This blog post is part of a series. If you’ve landed here you might like to start at Part One instead
I vomited in the bathroom sink before leaving for school. The accident had forced me to drop back a year. Today I joined the new sixth-formers as they began their A levels. I dreaded it. Not the study. The social aspect. I was incredibly self-conscious. My friends, now a year ahead of me, were beginning their final year. Surviving school was my next challenge.
My classmates were friendly, but they weren’t my friends. The isolation was tough. Academically it was disastrous. A level study is much more demanding than O level. There’s a greater emphasis on self-study and study with peers. Working through problems, learning together. I didn’t have that.
My subjects were Mathematics, Economics and Geography.
Rejected by the Post Office
The first year was bad, but at least I could hang out with my friends during breaks. In my second year, they’d left, gone on to university or employment. Desperately unhappy, l applied for jobs. I passed the entry test for employment at Hull Central Post Office but was then disqualified. I was, they said, unable to fulfil the physical requirements of the role. ‘Fuck you’, I said. Not really but I wanted to. My first experience of discrimination.
On reflection, abandoning A levels for a job at the Post Office was a terrible idea. That was the opinion of the Head of Sixth Form (Mr Kerr-Delworth*). And he was right. Nevertheless, he championed my case. Berating the post office for their discriminatory decision. Quite reasonably, he suggested they set a practical test rather than dismiss my application out of hand. They wouldn’t budge. I was angry about the injustice but, realise now, I dodged a bullet. I would have missed out on so many experiences that were to come later had I gone to work at the Post Office.
Those years, surviving school, were the worst of my life. The school wasn’t to blame; they were supportive. Colliding forces combined to create a perfect storm. A miserable shit storm.
Recently, via Facebook, I was reminded of a surreal school incident. Sixth formers conspired to get Mr Lucas, the Sociology teacher, a surprise birthday gift. Lured to the common room for a bogus meeting, he was approached by a peroxide-haired woman in a raincoat appeared. She sat him on a chair in the middle of the room, discarded the raincoat. She was a kissogram wearing only a white basque, stockings and suspenders. He was instructed to remove the garter from her leg, then stretched it to fit around his head. A ‘custard pie’ of squirty cream went in his face. All of the usual embarrassing kissogram rituals.
Teachers colluding with pupils in this way – could be written off as a sign of the times. When culture and values were different; less politically correct. WRONG. Even in 1984 this was hilariously, breathtakingly, inappropriate.
The process for compensation for my injuries was frustratingly slow. Liability was clear but the accepted legal timescale for injuries like mine was 5 years. Time to monitor levels of recovery. Tests had shown almost zero chance of recovery but the legal process had to run its course.
Nevertheless, an interim payment was granted. Enough to buy a small car. So I did. A top-of-the-range Austin miniMetro – the exotic sounding Vanden Plas model. Walnut dashboard, sunroof and electric windows. I thought it was The Dog’s Bollocks.
We took turns at being designated driver – enduring a car full of annoying drunk friends. One vomited violently out of my rear passenger window. Child locks forced him to push his face through the narrow gap horizontally. He didn’t manage to clear the car. Worse still, he’d been drinking ‘lager and black’ (beer with blackcurrant cordial). Sticky, purple puke was all along the bottom rim of the window.
Violent washing machine
When I forgot my school sports gear two friends came home with me, just for the ride. We opened the door to the kitchen to find my mother sat on the linoleum. Her back against the washing machine, hands and feet pressed firmly to the floor. We startled her. ‘If I don’t do this it walks out across the kitchen floor!’ she said laughing.‘It’ll stop in a minute!’ My friends looked at me quizzically. ‘This is my Mam’ I said, by way of an introduction. ‘Hiya!’ she waved, head and shoulders vibrating as the spin cycle continued.
Occasionally the insurance set up appointments with their own Orthopaedic consultant, to validate my injuries. I met a particularly pompous character at his mock-Tudor, private practice in Derby. The waiting room was furnished with heavy wooden chairs and coffee tables. Chintz everywhere. Copies of Country life magazine fanned perfectly in front of us.
The format of these meetings always the same. I’d be sat in a chair directly in front of the consultant’s big, imposing desk. My mother and Fred sat behind me, out of my eye line. This arrangement was, I assumed, designed to make me answered questions myself, without parental interference. For 17-year-old-me this was intimidating. His tone was superior, condescending. He had all the power in this scenario but still needed this preposterously big desk, and all the other props. Was he overcompensating perhaps? The way some men use a sports car to compensate for below-average sized penis?
His manner was that of a grumpy barrister:
Consultant: ‘Did you suffer a head injury as a result of the accident?’
Me: ‘No. Not that I’m aware of. I was wearing a helmet.’
Consultant: ‘Did you lose consciousness?’
Consultant (voice raised):‘Then you did have a head injury!’
Well done mate. You tricked a 17-year-old boy.
I know now he was using a shame-based technique common in the medical profession. Termed Pimping, older, experienced medics use it on juniors. I was the Pimpee and he was the Pimper. Don’t believe me? Look at this British Medical Journal Blog.
*I’d like to publicly thank Mr Kerr-Delworth for the support and kindness he showed me during my Sixth Form years. It wasn’t fun but it could have been so much worse. Thank you.