When I was seventeen, I kept a diary for a year. Reading it now, it’s one long self-absorbed winge, full of desperately unfunny and derivative attempts to be amusing. So in many ways, the forerunner of this blog.
The diary contains a message to my future self, telling me never, never, to think back fondly on my time at Richard Huish College. I’d realised, you see, that memories become rose-tinted with time, and I didn’t want that to happen.
My time spent at Richard Huish College was the most profoundly miserable time of my life. If I wasn’t depressed in the medical sense, I was consistently very, very unhappy, joyless and lacking in self-esteem. That’s what Richard Huish College gave me. It would take two universities, several years and the love of a good woman to undo all the damage inflicted by that institution.
I don’t remember much of my time there. I kept my head down, withdrawn. I didn’t make many friends, and even when I did, I don’t think I made much of an impression. I remember getting on well with Maths and Physics, because I found they came easily, not because I was enjoying them.
And English; I remember how inept the English lessons were. Atrocious. For ‘The Tempest’, the class just watched a video of the Derek Jarman movie and wrote about that (Toyah takes her top off). I was the only one who had bothered to read the play; and I got marked ‘D’for my essay because I’d decided that ‘The Tempest’ was crap – it’s very much in the second division of Shakey’s plays - and had written an essay about ‘Macbeth’ instead. I was annoying like that.
I mean, a ‘D’. What sort of mark is that? I’d spent three or four weeks on the essay, I’d researched it thoroughly, it was a good essay. Either mark it a fail for being about the wrong play, or mark it honestly for how good it was. But, no, my essay about ‘Macbeth’ rated a ‘D’ when considered as being an essay about ‘The Tempest’.
I loathed the English lessons. I loved English, I’d adored it for GCSE, and at home I was reading literaure for pleasure; I remember one lesson where it became apparent I’d read more of Dickens’ work than my English teacher.
Another essay incident. I’d written about, oh, 5000 words on Coleridge. Again, four or five weeks’ work. I’d written it on my dad’s Amstrad Word Processor, and because I was still editing it down to length on the day it was due in (how little things change) I brought the disk into college. I finished the essay around midday... only to discover that not a single printer in the college was working.
I literally ran around the college for the whole afternoon, tearing my hair out and screaming, crying with frustration, trying to find a working printer. But they had either been buggered or bagsied, every single one. The whole college.
So I asked the English tutor if I could hand in the disk. My essay was on it, he had the disk so I wouldn’t be able to change it, he could print it out and read it tomorrow. It wasn’t my fault that there wasn’t a paper copy. It wasn’t my fault.
But, no. Apparently, if there wasn’t a printed paper copy, they couldn’t be sure I had written it. Don’t ask me to explain the logic of that statement, I still can’t fathom it. The deadline hour came and went, and they wouldn’t let me hand my disk in. Eventually I managed to print out a copy, but it was too late. My essay – 5000 words, a months’ work – was never even read. ‘Ungraded’.
After that I stopped bothering with English. I didn’t turn up. I had three other A-Levels to be getting on with (they wouldn’t allow me to take General Studies).
And now I’m professional writer. Because Richard Huish gave me something precious, something that would prove invaluable to me in life. It gave me a chip on my shoulder.
But one day I’ll finish that A-Level. It shouldn’t be too much work. After all, I still have that disk somewhere.
But, oh God, it was a ghastly place. I wouldn’t say I hated every minute, but we’re talking a good 99 per cent. I hope one day they’ll invite me back to do a speech so I can tell all the current students about how much I wish I’d never gone there. I should’ve gone to SCAT; a much more egalitarian place where most of my friends went, but I had pretensions of grandeur and getting into Cambridge, so – thanks to some inappropriate career advice – Huish’s it was.
Princess Diana visited the college once while I was there. To give you some idea of cynicism of the place, when she visited to talk to sixth-formers, they got together eleven of the nerdiest ex-public-school ingrates to meet her. Of course, this is envy speaking; I remember being aked if I wanted to meet the Princess but pointing out that I considered the Royal Family and the multitude of Civil List hangers-on to be an anachronistic blight on British society. I was annoying like that.
Eleven sixth-formers? No, there were twelve. In order to show that Richard Huish’s wasn’t a racist institution, they needed a black student, if not for the Princess, then for the photo in the Somerset County Gazette. Problem was, there weren’t any black students at Richard Huish’s at the time. So they bussed a black student in from SCAT.