#MayWriteABit 2020 days 17-18
I think my life changed most dramatically when I was between 17 and 18, 1977-78
I realised I was not enjoying or succeeding at A level probably by the end of the first term. I’d been chased by all my O level teachers to continue their subject to A level, and had a vague idea of becoming a teacher…but had no real careers advice at all. [The ‘careers interview’ we each had consisted of a ten minute chat with a teacher who had a tiny wooden file box with just 5 career options in it. I think it was ‘teacher’ ‘civil servant’ ‘officer in armed forces’, ‘clerical’ and one other. Great.]
I chose maths, french and art, simply because I liked them and had done well in them. I was constantly making teachers look puzzled as they’d never seen such a combination of subjects.
However, things didn’t really go as planned.
For maths, we had THREE teachers. One was great, one OK, and one was TERRIBLE. Unfortunately, the terrible one got to teach us calculus, and the whole group was failing and very unhappy about it. French was boring- we spent a lot of time reading literature [L’etranger by Camus, immensely depressing as I recall, and some other ancient tome]. The teacher, one of the few males in the school, was mainly notable for being gay and having FOUL breath. Art was taught by 2 teachers- the older of the 2 usually just set us to work then ignored us as she painted her watercolour illustrations for childrens’ books, and the other was an NQT, very likeable and enthusiastic, but not great at teaching the art history part of the course. I lost motivation very quickly.
Although I was far too much of a good girl to skip school, I did start taking advantage of having a common room, and found I could skip lessons, just chilling out and reading, and hiding next to the fridge if a teacher came looking. At last, an advantage to being skinny! At the end of the year having been to about 1/3 of my French lessons, I still came third in the exams. This struck me as being clear evidence of school being a waste of time. Maths on the other hand was getting all my efforts, but to no avail. We were ALL failing. [I now know that this is pretty much to be expected at A level maths, but nobody told us then]. Art was just messing about- I liked drawing, hated painting, had fun trying out some pottery…but it also felt rather pointless. Anyway, end of year exams is getting a little ahead of things.
I spent a lot of time in my head and talking to my best friend about how crap everything was, and decided my life needed to change. My dad had thrown a test paper to me one day when I was chilling in the garden, and told me to fill it in. I did, scored highly, and got entered for the Mensa entry test. I aced it, dad paid my subs, and I started trying to develop a social life via ‘Young Mensa’.
This failed miserably in Birmingham, but on an Easter weekend away in London I managed to start the changes. I burned my virginity on a bonfire [hey it was 1977] and located a potential boyfriend. No, not the same person, it was 1977.
At last, a boyfriend! I travelled back and forth between Brum and London to stay some weekends with him, he came up to Brum a few times. Everyone thought he was weird, which he was, but he would do. In September, when I went back to start the upper 6th year, I immediately decided that this would not do, and told everyone I was leaving. Teachers were aghast, the headmistress told me I was throwing my life away, my peers were gobsmacked [apparently the scandal was the main topic of conversation for the next year]
I left school, left Birmingham, moved in with the boyfriend in London, got a job through another Mensa acquaintance, and did some growing up. FAST.
No, my parents weren’t too happy, but decided wisely that banning me from having my way would have backfired badly. It would have done! They made it quite plain that I could ALWAYS return, at any time.
The following April, things were getting a bit rocky. The boyfriend had been ill for some weeks with glandular fever, and I was just not mature enough to deal with it. I came up to Brum for a long weekend to celebrate my siblings’ birthdays- they are a year apart in age, but their birthdays are only 4 days apart.
And I met the bloke who eventually became my husband. 2 weeks later, I moved back to Birmingham, and things REALLY Started to change fast.