They say that there’s a book in everyone. But while an account of my life might be of interest to a few, I don’t ever see that happening. I’ve always been that person full of ideas and dreams but too lazy to do anything about them.
But in this modern epoch, technology allows an easy street, if you blog, to knock up a speedy précis or a chapter of your past which explains why, haven woken at 2am I’m having coffee and the last of that salted caramel cheesecake and with small fervour to write about some halcyon days from my school years.
And that owing to a Twitter discussion last evening, initially apropos bicycles and paraphernalia of yesteryear, in my case the turn of the eight decade of the twentieth century.
Now, eschew any rumours that you hear but I’m a self-confessed logophile and I love writing. And combined with my passion for innuendo I’d say I’ve a fairly healthy constabulary.
Rewind to 1979/1980, I found myself at a boarding school and thankfully, a mixed one in the heart of Surrey countryside. It was a governors school and I was a bit of a fish out of water not coming from wealthy stock, also being an only child, I was rather used to getting what I wanted and things going my way.
Fast forward to 1997 and I would be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. When that happened, it explained so much of the events and my behaviour in my nascent though at the time, little was known about autism like it is now and at home I know my Mother found raising me particularly difficult and was one of the reasons, because I was considered bright, that she chose for me to be educated away from home.
So back to the online discussion, I was recounting my natural interest in the opposite sex and remembering some of the funny things I did and that happened and to this day, I still knew names of the girls in those mini conquests.
If you are reading this and have knowledge of Asperger’s then you may know that it has a range of components, an integral part of which is a lack of social awareness and in my case, an inability to read people’s intentions. And to this day, I still fail to detect danger. My brain simply computes that every person is nice and kind and that they mean well. It does render you vulnerable in that sense.
On social media, unless you tell people, which I seldom do because for me it’s just something I live with and it may be boring to others, you wouldn’t particularly recognise it through writing. If you met me though, you might detect it if you worked in adult social care but generally, I think it would go unnoticed although I am particularly chatty and extremely blunt, which is often misdiagnosed as me being rude.
A good analogy of just how subtle Asperger’s can be is I remember being about nine and a teacher asking me “could I open the window?” (in the classroom). I thought this was a dumb question and chose to ignore her. This was received as rude and disobedient on her part and you couldn’t blame her.
Now I know that had she asked “Oliver, would you please open the window?” I would have complied of course. Because the instruction is different albeit a subtle one.
Autistic folk are generally super literal and can struggle with instruction or in that case, interpretation of a request simply because the brain decodes it differently to that of the neurotypical.
Boarding school life was very good fun as I remember. I’ve never wanted to be a parent and certainly don’t have the skills to cope if I were (lack of patience in DNA for one thing) but if I did and there was a reason for it to happen, I might consider sending my children to away from home education.
My school had everything from a chapel to a sanatorium to a gym to a cinema to a swimming pool and acres of playing fields. And because it was mixed, you could venture towards girls you liked without fear of them saying, well, I’ll have to ask my Mum first. You could “get a girl” by writing a love letter or in my case, just boldly approaching her and asking her outright.
Whenever I listen to Dire Straits ‘Romeo And Juilet’ now (and it came out round about 1980 so was at that time) it makes me laugh because I might have slid up to Ann Gyde and said “You and me, babe… how ’bout it?”!
Uniform was grey flannel suit, grey shirt, tie in the school colours. Underwear was vest and Y-fronts (white) for all boys but at evenings and at weekends you were allowed to wear your own clothes. Twice a week you’d see your roll of fresh laundry delivered to your bed.
I had my first calculator sent to me from uncle John in Ontario, Canada. Yes, I was soon doing SHELL OIL under the bedclothes as well as listening to Radio Luxembourg! Why SHELL OIL anyway? I don’t get that now. I know there was one that spelled big boobs. That’s… 58008616… is it? Someone will know.
In the Twitter discussion, someone thought I must have been quite the Lothario. And that inspired me to dig out this photo. That’s me aged twelve but, it’s rather hideous. If I’d been a young Cristiano Ronaldo then I wouldn’t have been surprised at girls falling at my feet.
A photo taken thirteen years later is like seeing two completely different people! Here I am back in Farnham in Mum’s back garden.
But because I was then, just like I am now, my abruptness (coupled with natural charm of course) meant that my fingers got into many pies. Because I learned that if I liked a girl, they appreciated politeness, respect and a little something like a box of chocolates or in Christine Smith’s case, a pendant.
Sarah Brown I remember made my heart flutter. And other parts too. So I would use part of my allowance to buy her a box of Matchmakers every week. Alternating from the coffee to the mint to the orange.
It worked and I won her heart for a few weeks and we would go on walks holding hands and snog in secret places but perhaps not dream of getting married just yet.
I was sent money from family so, like other boys, I had cash to flash. As well as the girls names I can remember boys as well, Piers O’Hagan, Alistair Abel, Martin Philpott; I think it’s safe to do so here because the chances of them ever reading this are about as much as Aldershot getting promotion.
Some of the names I can remember are quite funny. There was a girl called Michelle Mabey and boys often wondered if she ever did. And I can say that I went to school with Sam Fox. But I can tell you, from memories of the bath-house, that his chest wasn’t nearly so impressive.
These people now in their fifties could be on Twitter of course. I imagined that if the girls were and remembered me they might be dialling for a solicitor!
And imagine lining up in the dormitory in your pyjamas and dressing gowns and then in single file making your way down to the bath-house on freezing winter mornings at half past seven!
There were a couple of showers I remember but lines of baths and sometimes you would have to wait until one became free unless you were at the front of the queue. My parents being naturist, nudity was something I was used to and indifferent to and so there was no adjusting to the situation like there was for some.
And children could be so cruel too. Tim Bailey, who at twelve was what we could say was fully developed, was teased in the showers to the point of him crying, simply because of the jealousy of younger boys who were mostly still underdeveloped.
And there was bullying of course as I suspect was rife among these institutions. There were prefects, sixth formers who, you might have to fag for or, if you had a task card from having misbehaved you might have to polish their shoes.
Another funny episode that always stands out was one time me and two others foxed down to the village to buy cigarettes. They’d serve the oldest boy because it was a weekend and we were in our personal clothing.
But unbeknown to us a teacher, Mr. Young happened to see us in the village and offered us a lift back to the school which, with pockets crammed with Rothmans we didn’t want of course.
Anyway, just before we got out of the car he looked at us and said “Now do you boys have anything on you I should know about?”
We said “No, Sir” in unison. He smiled and said, off you go then. He knew of course. He must have. But he probably used his discretion in the hope that we would learn the hard way.
And by that I mean, I did. The first time I tried one of those things I can remember being told to “take it back”. Smoking was considered cool and elite. Years later you wish you had never tried it.
Saturday nights there was always a film in the main hall. I can remember Quo Vadis and The Yellow Rolls Royce. The boys at the front from first year to sixth on one side and the girls vice versa on the other. Soon as the lights dimmed, boys would wriggle like snakes across the gangway to find their girlfriends.
Back in the dormitory I discovered that some boys also had boyfriends and bed-hopped. I didn’t know anything about that before. Later on I would understand that what they did was all part of growing up and didn’t mean that they would be gay later on.
These census forms we are filling in now, ask you about your sexual orientation. I don’t really think it’s anyone’s business but even joke about that if anyone asks. I’m trisexual, I say. Trisexual? they will reply. What’s trisexual? “Oh, it means I’ll try anything sexual”.
Priscilla Hodgson had a crush on me. She was tall and slim, the archetypal ugly duckling who probably grew up so pretty but she could hardly leave me alone. She had buck teeth and a brace and so with my love for The Smiths, I remember her when I hear ‘Ask’ and that line about writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg.
Fiona and Deborah, twin girls I briefly dated at the same time which was fun though frought with danger; sometimes you do wonder what became of them having ‘gone out with Oliver’ and if they recovered okay from their ordeal.
If I learned anything at all through life is that ladies appreciate and respect your being a gentleman. After all, good manners cost nothing.
In closing, I think I can say that I was at my happiest through the eighties and nineties growing up. Four TV channels, no Jeremy Kyle and my first tablet was an Etch A Sketch.
But if there was no technology like now, I couldn’t be sitting here writing about in in this format. Anyway, I’ve not written a book but just a short chapter about my brief life as a Lothario and I hope you enjoyed reading it, if indeed you did.