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After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

It Might As Well Rain Until September


This is the article that appeared in September for the Derby Telegraph:

On the whole, I've come to realise that there are pros and cons to having your birthday at the end of August.

On the positive side, back in my school days it meant that I had the day free from school and could do some fun things.  It also meant that I avoided the dreaded birthday 'bumps'.  Do you remember those?  I don't know if it was a fairly widespread tradition or just a form of sadism peculiar to Anglesey Secondary Modern?  The concept was that the birthday boy (I very much doubt that girls ever inflicted this on each other, they had too much sense) would be grabbed hand and foot by his compatriots (often including  a fair sprinkling of enemies) and then would be bounced vigorously up and down by his arms and legs.  In a perfect world, this would not include frequent collisions between the lower back and the tarmacadamed playground, but it often did.

On the minus side would have to be the inescapable fact that the arrival of my birthday also presaged the imminent end of the school summer holidays, with all of the horrors that foretold.  It also meant that I was the youngest in my class, which was a mixed blessing.

Time operated on a wholly different scale when you were a child, didn't it?  On the last day of term, the summer holidays seemed to stretch out for centuries ahead, with the return to school distant and, thankfully, forgettable.  Hopelessly impracticable and wildly ambitious plans were made and the potential of all of those weeks seemed enormous.  If the sun was shining and everything was fine, the days zipped past like an old-fashioned silent movie.  When the days were grey or rain-sodden, every minute seemed interminable and you would drive your Mother mad with the time-honoured wail of "I'm bored!"

My birthday was, therefore, a double-edged sword.  On one hand, I inevitably looked forward to the cards and presents I would receive but, I was acutely aware that the act of looking forward to it also meant that I was willing the end of the summer holidays to come.  This is quite a dilemma for any child and no amount of clandestine deals with whatever deity deals with schoolchildren's wishes (usually of the nature of "Yes, please hurry up with my birthday but can you postpone the end of the summer holidays indefinitely"), ever changed the simple fact that the arrival of one meant the inexorable end of the other.

I often think that my childhood depression would have been even worse if I was at school now (apart from the fact that they would doubtless be a bit dubious about having a 58 year old in their class).   Why? Because no sooner have the summer holidays commenced than all of the clothing and stationery stores are holding 'Back to School' sales.  I would have hated that.  It was bad enough being dragged off to Fox's or Curzon's in Uxbridge Street to get replacements for any items of school uniform that I had either outgrown or worn out.  A shopping trip that invariably resulted in me being buried beneath a dark grey blazer, with the consistency and fashionable appeal of corrugated cardboard, and the assistant assuring my parents that I would grow into it.

I used to look, with amazement and horror, at those parents who would say to my Mum, "Is he looking forward to going back to school?" which was always followed by something like "Sarah is, aren't you Sarah?" (Sarah would smile and nod winningly).  This caused me to give Sarah the evil eye and generally regard her as a traitor and a quisling.  This however, was as nothing to those Uncles who would tell me, in all seriousness apparently, that "you should make the most of your school days, Philip; they're the best years of your life".  Anything more calculated to send me into a fit of depression, I can't imagine.  If these really were the best days of my life, what the heck was the rest of it going to be like?

Much better was the answer, as it turned out.