Sport, School & Shyness

This is by way of being rather autobiographical, so if you’re not keen on  learning personal details about others, then it’s perhaps best not to continue reading. On the other hand, if you’re just bloody nosy like I am and relish any opportunity to get inside the heads of others in order to point and poke at items of interest then please do carry on 😉

I was never any good at sport when I was at school. I was in no way athletic, could barely swim and my hand-eye co-ordination was virtually non-existent. I wasn’t popular either – mainly I suppose, because of my shyness, unwillingness to communicate with other people and my limited range of interests. In my mind, being good at sport and being popular were inextricably linked – if you had one, you were pretty much guaranteed the other. I had neither, and thus was resentful of, and intimidated by, those who appeared to be naturals at both sport and being liked by others. But I had this hideous notion of superiority over them (no doubt due almost entirely to feeling inferior) because I was good at academic subjects. Oh they might be able to hit a ball or run a few miles, but they weren’t clever like I was, they weren’t intelligent. The fact that there were several people in my year who shone with an almost sickening brilliance both on the gamesfield and in the classroom was, of course, conveniently ignored.

To be fair to myself, these views were shared by most of my friends. I did have friends at school, but we were a tightly-knit group of insecure and “unpopular” kids who felt outcast from the rest of the year, even though, by Senior School, our group and the others were actually relatively even in numbers. And I was still very shy, even with friends – certain things like doing a presentation in front of the class or ordering food in McDonalds were enough to make me cry in a pathetically feeble manner when forced to do them because I just couldn’t cope with it.

This is not to say, however, that I was brilliant academically, merely that I had an aptitude for it: I found it easy – apart from Maths, which was always my worst subject and the only one I was in a lower class for. Any other subject that involved writing stuff down on paper, I was good at – my one weakness (as Dorcas Lane might say) was that I would not speak up and answer questions in class or contribute anything to discussions. Subjects not involving a pen and paper I struggled with, namely Art, D.T. (Design Technology) and P.E., all of which I disliked.

I and most of the rest of my group of friends were known as “swots” by others in our year who were less studious, but in reality, it wasn’t really that I “swotted”, as such, more that I just did the work that was asked of me and turned up to classes etc, partly because I enjoyed learning anyway because I was good at it, but also because if I didn’t do the work, I would be punished (probably by writing lines or detention) and that would have meant BEING NOTICED.

Which brings me on to shyness. When I said earlier that I had a limited range of interests, it was something in the nature of an understatement. I had one, or maybe two main interests. Yes, two. One was reading. The other was animals. So I was most happy when reading a book about animals. Gosh I was an exciting child. When I wasn’t doing lessons or otherwise occupied at school, I read constantly, all the time. At home, when we had meals, there would be a short pause between main course and pudding when I would usually go to the loo so I could take a book and read for a few minutes, often coming back late for the second course. Our nanny realised this and banned books from the table. So I started hiding a book under the seat cushion of the chair next to me when I sat down and then sliding it carefully up my jumper when I left the table. Once that had been discovered, I worked out that I could drop a book (if it was a reasonably slim paperback) down the back of the radiator in the bathroom before the meal started so it would be there waiting for me when I left the table. All I had to do was gently edge it out from behind the radiator.

Reading was the only thing I really wanted to do and the only thing that I truly enjoyed. I realise now that this was mainly due to that fact that my shyness, timidity and strong desire to avoid mixing with other people meant that reading was really the only way I could experience things, my only way of seeing and understanding the world around me, since I had pretty much chosen to be isolated from it. When I was younger, in Junior School, I fiercely resented any attempts to make me “join in” and “make friends”. What was the point? I didn’t feel that I had anything in common with other children and I wasn’t cool or funny or interesting so they wouldn’t be interested in me either. It was just a waste of time that could be better spent reading. The fact that I knew no one else my own age outside school, and that my parents worked a lot so my brother and I were often left to entertain ourselves, and that we had no cousins our own age (they were all about 40 years + at the time) did not help this regrettable attitude.

It wasn’t until I went to university that I realised just how much I had missed out on by not engaging more with what was going on around me. I was so ignorant. There were so many films I hadn’t seen, so much television I hadn’t watched, so many places I hadn’t been to. The films I hadn’t seen were the biggest shock to those I made friends with in first year. Apparently you didn’t actually qualify as a member of the human race until you’d seen The Sound of Music. I had a vague idea that it involved a nun, a large family of children and some Nazis. That was it. I also hadn’t seen The Great Escape, Back to the Future, Dirty Dancing or Pretty Woman, all of which were apparently iconic films that I needed to see. I didn’t really understand why they were considered such vital viewing, but the message I picked up from all this was that I had grown up in a bubble of ignorance largely of my own making and that I had a lot of catching up to do if I was going to reach the same level as everyone else. In fact, I still feel this now, even after I have started cramming my head with all sorts of films, plays and music and have gone travelling, tried new food and lots of different things. There’s still so much to learn and I still feel very much as though I began the race by sitting about five miles away from the starting post and having my fingers in my ears when the starting gun went. But I have discovered that now I have become more open to trying new things, my fear of not liking them or being disappointed by the experience has diminished considerably. Every time I try something new, it encourages me to try more, even if I find that I’m not particularly good at it or it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve also discovered that the most important reason for trying something different should be because it interests and fascinates you, not because someone tells you that it is something that you absolutely must do because everyone else has done it and, well, you just have to. I remember the year after I’d finished university, feeling like I had just hatched out as a brand new shiny curious being after spending all the rest of my life hidden away slowly developing inside a shell. I suddenly realised how much of life there was and how many wonderful things there were to do and see and learn and feel. I really hope that I’m not just spouting random drivelling nonsense in these last few sentences and that there are at least some of you who feel the same way I do. Otherwise I may be on such an elevated level of delusion that I hardly dare to contemplate it! 🙂

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11 Responses to Sport, School & Shyness

  1. Absolutely brilliant post and I completely understand how you felt when you were at school and why you hid in books and reading. I did the same a lot of the time – although I was also one of the ones who was good at sports! Actually, I still never feel as if I quite fit in anywhere.

    I don’t think you should feel as if you’re starting at a disadvantage from having spent your time reading, when you could have been keeping up with popular culture by watching certain films or TV shows. Just think of all the books which you’ve read that others haven’t. And, like you say, you should do what interests you or is fun for you, not necessarily what you’re expected to like or others think you should do.

    Besides, whatever you spend your time doing, you will never manage to try everything, do everything or read everything there is out there. All you can do is be open to new experiences and try out a variety of things, so it’s no longer all books and reading. I think most people believe they know or can do less than the next person but that next person is probably looking back at you and thinking the exact same thing! Don’t sweat it and just be yourself and do your own thing.

  2. Richard says:

    hehe, there are more of us maladjusted loners than you think!

    I spent the summer holidays while at junior school in the local library – it was about a 100 metre walk from our house and was free and warm (on cold days) and cool (on hot days) unlike our house which was always freezing and damp. And the books were a never-ending source of wonder and delight.

    By the time I was 10 my brother and I had discovered a way to get into the big cinema in town (in a pre-multiplex time of “continuous performances” – you turned up and bought a ticket and could stay as long as you wanted, and each show consisted of two movies) so we’d go there with a bottle of pop and a couple of dry sandwiches from home, and spend all day there most days, watching the same films over and over. Oddly enough, the first film I experienced that way was The Sound Of Music!

    One of the advantages of the dark cinema was that nobody could see we were poor and badly dressed in hand-me-downs and probably not very clean. We didn’t have to talk to anyone and nobody had to talk to us. (As an aside, I never got on with my brother and still don’t – we argue about absolutely everything EXCEPT for films. We have similar tastes and similar opinions on what we see.)

    I was sent away as a boarder to secondary school aged 11. I didn’t object, I quite looked forward to it. One of the reasons was that my parents had always stopped me making any friends and I had previously been allowed to play with ONE boy who lived a few doors down from us.

    What I soon realised was that I had no idea how to make friends and a problem with remains with me until today is that I find it impossible to talk to strangers. I was a loner, happiest with my nose in books and like you, was outside any “cool” groups that ever formed.

    The fact I ever made any friends at all was amazing but they were all just as odd as me. All except for one guy who remains a friend until now.

    Uni was no better for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into. But I was again in a situation of not being able to socialise with any of my fellow students – in fact I never considered myself to have anything in common with most of them anway!

    So while I’d seen all the “right” films I’d seen them all alone as a film buff, not with friends, and to this day have to start analysing them as soon as they’ve finished. I never went to a music gig until I was 18 – alone – and didn’t go to another until my late 20s.

    I think I’m en route to having written more in this comment than you did in your blog entry so I’ll shut up now, and hope that you realise that you’re not alone!


  3. JJTyni says:

    “Apparently you didn’t actually qualify as a member of the human race until you’d seen The Sound of Music.”

    < made me snicker. I'm still yet to see Dirty Dancing. No idea what it is about except for the obvious, which is dancing. No idea with what should associate the other word with. But I just can't be arsed. Also, having not read books like Moby Dick makes me feel very unsophisticated.

    • zanyzigzag says:

      I’ve never read Moby Dick, but I do have a copy and it is on my reading list 🙂 Really don’t think that makes me anywhere near being sophisticated though – the very idea is laughable! 😉 Got so many that I feel I should probably read, but not yet started. Dirty Dancing….don’t think you’re missing an awful lot to be honest 🙂 Thanks v much for commenting x

      • JJTyni says:

        I’m not sure if you noticed but your homepage link at Twitter, takes the person to the very first blogpost of yours rather than the mainpage. Just FYI in case… 🙂

        I like your blog! Nice writing!

      • zanyzigzag says:

        Good grief I had no idea! Wondered why First Blog had a fair few more views than the others! Thankyou for letting me know 🙂

  4. DOT says:

    The angst of youth. I was between and betwixt, a reader and someone who liked learning and, unfortunately for those who didn’t find it so easy, found it easy. But also someone who was adept at physical stuff, not brilliant, but reasonable – so important in a single sex boarding school. Makes me wince now. And I still f**ked up in my final two years when the fluff on my chin put in a late appearance. Still I am reasonably unstable now. What more can we ask for?

  5. Deirdre says:

    Fabulous post! Reminds me of some parts of my life (although I’m still only 18, so maybe I shouldn’t be looking back at secondary school with nostalgia yet). I’ve always been a bookworm too, but I admit you were a greater one than I was! I’ve always considered myself shy but have realised that I am quite friendly in someways, but very much anti-social in others. Thankfully, I have always been very fortunate with friends – I’ve always had them, and even if we don’t have lots of things in common, somehow people always just seem to accept me and my differences.
    Just curious, but what was it that you studied at university?

  6. Rachel says:

    It seems like I’m stalking you. After commenting on your facebook, then following you on twitter and now this comment here; but I’m I swear I’m not stalking you. (I totally am. *eerie music*)

    This is such a great post. I really love reading posts this personal. I was very much like you in school; a bookworm; very shy. I never, ever, spoke in class. I simply didn’t think it was necessary. I see the point in seminar discussion; but in class? What was there to discuss. Really now. Ahhh progress. I was loud in my group, despite our group being known as the quiet group; which somehow in my school became synonomous with the clever group (probably the loser group too; sorry friends. I know we’re all super cool really). I was never loud outside my friendship group; that’s where any extraversion left me and crippling shyness flooded in. I was painfully shy of going up to counters in shops, asking anything in public and things like that. Terrible, terrible child.

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