Thursday, 7 April 2016

Ugly



As I grew up there was a constant need for affirmation, acceptance and above all feeling valued by not only my peers but especially those I regard as superior to me. This started at the lower end of the scale with Grown Ups, passed through the menopausal goblins that were Dinner Ladies and worked its winding path to the dizzy heights of Policemen, Teachers and eventually Mummy and Daddy.

My life a child was very black and white...to me. I didn't see shades of grey in anything unless it was my own behaviour and accepted at face value everything I was told...by those I was told I should trust. So if Aunty Anne (not my aunt, just some old bag my mother knew) told me to take my shoes off as I came into her house then I would do so without question. Similarly if a Grown Up told me off for riding my bike on the pavement or for dropping litter then I'd obey them (the former was usually "OI! Off!!!" accompanied by a jerking thumb gesture while the latter was done with maximum condescension and laments along the lines of "What if everyone did that?").

Basically my life had no grey in it. I believed what I was told without question because that's the way that the world was back then. Hitting little girls was horrid. Saying "Please" and "Thank you" were fundamental. And don't even think about making smells at the breakfast table (after all, my Mummy said Batman never did that).

Signed off by God, the Baby Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Endorsed by the Pope. The 11th commandment that Moses had accidentally smashed on the way down from Mount Ararat. What Big People said was true was 100% true. What they said I should do was 100% what I  would do.

What other people told me was believed, if they held a Trusted Position in my life. Back then children were far more believing of Grown Ups so whatever you were told you simply did. While talking to strangers was a big No No even then, if the Grown Up was someone other Trusted People had faith in, then their word was to be taken at face value. This is part of the reason that retrospective witch hunts like Operation Yew Tree are still in effect.



But I digress.

I went to a Roman Catholic school from ages 4 to 9, the most formative years of my life. The school was awesome and my memories of it are 95% happy ones. Staffed by predominantly female teachers, the headmistress was a nun and the curriculum focused on a Christian ethos (with C of E and the other splinter faiths being welcome but Catholic taking the high ground). Good manners, fairness and not being mean to people were the backbone of my education in those days.

However...even St Mary's had its flaws.

We got taught both Darwin and Genesis, sometimes in the same week. I remember the weary look on Miss Dudek's face as my hand went up to ask "Where were the dinosaurs?" when we were being taught about Adam & Eve. I asked this question twice in the nearly 5 years I attended the school and got two answers.

"Stop trying to be clever".
and
"The dinosaurs were around such a long time before the bible that it doesn't mention them".

From the brain of a 40-something I can guess why this impossible situation occurred but in my 7 year old brain it caused confusion. Why wouldn't the bible mention the dinosaurs? Surely if it's a book written by God then He wouldn't have left out Tricerotops and Tyrannosaurs Rex**?



Then things got a little more sinister as I got older.

When you believe what you're told, and are not encouraged to question why something happens (unless it's a Physics lesson) then the material you are being presented with has to be consistent. You can't be told that something is fundamentally important to you and then have the person who told it to you (or their peers) simply piss on it. You can't be given a view of what you should aspire to as a child and then have that taken away or corrupted without explanation.

When I was coming up to my 8th birthday I was promised a bicycle. I looked forward to this with trembling anticipation wondering if I'd get a Grifter or a Boxer or maybe even a 2nd hand Chopper (a bike in the 1970s was a BIG deal). I'd had bikes before that had been brand new and remember the joy of coming down on my 6th birthday to find a gorgeous purple cycle in the lounge for me. On the big day I came down to the soul destroying spectacle of a 5th hand delivery bicycle that had probably been built in the 1950s or earlier. It was the ugliest piece of shit imaginable with a huge leather Granny Saddle and a woven basket on the front. Problem was that I'd been told to feign gratitude for ANY and ALL presents, even if I didn't like them and to be grateful for what I was given. Good manners were fundamental. So I smiled politely while the networks of Trust within me began frantically rewiring themselves to the Faith Without Question circuits while cribbing help from the Polite No Matter What switches. My mother beamed and said that this cycle was the perfect gift for an 8 year old boy because this bike wouldn't be around in 1 or 2 or even 5 years. No, if looked after this bike would still be around in 10 years. I hated it but suppressed all traces of discomfort. My mother then asked brightly "Wouldn't you have preferrred something else like...a Chopper?" and I shook my head saying that Arkwright's bike was just dandy for me. I then took it out for a spin around the village (and by this point I was fully immersed in a case of The Emperor's New Clothes) and within 10 minutes the local bullies had stopped me, pulled me off it and begun kicking it. Pushing it home in tears I was met with only "Well they're just jealous because they know you've got a better bike than them and when their bikes are in the garage waiting to be fixed by their fathers you'll still have a bike and they won't so that's why they did it!"



Truth was they did it because they were bullies and a new bike would have got the same treatment. However, my parents only bought it for me to save a few quid further down the line. They told me it was a good bike, the best bike, the perfect bike so therefore I believed it. 

A year later a teacher who was possibly suffering from a terminal case of PMT shouted at me in front of the rest of the class (that I had joined 2 months previously) that "I don't know where you've come from but I wish you'd just go back there!!!". My crime had been to drop a stapler while making a mask for the Christmas party. At home in tears later I was told that I'd probably made her angry by my behaviour and her outburst was something she shouldn't have said "but I know how she feels (chuckle)".

Even though talking to people like this was something I had been told was wrong...it was somehow not important. 



Later on as time moved forward I became interested in girls. I was told to "play it cool" and "try and maintain a silent image" yet conversely informed that by "sulking" I was going to put people off wanting to know me. I tried to believe both pieces of advice.

Kicked about a lot at school I was told with a waggling finger that this was my fault as I looked at people funny and was sulky and didn't want to do things like play football or hang out at the youth club. When teachers hit pupils at my school (legal back then, abolished the year after I left, in 1988) my mother (a teacher herself) would tut and say things like "Well, maybe he'd had a hard day and seeing that boy shouting across the room like that was just too much for him." Lamping a 14 year old child was apparently excusable due to the stresses of working in the education system.

As conflicting information that led to this type of thing continued to be poured into my ears my mind adapted to best deal with the situation.

This "education" was so hard wired into me that years later when I began working I would believe any and all half arsed excuses from my bosses or "superior" elements within the companies. In 1987 while working as a pot washer*** at the DeMonfort hotel in Kenilworth, UK the chef casually informed me that I'd be getting twice as much wages this week BUT it wasn't my money. It was the junior chef Gazza's money and I had to give it to him. When I asked what was going on I was just as casually informed that it was so Gazza didn't have to pay tax on his earnings. When I questioned this I was glared at and asked rhetorically "Do you think Gazza should have to pay that tax? Don't be so selfish."



I grew up and spent a vast chunk of my life believing anything and everything I was told by those who held ranks in clubs, jobs or even society simply because I believed I should. The ugliness of my life was caused by my inability to question these incidents without feeling ugly for doing so. They lingered for so long because the true emotions that accompanied them were not killed but simply buried, squirming beneath the earth like overripe maggots. Looking back I can see what went wrong and why.

Teaching children to accept what others say is good. Abusing that trust to get your own way is despicable. I can remember so many times of being glared at and told "I never said that Lance".


Yeah, you did.

And you were fucking ugly.

----------------------------------------------------
** Don't care what Jurassic Park/ World says, T-Rex was the coolest dinosaur.

*** Titled Kitchen Porter at my interview, which was being "in charge of the Still Wash". Wankers.


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