My oldest boy starts secondary school in September.
He seems well reconciled to it, helped by the fact he has been allocated a place at the school they he himself favoured above all others.
Weirdly, the school is built on the site of my old secondary school which was demolished and then redeveloped around 10 years ago, so when we attended the open evening at the end of last year it presented a strange kind of memory shock. I found myself looking out of the windows of classrooms that did not exist when I was last on this site to take in views that haven’t changed since I was a teenager.
That, coupled with apprehension for how my boy will cope with his first year at secondary school brought a lot of things back to me. Most of them not pleasant.
Because the first year at secondary school is always the worst.
It’s a big emotional peer-group jump from junior school to secondary school.
I know I struggled for the entire duration. I was emotionally immature and it took me until I was 17 to get to the same emotional and hormonal level as others who reached the same point by the time they were 13 or 14. It meant I was considered one of the weaker boys. I could never join the cool groups as we literally did not speak the same language or dream of the same things. While others were getting into The Smiths or whatever indie group was popular at the time I was unaware of the existence of anything outside of the BBC charts. While other boys talked lasciviously of what you were meant to do to make a girl come I was still too painfully shy to even say hello to a girl let alone ask one out on a date. While others talked of the kind of car they’d buy once they were old enough to drive I was still poring over the latest Lego catalogue to choose the set I wanted for Christmas.
Some might say nothing has changed.
I was never really what I would call “full on” bullied.
I was never done over for my lunch money. Never had my head flushed down the toilet or de-bagged in front of my classmates.
But I was very aware of the pecking order and how near to the bottom of it I was.
I got shoved. I got pushed. I got made fun of. I got talked over. Ignored. Laughed at. Sneered at.
A common misconception was that I came from a rich family.
I didn’t. We were totally working class. The reason my books and clothes were in such pristine condition was because I’d been brought up to look after things.
Because there was no replacing them if they got damaged.
We just didn’t have the money.
By the end of my time at secondary school I had made my peace with my enforced low social standing. It even gave me some bravado. I could talk back to the bullies without fear of being hurt because, as I pointed out, how would they look cool beating me up? They’d laugh and agree.
Respect of a kind.
But you know what? Survival isn’t enough.
It took me years to get out of that “weaker than everybody else, bottom of the pile” mindset.
Even now, I have to shake it off on occasion when it sneaks up on me and attempts to take me over again.
I regret not standing up for myself more. I regret taking it on the chin and then offering my cheek too. I regret accepting without question the place my peers had consigned me to.
There are times now when I still get angry about it.
Our school days are with us for a very long time.
And now my boy is going to a school where reports of bullying have already caused concern. It is a harsher world now in some respects compared to when I was a boy. Violence these days seems to have more scope, seems to be more subsumed in how we operate as a society; in how we entertain ourselves.
I wonder how he will cope. How Karen and I as parents will help him through.
I wonder which side of the peer divide he will be allowed to sit upon.
Because sometimes that is the only difference between the bullies and the bullied.