|Stewartby Middle School, June 1988|
There comes a time in your life as child where you realise, contrary to your previous beliefs, that you’re not the centre of the universe. Events will overtake your life. And there’s very little you can do about it.
I’m not sure of the exact sequence of events. My guess is it started sometime in spring 1986. My father had a falling out with his immediate superior at General Accident. The way the story was told to me was he either had a choice of accepting a lower grade position at his branch in Preston, or transferring to another branch on the same or higher grade. As was my father’s way of thinking, he took the latter.
I’m not sure why he did this. Maybe he thought, as a 31 year old with a young family and a mortgage to support, he couldn’t take the financial hit of less money. The problem was, he had to take whatever requisite grade position was available. He took one in St. Albans, 250 miles from Preston.
To be fair to him, he did try the commuting option for a while, and I presume this was sponsored for a limited time by the company. A week in a hotel at a time is expensive, though, so he looked for a home somewhat nearer to Hertfordshire than where his family was based. Eventually, (the South East was expensive even then), he found something in Marston Moretaine, a speck-in-the-country village between Bedford and Luton.
The date for our house move to Bedfordshire was set for 7th January 1987. Christmas 1986 was the worst I ever had. My parents got me a reasonably expensive Transformers set, but despite their consumerist expectations, it wasn’t enough to dispel the gloom of the impending house move to a place I knew nothing about. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never had a good Christmas in the 28 years since (though working in retail never helps). My father could have been more considerate to his family’s future, but I guess some things are more important than your children’s happiness.
I had a valedictory final day at Whitefield Primary School on the first day of Spring Term in January 1987. And then I bade my classmates farewell. I’m sure my teacher was glad to be rid of me.
Now, I don’t know how British Primary School Children are helped to adjust to Secondary School Life, because it never happened to me.
A small word about the differing education systems in the country. Most County Education Authorities use a simple Primary (kids aged 4-11) and Secondary (kids aged 11-16) system. This is what I understood and was educated to go through. Unfortunately, Bedfordshire operated on a tripartite system of Lower (4-9), Middle (9-13) and Upper (13-16) schools. And I, aged 11, was dumped straight into a middle school with no warning.
At a Primary school, you stay in the same classroom with the same teacher for the entire school day. When you go to Secondary school, you have to move around to different classrooms to different teachers for different subjects. My guess (though I never experienced this myself) is that new First Year Secondary school pupils ( or Year 7s, as I believe they’re called nowadays), are given a lot of guidance and help to adjust to an unfamiliar system.
Bedfordshire Middle Schools operated like Secondaries, and I was never told this. On my first day at Stewartby Middle School, I went from Assembly back to the classroom I’d come from, only to find my erstwhile teacher instructing a class of 13 year olds in English. I had been given a timetable showing where I was supposed to be, but nobody had taken the trouble to explain it to me. As I’ve often said, I learn the most important lessons in the hardest way possible.
Through the tears, I eventually figured out the whole thing. But I realised that this was the level of support I should expect to be given by those who had a duty of care towards me. My parents took me away from what I knew, and left me to fend for myself. The education system didn’t take into account where I’d come from and left me to fend for myself. So, what does a child does a child learn from these experiences? Well, mainly that those who are supposed to be looking after your best interests don’t really care that much. You have to work it out yourself, and probably suffer greatly in the process.
There was more to come. Stewartby Middle School had a very large catchment area, due to the fact it was based around a brick factory village in the middle of nowhere. Pupils were bussed in from the surrounding villages in the morning, and bussed back out in the afternoon. Baffling as it may seem to anyone who had actually been there, Marston Moretaine was reckoned to be a big place, and required two busses.
As it happened one day, during my first couple of months at Stewartby, I missed the Marston bus I was supposed to be on, for reasons I can no longer recall. I wanted my parents to pick me up. But no, they took the logical (for them) step of forcing me on the other bus. I’d taken great pains to become familiar with the routine of my bus, and having to take another distressed me greatly. Of course, they didn’t care. Suck it up, man. You’re 11 after all.
I was poured off the bus at Church End, Marston around 20 minutes later. As I remember, another pupil (one of the more sympathetic ones in the top year) was deputed to take me home. I got as far as the front door of my house and collapsed in distress. My mother took my into the kitchen and hugged me until I stopped crying, probably about 30 minutes.
As far as I can remember, this was the only (and probably last) time I had physical contact with my mother after the age of six.