Without a Plan: Act your age

I was a good student. My parents brought me up to work hard and do what I was told which, coincidentally, was what the teachers were telling us. For the most part, I enjoyed the lessons at school. I was sad when we moved and I lost some good lessons – I was doing well at learning Spanish as a full-time course, and was kicking bottom in Home Economics.

Perhaps if we’d stayed, I’d have gone on to be a chef working in Spain.

The new school apparently only had enough resources for one language class, so for the first six months of Year 9 they learned Spanish, the second six month French. We moved at the end of Month Six, so my gains were entirely wasted. I can no longer speak Spanish, and did not enjoy learning French either time I tried. No offense to any French-speaking readers – it’s a beautiful language that I wish I could speak, I just suck at it.

Home Ec’ was also nowhere near the caliber of the first school. By the time we moved I’d been whipping up Melon Boats, custom designed Burgers, and even made a Yule log from scratch. I wasn’t supposed to, but I’d missed the previous week and my mate Darryl didn’t tell me the actual sponge of the Log was supposed to be pre-made. It took me an hour and a half, I got special dispensation to miss the following Maths class (RESULT!) and the Yule log was fucking delicious. That’s a good memory.

Anyway … yes, the class in the new school was nothing like it. I don’t think we even cooked. That was also split-year, so we also did some Design & Technology, which was also a pale imitation of the first school’s curriculum and facilities.

At the end of Year 9, I could cast aside the disappointment and pick my own lessons! Okay, so that’s not quite true. Year 10 and 11 were the ‘GCSE’ years. Basically, these were the years and grades that would determine what we would likely go on to study at A-Level, which in turn were directly related to what we’d study at University to obtain a degree.

This was the first time I had to give half a thought to what my future might entail. At the time, I knew that I liked computers, but I also liked writing, and still thought that maybe I could be a writer some day. My best friend and I – now connected via the internet and visits to each other over the summer – were part of a Star Trek Role Playing group online. To this day I wonder what the true mix of teenagers and adults behind the screens was, but there was some great writing going on, and it started to teach us about web design as we decided we wanted to own our own ‘Role Playing Ships’ (we’ll come back to that).

At GCSE level, you could choose different combinations of lessons, with The Sciences as the lynchpin.

If you were super smart and / or considering a science-related field in your future, you chose GCSE Separate Science, also know as the Triple Award, but we just called it “Separates”. This meant that you had a core of English and Maths, possibly some others I’m forgetting, then three lessons per week of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. That left enough time to pick just one additional subject.

If you were smart but didn’t want that much science and / or weren’t going for a science-related field, but good science grades would help as a prerequisite, you took GCSE Double Award science, or “Doubles”. This was the same as Separates, except you had one fewer lesson of each science, meaning you could pick two additional subjects.

Everyone else went for the GCSE Single Award (“Singles”) which was – you guessed it – one lesson a week of each science – and a total of three additional subject picks.

I took Doubles, and chose Business Studies and Drama as my options. You might think those two are very different lesson types, and you would be right. I excelled at both. The fact I came out of my GCSEs with only an A in Business Studies when I’d been averaging A* grades for two years came as a shock to both me and my teacher, and still galls me to this day.

Business Studies was great. It allowed me to stretch my mind in a way I hadn’t really done before, and I was hungry to learn more and more about the world of business. As I write this, I’m bemused by how, once again, something I hadn’t thought much about for a long time actually turns out to have informed the way I carry myself today.
I have always been interested in learning about the business that I work in, even though often my work has very little to do with the actual line of business of the company. It’s something that’s served me well over my career, but I never thought back to where it came from.

Drama though. Oh, Drama.

To say I loved Drama would be understating it by half. It was the most fun I’ve had at school, and I looked forward to every lesson. I was in there with a couple of very good friends and even though we had a couple of idiots who took it as a joke lesson, the whole group had a really good time.
We also loved our teacher, whose name I unfortunately forget, but who nurtured us and encouraged us over two hilarious, thrilling years … until she didn’t.

By the end of Year 11 we were readying ourselves for our GCSE exams and our futures beyond. Would we leave school? Would we go on to A-Levels and, if so, would we stay at the school in Sixth Form, or leave to a Sixth Form college and start new again?
Most importantly, in Drama class we were preparing for our final production.

This performance would be in the school hall in front of a lot of parents. We’d have props, the stage wings would be moved into the hall to create a frame for the performance, there would be lighting … it was a Big Deal.

Our ‘crew’ knew what we were doing as one Hive Mind.


Specifically, Blackadder Goes Forth, the fourth season of the superlative BBC Comedy Blackadder starring Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson. We all thought of ourselves as cultured teens with a keen comic nose, and adored the ‘pseudo-historical sitcom’.
We wanted more than anything to re-enact the absolute brilliance of the script because we knew it would make us brilliant.

At first, I was to play George, in place of Hugh Laurie (an honor if ever there was one) because I could nail his stiff-upper-lip-but-puppyish naiveté, but then when coaching one of our cast on an East London “cockernee accent”, it was unanimously decided that I should play Tony Robinson’s role – Baldrick.
To the uninitiated, being changed from playing a well-presented and well-spoken (if Toffish) Lieutenant to playing a character that usually resembled a confused mole rat might seem like a bit of a downgrade.

However, Baldrick was second only to Blackadder. Blackadder might have the biting sarcastic putdowns, but Baldrick had pretty much everything else. The genius speeches to setup Blackadder’s punchline cutdown, the most opportunity for physical comedy … this was a serious upgrade, and I fucking loved it.

We prepped hard for this one. Like I said, this was going to make us brilliant and we wanted to be brilliant. Personally, I was absolutely going to pick Drama at my A-Levels as an option and see where it took me, and I’m pretty confident at least one of my fellow cast members was thinking the same thing.

Finally, the full rehearsals took place. We performed in front of the rest of the class (we also saw their pieces of course) and our teacher. When we finished, the class gave us a standing ovation. There were only about 10 of them, but it meant a lot to receive that sort of feedback and praise from our peers.

Our teacher told us we needed to cut it down. It was too long.

We were aghast. To us, this was akin to us having painted a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa (I don’t know why we’d be doing that collaboratively .. just go with it for the sake of this please) and having someone say “Hmmm, I think you should have made her blonde.”

We were honoring the brilliance of the script and paying homage to the genius actors that gave life to the characters in an all-out flexing of our dramatic and comedy muscles, and she wanted us to cut it down?! It would be like a TV show cutting to a break 45 minutes in and just not coming back for the final 15. It wouldn’t make sense. It would be an insult to everything loved about the show.

We fought. We put forward all of our reasons why cutting it short could only make it worse, not better. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. We would have to cut it short.

On the night, we went out there and we fucking slayed it. That feeling of being out there in front of a crowd but hidden inside this shell of a character that someone else had written was exhilarating. Saying the hilarious lines and hearing everybody laugh just like they should was a dopamine hit. We hit all our marks, we nailed all our lines, and the audience ate it up. It was one of the best things I’d ever done, and I’d done it with my mates which was even better.

At the end of the year, we all had to write an official review of the class and our teacher. I don’t really understand why we had to do this, but there you go. To a man, we said everything had been great, up until the point our artistic vision was crushed for no good reason. The teacher got the feedback, and took the four of us outside the room to talk to.

She was disappointed with us. She wanted us to rethink what we’d said. She wanted to repair the relationship because – in her words – we were the most promising students she’d had in a long time and hoped that we’d take the class to A-Level.
Now I look back and think of the few kids that took Drama as a ‘doss’ class were probably the majority in her previous classes. I genuinely think that we were the first group (along with a few excellent others in our class) that she could really see some progress with.

However, we couldn’t look past what she’d done. We all agreed that none of us would take Drama the following year, and told her so.

Usually at this point I’d look back and sigh at what petulant children we had been, but I really believe that we stood up for what we believed in, and that what we believed in was right. However, it did lead us all to cutting off our collective noses to spite our collective faces. None of us took Drama any further, but all of us had shown promise. Who knows where I might be now if I’d pursued it?

I feel like that confrontation is one of the few times I’ve truly stood up for my beliefs in a meaningful way. Sure, it helped that the other guys agreed and we essentially protested as team, but I think I’d have done it alone if I had to.

I did actually go back to Drama briefly. Only two people took it at A-Level that year (which was a shame, clearly me and the guys would have been the rest of the class) and for their first year production they needed a third to play a dying German soldier. Of the four guys, I was closest to one of the people who did take Drama on to A-Level, so I was asked and accepted. My German accent was dodgy at first (sounded like a German Kermit the Frog) but got better in time for show night. I don’t really remember the actual performance, which probably says a lot.

By this point, I’m entering Sixth Form, having gotten grades good enough to move ahead with pretty much whatever I wanted.

By this point, I was starting to think of the future and knew that money made the world go around. As enticing as the idea of being an author was, I was getting savvy to the world and realized that there’s no guaranteed career there. Drama had clearly come to a screeching halt. Computing was my only realistic other choice, as by now I had a lot of experience and had even built my own PC after getting some compensation after being injured in a car accident when I was 15. In fact, that’s probably a good place to leave this for now. Until next time …

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