This was it the day I'd been waiting for. No more inane recitals of the alphabet or farmyard noises for me I was joining the big league, moving up in the world. Everyone had been telling me that I 'was a big boy now' and I had no cause to doubt them. After all you don't see anyone other than big boys in uniforms like the one I had on, with a fuckin tie and everything! I decided to play it cool for my Mum's sake as she was obviously feeling a little emotional at the thought of her brave little soldier heading out into the real world.
So after umpteen combs of my hair and an inappropriate amount of that peculiar motherly grooming technique which can only be described as 'licky tissue rub face' I was ready to leave my old life behind and become a man of the world. I gathered my Han Solo schoolbag checking to ensure it contained the booty which I'd been instructed to save until lunch, but was unlikely to last the morning, and clambered onto the bus. As we sped off into the horizon I looked back at my tearful mother and did my level best to transmit an air of indifference whilst fighting back my own tears.
Of course I was nervous and afraid but as I looked around the bus at all the smiling faces I was damned if I was going to show it. Far from being a big boy I felt like the smallest boy of all time and I longed for my mother's embrace like never before. But I banished all these thoughts from my mind and admonished myself for being so weak, big boys don't feel fear and they sure as fuck don't cry on a bus full of their mates. Once the initial panic subsided I began to enjoy myself, here we were like soldiers heading into battle and I felt a sense of camaraderie unlike anything before. I joined in as some of the more unfortunate kids were teased and mocked mercilessly even though all I wanted to do was go over and ask them if they were alright. It's every man for himself from now on I thought and in truth I was just grateful that it wasn't me being derided, I knew I was right to resist getting those horn rimmed glasses last year.
Upon arrival we were herded into groups by a kindly lady who seemed unperturbed by the various wailing children who'd cracked under pressure or the one poor mite who crumbled completely and ended up shitting himself on the bus. I feared for his long term future and wondered whether he could ever hope to make it in the real world. Once we'd be taken to our classroom and assigned our seats we all sat expectantly waiting to be imbued with the vast swathes of knowledge at Miss Clarke's disposal. However it seemed like she'd decided to ease us in gradually as after a brief introductory period, in which I gave her my most winning smile, she chose to start our odyssey with a bout of colouring. Colouring? COLOURING?!?!? I've been doing fuckin colouring since I was two years old what is this shit?! I'd come here expecting to have my mental agility sorely tested and here I was with a crayon in my hand!! I considered approaching Miss Clarke and explaining that this wasn't quite what I had in mind and could I perhaps be moved to a separate class but thought better of it as I sensed that she'd already developed a thing for me.
Things proceeded at this pace until the mid morning break, oh yes we were all quite exhausted from ensuring we didn't go beyond the lines, at which point we were finally allowed to tackle the goodies contained within our respective lunchboxes. As I surreptitiously scanned the contents of the other's lunchboxes (no double entendres please, they're children for Christ sake) I noted with a fair degree of relief that my mother had done me proud and I had passed yet another important test. Interaction with some of the older boys had been kept to a minimum so far and none of the horror stories which I'd taken as fact had yet materialised. Indeed my most taxing interrogation thus far had consisted of the question 'Are you red or blue?', thankfully I was red and this seemed to meet with the approval of my inquisitor.
My hopes that perhaps the early morning colouring was just a way of giving us a false sense of complacency were quickly doused upon return to class. Now it seemed we were going to play a game. A fun game that involved learning I wondered? Nope just a game. At this point I resigned myself to a day of frivolous activities and vowed to have a serious one to one with the headmaster at the first available opportunity. Far from being a place of learning and education it appeared that I'd been taken to a glorified playschool with the emphasis on treating us like idiots rather than the big boys we were told we'd become. I needed to know that this was the school for me because if not then I had no qualms whatsoever about transferring myself to a place better suited to my needs. I mean what on earth were the people at home going to think.
As I rose on the morning of my last Leaving Cert exam, the laughably irrelevant Art History, the thoughts of the people at home were far from my mind. Freedom would soon be mine. No more rebuttals for not wearing my tie, no more sunny days spent listening to incessant nonsense, no more half hearted attempts at studying to appease my mother, no more futile guilt trips for my lacklustre efforts, no more answering to my inferior superiors, no more empty threats which didn't concern me, no more......of this...........absolute.....................waste............of...............my............time.
I sat there looking at the sum total of my efforts and considered it worthy of a pass which while not thrilling anyone else would suffice for me. Not a hint of regret or remorse entered my soul as I slowly picked up my paper approached the desk and announced my self finished, in more ways than one. My only thoughts now were how would I procure enough alcohol to commemorate this occasion and ensure that a sleepless night was in store for my mother when I hadn't returned home by the early hours of the following morning. This task was completed with gusto on both fronts and as I awoke to my first day as a free man with the taste of Smithwicks and vomit in my mouth I cared not about the fateful day a few months from now when the fruits of my labour would be there for all to see in written form.
Clearly something had gone askew in the intervening years. From the bright eyed, spry young child who'd set off on his journey with infinite hope to the sullen, beligerent youth who completed that journey with barely a second's thought to what lay behind him. But what did lie behind him, to paraphrase many a social commentator 'Where did it all go wrong'? To the best of my knowledge I was a fiercely committed student right up to the latter days of Primary School and my results underlined this fact. So was it the trauma of Secondary School that brought about this sea change in performance, the feeling of going from big fish to small fry? Or maybe it was not being allowed to call it Sums and having to refer to it as Maths from now on? All these new subjects like Home Economics, Business Organisation, German and French surely couldn't have helped? No I think for me and many others who were summararily met with the words 'has potential but must try harder' on their school reports it came down to one simple problem. Puberty.
I'm not going to get into the vagaries of this most difficult of times. We've all been there we've all got the tshirts there's no need to share our stories of pain and anguish. But I often wonder if a change in the education system is required to help out our more angst ridden teens. How can a young man or woman filled with thoughts of lust, betrayal, vengeance, wrath and envy ever hope to maintain an interest in Pythogaris' Theorem or the ramblings of Shakespeare? It's a difficult enough time as it is without having all of these unnecessary distractions vying for your attention. And in reality is seventeen really an old enough age to make decisions which will impact your career for the rest of your life? I certainly don't think so.
In truth I'm probably just bitter because I didn't get my head down and study like all the other clever bastards did. Not for me I thought as I swanned off for an evening of vandalisation and solvent abuse. Contrary to what some might think though I certainly don't regret not trying harder, at that time in my life I wasn't cut out for academia and boy did I know it. Whether they're the best days of your life is, in my opinion, up for debate. But rest assured when I have kids of my own I'll be wheeling out all the cliched old phrases in the desperate hope that something clicks and they don't find their schooldays passing them by in a haze like mine did. Chances are they'll call me a hypocrite and chastise me for not having practised what I preach, and you know something the little fuckers will be right.