Okay, who can remember their first day at school? I’m not talking about Primary school (that’s way too far back) but secondary school. With the country about to start a brand new term (yes I’m aware that in Scotland they are already back, but that’s their problem), and my daughter spending the night retching her guts up thinking about her first day at Secondary School tomorrow, I had a reminder from a friend on Facebook that it was 30 years since we started.
I started mine 2 weeks late, due to my Dad getting a job Down South and us having to relocate from Up North. So there I was, itchy luminous snot green blazer sure to make me stand out in the murky mists, standing at the bus stop. Unfortunately I came to realise, as a beaten up old bus trundled by, lit up by similar blazers of horror, that it was the wrong bus stop.
I stood there for another 20 minutes, vainly hoping that another bus would come along and it would stop for me, but no such luck. I felt sick. My bowels, had they not evacuated themselves totally when I had got up, would surely have loosened. So I traipsed back home, tears flowing for the school I should have gone to with my friends Up North.
Mum was livid. Not with me, you understand, but with the bus company. To add to my humiliation, she had the owner of the bus company come and pick me up and deliver me to school in his Mercedes (she could’t drive in those days). So I then had to make small talk with a strange man whilst being silently terrified at what else could go wrong.
I got there late; everyone was in Assembly. I was taken to my form room, and then bewildered as the room filled up with confident noisy and impossibly cool people around me. They all had seats. They were all friends. They had had the two weeks to get to know each other, had formed best friends.
I knew no one.
I was shy in those days. And paranoid. I wasn’t the most attractive 11 year old. I was gawky, hair growing out of a failed Princess Di cut and NHS glasses (which I had recently discovered to my mortification were the same as my great Aunt’s). I was by my ex-classmates’ standards quite well developed for my age, and tall, but here, I was nothing. I felt hopelessly inadequate faced with girls who looked so much older, who had cool shoes, and had an air of quiet sophistication around them.
I was out of my depth.
After much humming and ha-ing I was plonked onto the ends of desks by the various teachers, never with the same people twice, so I struggled to find a sense of belonging anywhere. My classmates did their best to welcome me, but I feared they soon became disinterested once they discovered I was boring and gauche. I wasn’t funny like them. I didn’t have any interesting stories to tell, and I was too terrified to take part in any mischief. I felt like a fraud, hanging onto anyone who didn’t ignore me totally.
I did settle down eventually, of course. Which is what I’m telling my daughter. She’s lucky – she is pretty, intelligent, and funny, and she has at least two girls in her new class who she knows, plus she knows that everyone else is going to be as scared and nervous as she is. But I can’t stop her nerves. I wish I could, but I know I can’t. I want to protect her, to keep her wrapped up in the fleecy blanket I have just spread over her, as she slumbers beside me on the sofa, catching up on last night’s sleep. I am so afraid for her, but so proud, cos I know she is going to be brilliant.