Monday 17 January 2005

I never never want to go home

Ok. Enough talk about politics, music and which computer I'm going to buy.... let's get down to the good stuff.

I've mentioned before that I started attending a boarding school when I was 7 years old. Initially I was only a what's called a "weekly boarder". That meant that I got dropped off at school first thing on a Monday morning, at about 07:30, and stayed at school until after games on a Saturday, when I was picked up by my parents - usually about 16:00. My Saturday evening routine was pretty fixed: home & beefburgers for tea in front of the A-Team. Nice. I didn't get homesick, but I'm not sure that this separation from my parents was entirely a good thing. I've never told a living soul this before, but I went through a phase when I was 11 or 12 of hurting myself intentionally, or of pretending to be ill. I was thinking about this again fairly recently, and wondering why I did that, and I can only think that must have been a cry for some attention, a plea for a little affection.

Anyway, when I was 13, I moved to another school and began to board properly - which is to say that I was dropped off on a Sunday night at the beginning of term, stayed at school until half-term about five or six weeks later, stayed at home for a few days, and then went back to school for the rest of term. Apart from two weekends a term, called"exeats", when we were allowed to go home, that was it. The rest of the time I spent at school.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with British Public School life, so I'll try and explain some of it here, although as I left school in 1992, I may be a bit rusty on some of the details:

As you might expect, the routine at was pretty busy, and very regimented. We generally got woken up at about 07:15 for a roll-call at 07:45, Chapel was at 08:30 and lessons began at 9am. We had lessons from Monday until Saturday. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays we had no lessons after lunch, and the time was dedicated to sport, or some other worthy organised activity. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we had lessons all the way through to tea at 17:30 (and another roll call). After this roll call, the houses would be "locked down" and you would only be allowed out if you sought permission and signed yourself in and out. Our homework, or "prep", took place in our houses every night after tea, then we would have a final roll-call and then we would pretty much go to bed.

On Sundays we had a lot more time to ourselves, but we still had a routine. Breakfast was an hour later, so we had a lie-in for an hour, but then we usually had to get into our suits to go to chapel. It wasn't until after chapel that we were really free to lounge about and do what we wanted (obviously, we still had to obey the school rules and stay within the school bounds!)

I don't know how that sounds to you, but it actually isn't so bad. It probably doesn't suit everybody, but I got on okay with it. You tend to know exactly where you stand, and as you get older, you work out what you can and cannot get away with. You learn how to stay up as late as you want, where to sneak off to have a pint or a cigarette, and so on... all the little things that help to make the routine a little more bearable as you get older.

We used to eat enormous quantities of food. Here's a typical day when I was in the sixth form:

07:45 Breakfast - sausage, bacon, fried egg, fried bread, baked beans, mushrooms, toast

11:00 Break - a huge turkey and mayo baguette packed out with crisps (from school tuck shop)

12:30 Lunch - a meat pie with veg followed by a pudding with custard

15:30 Break - a piece of cake or coffee and jaffa cakes with Des in his study

18:00 Tea - egg and chips

22:00 Late night snack - a kebab with chips and a coke

Amazing, and yet we got away with it because we were walking several miles a day between lessons as well as taking vigorous exercise (rugby, hockey, cricket, cross-country running etc.) three or four times a week as well as spontaneous games of football on the back lawn after tea. I think you only really start to suffer from this kind of diet when you leave school, go to university, start drinking more beer and doing less exercise.... but I digress.....

As I've said before, there were very few girls at this school, and none in my year until I got to the sixth form. Even then, they were still hugely outnumbered by the boys. It's a weird and extremely artificial environment, and I think it inevitably shapes the way that you interact with women. In fact I would go as far as to say that it damages you. I think it damaged me, anyway. I was really confused when I was about 16. I knew I wasn't gay, I knew I wanted a girlfriend, but I had absolutely no idea how to talk to a woman, nevermind do anything else. As far as I was concerned, they might as well have come from the moon. I suppose it's hardly surprising really. Between the ages of 7 and 17 I had almost no interaction with any girls of my own age. Is it any wonder that when I began to see girls appearing in my A-Level classes, I was at something of a loss about how to talk to them? I'm not a complete moron. I did manage to speak to a few of them, but I don't think I could ever say that in all that time I really befriended any girl whilst I was at school. I just had no idea.

Ridicuously, I prided myself on being "normal" in my approach to the girls - normal in the sense that I felt that I tried to treat them as though they were human beings. The vast majority of my male colleagues seemed to treat them like shit: they existed either to be insulted, ignored, or treated as a sex object (or all three). I hated that, and tried to be different. With hindsight I was probably just occupying the opposite extreme. I still saw women as something "other", but instead of howling abuse at them or complete blanking them at the dinner table, I put them on a pedestal and got all tongue tied when I tried to talk to them. I think I blushed a lot. At least I wasn't being rude (well, not all the time), but they must have thought I was an idiot.

This was tremendously frustrating. I was your average 17 year old guy - which is to say that I was a mass of raging hormones, and I was desperate to get some, um, practical experience as quickly as possible (we talked of not much else, and there were always a couple of guys who came back from their holidays full of boasts about how far they had got with various girls). I just had no experience with girls at all. I think my last girlfriend had been when I was about 6 and had lasted for less than a day. Maybe I'd never got over her....

So. In summary: I was desperate to get a girlfriend and had absolutely no idea how to get one.

This lasted until I was 21 years old and in my final year at university. I have had a couple of long-term relationships since then, including the one I am lucky enough to be in now. I have never once in my whole life worked out how to make a move on a woman. Every relationship I have ever been in has been down to dumb luck or (in the case of C.) persistence in the face of my complete failure to notice her interest. Some of my schoolfriends have not had my luck - at least, not yet.

And I'm still pretty rubbish at talking to girls too.

Or maybe it's got nothing to do with my schooling at all, and women ARE just weird.

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