full variety of watersports on the south coast of France.

There was nothing on the menu which made me think “Oh yes, I think I might like that.” Instead I saw a steady stream of anxiety-inducing activities which would almost certainly humiliate me in front of my peers.

Why did I go? Because in the back of my mind I had a naiive thought that this particular trip might be the one where I’d finally lay all those demons to rest. My peers would finally understand me as the bumbling but lovable geek I had always been. Jacob’s alright really, they’d shout, he was a real laugh in fact.

It wasn’t to be. I remember sitting on the coach, staring out the window at my parents waving me goodbye and knowing then this had all been a huge mistake. From that moment on things got steadily worse. It was like someone had picked up on the fact that I wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable. Every word I uttered had “boredom” soldered on as a footnote. I cried to myself all the way there, on the phone to my parents when I got there and all the way back again.

They all knew it, I’m sure of it. They must have known it. As much as I wanted to be a part of the activities and as much as I tried to make myself better at each one, it quickly became clear that this particular ship had already sailed. Water sports was not something I was necessarily going to take to. At least not with a group from Culford School.

For the past few weeks I’ve been replaying all sorts of events from my schooldays, trying desperately to arrive at an understanding of where exactly I went wrong. It’s hardly surprising given the number of people who have suddenly made an appearance via Facebook. I just hope that confronting one of my biggest fears head on will prove a little more successful at the age of 35 than it was when I was 15.

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