My school days seem a long time ago now – I’ve lived half my life since then. There are some things I can remember clearly – fragments of brilliant clarity among the discarded remnants of temps perdu. Much of the time I spent there is lost now – faded with age beyond my powers of recall – and still more is ensconced behind locked doors in my mind.
Playschool (kindergarten, or pre-school), furthest removed from the present, divulges but few memories – a vivid recollection of an instance of my social phobia where I had an accident because I was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom and a vague but familiar feeling of being apart from everybody else, of being on the edge, standing and looking on but not being a part of things. There are no faces in any memories of those times – I can remember the building (a Nissen hut) – its layout and furniture – in detail but despite there being teachers and other children in my mental pictures, none of them have any identifying characteristics – they are just impressionistic shadows of people.
Prep school (primary school) brings forth a stream of memories – almost always finishing first or second in the class, right through all seven years at this school. Not understanding when the class was asked who was Catholic and who was Church of England. (Although both my parents were C of E they always left my brother and me to make our own minds up about faith and religion.) Never achieving a single gymnastics badge in PE lessons – unlike the entire rest of the class – because I could never manage a forward roll. (My physical coordination is a little impaired and I have minor balance problems – I also still can’t abide the feeling of being upside-down.) Sitting inside reading on my own when the others were playing outside during break times. Feeling hurt when told that I had bad breath – I couldn’t use toothpaste as a child because the mint taste was too intense to handle. A ritual before exams – touching certain parts of my face and touching fingertips together. A special interest in astronomy and the planets of the Solar System – I remember being called up in assembly once – I was about 7 at the time – to recite the names of the planets in order of distance from the sun, and I remember feeling surprised that anybody would find knowing this to be in any way remarkable. Sitting on the floor regularly in assembly and on other occasions – was I the only one who found this painfully uncomfortable? Hating the feeling of how my sweater constricted and rumpled the shirt beneath it – it was part of the school uniform and I didn’t have any choice about wearing it.
I’m sitting here surprised at how most of these sound negative when I don’t remember being particularly unhappy at that school. I think they were more than made up for by my enjoyment of the academic side of things. I’ve still got all my end-of-term school reports and they all follow the same pattern – first in the class more often than not, poor at PE and games, poor handwriting, highly intelligent, very quiet – doesn’t get involved. I guess signs were there if anybody that knew me had been aware of ASD back then (late ’70’s and early ’80’s).
I’m going to leave writing about my memories of grammar (secondary) school for another time – there’s a lot of baggage there that I don’t feel like going into yet (see my earlier post about my childhood experiences). One thing I will say is that the atmosphere changes as I move from prep to grammar school – clouds are gathering; a storm is imminent. I get a sense of foreboding from just thinking about disturbing some of those old memories – there is a certain trepidation in case I awaken something terrible. I have a gap of about a year and a half both in my recollection of those years and in my archive of school reports. One day I may choose to unlock certain doors and confront my demons, but today is not that day.