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! 🙂