Archive for the ‘adolescence’ Tag

High School Reunion

I spent eight years of my life living in Canada. I moved out there with my mother, stepfather and sister in 1980. I was ten years old at the time. I resented having to move countries. I moved back in 1988, at eighteen years old, after finishing high school.

The high school I attended was Grand River Collegiate, in Kitchener, Ontario. I spent five years there because in those days Ontario had a grade 13 – now long gone, I understand. The school opened in 1966. Last year, 2016, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it decided to have a ‘reunion weekend’ to celebrate fifty years of ‘Renegades’.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories of my teenage years. Does anyone ever have a good time during puberty? But in high school, at least, there were some good experiences, and it was a big improvement on junior high. It was in high school I began to have confidence in my writing – that this was, at least, something that I was good at, and I had some very encouraging English teachers. I made some good friends in high school, friends I am still in contact with. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. And I was finally able to drop that most hated of classes, Physical Education. The Canadian education system – at least when I went through it – did not seem to comprehend that some people will never, ever, be any good at sports, no matter how hard you push them. But that is a post for another time.

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Me (L) and my sister, haunting the old school corridors 30 years on

Ultimately the most important lessons you learn are those you discover after school. I was bullied in school. I suppose most people are. Perhaps we had it easier, in the days before social media and the internet when your bullies had to come face to face with you instead of hiding behind Twitter accounts. Bullying is always tough. But you grow up, you learn to love yourself and you learn to put the hurtful things the bullies said behind you.

Anyway, the school opened its doors for an open house weekend as part of its reunion celebrations, and I decided to go. My sister, who still lives in Canada, came along. We were both, briefly, at the same high school. But she was three grades below me and at the time she found me terminally embarrassing, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time.

It was a strange experience, going back into my old high school after nearly thirty years. I think back to those times and sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me – like it all happened to someone else. And the school has changed quite a lot since I attended. There’s a proper drama room with a stage now. We just had a room with a carpet and no desks – we had to sit on the floor. There’s a really high-tech music room, with soundproof practise booths. But as I walked around, every so often a memory would hit me. We went up the stairs to explore the upper floor and I suddenly remembered clattering up and down those stairs every day, between classes. I went into the girls’ toilets and remembered that these were the ones I used every day, at school, because they were conveniently placed between corridors. I’m pretty sure the decor, or the facilities, hadn’t changed in 30 years either.

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Exhibit A: Evidence of Sara’s terrible dress sense during adolescence?

In the corridor that used to be where all the French and business studies (ie: typing) were, ‘decade rooms’ had been set up. So of course I headed straight for the 1980s room. Photographs of the time were hung up every where, and who should I see in that room but my old typing teacher. While I was talking to her telling her how in all honesty her typing class was the single most useful class I ever took in my life, my sister was prowling the room looking at the photographs. I was in quite a lot of them. I threw myself enthusiastically into high school and joined all the clubs. I was trying to get people to notice me. My sister was making a point of trying not to be noticed. She kept bringing me pictures I featured in. Most of them I remembered – I bought all the yearbooks, and most of the pictures were there somewhere. But then she brought me one I hadn’t seen before. “How you can tell that’s me?” I said. “The face is turned away.”

She gave me a look and pointed at the picture. “Look at that outfit! Of course it’s you. And socks with sandals? Who else would wear that?”

Perhaps she had a point. I am attaching the picture as Exhibit A. I am the person with long brown hair in the foreground, lookng away from the camera. You can judge for yourself whether or not my dress sense was as terrible as my sister perceived it to be.

On the whole it was fun, revisiting my high school for a day, and it brought back some good memories that I had forgotten all about. But I think the most important thing about reminiscing on high school days is to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.

RIP James Herbert

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Today’s post was going to be an update on current WIPs. But on the way home from work today, I learned news that rocked my world. The news came to me via my Twitter feed, which I was checking on my phone on the train home, as I usually do. Say what you like about Twitter, it’s the best place to go for the real news. The important news.

And the important news today – more important than trials and political scandals, more important than the fact that it was Budget Day – is that James Herbert has died. It is not an exaggeration to say I was shocked by this news. It is not even an exaggeration to say I was devastated.

James Herbert was Master of British Horror. In the 80s, when I first got into horror in a serious way, he dominated the shelves along with Stephen King. I have read many of his books. I have an entire shelf of them in my library.

I am not the only person affected by this news. Looking at my Twitter and Facebook feeds this evening, many people I follow are all saying the same thing. James Herbert informed their adolescent reading habits. James Herbert turned them on to reading, and writing, horror. James Herbert is among the greats, and the world will not be the same without him. Most people, it seemed, started off with THE RATS. I have to say I didn’t get on with this particular book, which as I understand it was his first published novel. It wasn’t the first James Herbert novel I read, and by the time I got to that one I was in my early 20s. It seemed to me to be a book largely preoccupied with describing – in graphic detail – people having sex, followed by said people being eaten by rats while they were cozying in the afterglow, and not much to the novel beyond that. I’ve said before that I’m the sort of person who skips the sex scenes, in search of something more interesting. In this case people being horribly eaten by rats was more interesting, but after three or four scenes of this it started to feel a bit ‘samey’. So, no, THE RATS was not my favourite Herbert book. There are plenty of others, though, that I would rate up there as amongst the best horror novels every written. HAUNTED. THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH. THE MAGIC COTTAGE. CREED.

And then last year I read a James Herbert book that blew the rest of them out of the water. That book was NOBODY TRUE, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may recall I wrote a glowing review (found here in case you haven’t been).

I have never met James Herbert personally, in spite of going to two Cons in recent years where he was Guest of Honour – generally someting else interesting was happening, or the queue was just too long. I’m now rather regretting that I didn’t take the time to stand in that queue, to get a book signed and get the chance to tell him how he inspired me as a horror writer, and how I devoured his books when I was just discovering my calling as a horror writer.

In spite of that, I still feel that I’ve read so many books of his that I knew him. And news of his death feels like a personal loss – a bit like losing an old friend.

Only yesterday I was contemplating buying his newest book. ASH. I decided against it at the time, my TBR pile being already so vast I shouldn’t add to it until I’ve managed to get through some of the books in it. Now I feel the need to re-read all the James Herbert books on my shelf, and go out and buy all the ones I haven’t read yet. I might even re-read THE RATS. Maybe the passage of time will make me like it more.

Goodbye, Mr Herbert. The world will not be the same without you, and you leave behind a hole in British horror fiction that no one could ever fill.

My Life In Books: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

All of the books in Sue Townsend’s series about the hapless Adrian Mole are worth reading, but this is the book that kicked it off. I’ve actually read this book a couple of times, but I was remninded of it by Diane Dooley’s post for Monday’s Friend.

The reason I want to include this book in the My Life in Books series is that I think the impression you get from it varies depending on whether you’re reading it as an adult or a teenager. The first time I read this book, I was 13 – the same age as Adrian. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. He was a misunderstood young man being oppressed by his family, who didn’t understand him and didn’t treat him fairly – and at that age, I thought I could relate to that. I thought at the time Sue Townsend did a pretty good job of remembering what it was like to be 13.

I read this book again as an adult, and formed an entirely different impression of Adrian. He’s naive and ignorant. He’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is, and his efforts to be an intellectual come across as painfully embarrassing and very funny.

So as an adolescent I sympathised with Adrian. As an adult I laughed at him. But I daresay I was equally pathetic, and equally melodramatic, as a 13-year-old. This seems to be an obligatory stage of growing up that fortunately most of us grow out of.

The books about Adrian Mole carry him all the way through puberty, through adulthood and into middle age, in the more recent books (though I haven’t read them all yet – ADRIAN MOLE AND THE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION is still on my TBR pile). Although he does grow up, he retains that comical ignorance that we’ve come to know and love. The middle-aged Adrian Mole still thinks he’s an intellectual. But the reality is, he’s really not very bright. But those of us who have followed him through his life feel like he’s an old friend – that one who you always stick with, because although they can be annoying, you still love them despite their flaws.

My Life In Books: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Everything changes when one hits puberty. The grown-ups do tell you this – but no one, at 10 years old, can fully comprehend how much is going to change in the next couple of years. The physical, psychological, mental and emotional changes that you experience in just a few short years are completely overwhelming. No wonder teenagers get a bit stroppy.

The enduring popularity of Judy Blume is that her books are there to help you through the Hell that is puberty – because her characters are going through what you are going through, and you feel she understands. Unlike all other grown ups, who of course couldn’t ever have been young enough to experience puberty…

Grade 6 was the year that this book made the rounds amongst all the girls in my class. It was also the year all the boys had to leave the room while the girls had to watch the film about periods. A bit late in the day, in my opinion, but maybe things have changed nowadays. Nevertheless, this book is as relevant now as it was then, to girls on the brink of puberty.

Margaret is coming up to 12 when she moves to a new city with her parents. An only child of parents who eloped, because one was Jewish and one was Christian and her grandparents did not approve of the match, she has grown up without any particular religious doctrine. But as she hits puberty, part of the process of discovering who she is involves exploring the concept of God.

Margaret and her friends start a club where they talk about boys. They practise kissing on posters. They are all anxious to start their periods – no one wants to be the last to experience this formal passage into womanhood. They all go off to buy their first bras, and worry about not having anything to fill them. And Margaret talks to God about all of her worries – things she feels she can’t talk to anyone else about.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it demonstrates that 12-year-old girls really haven’t changed at all in the generations since it was written. I identified with it because at 11/12 I worried about the same things Margaret did. I’m sure I wasn’t the only girl who decided to try out the exercise that Margaret and her friends engage in to improve the chest muscles – holed up in the bedroom, pulling my arms back vigorously, chanting “I must, I must, I must imcrease my bust” as the characters in the book did. I really should have looked at the long line of generously endowed women in my mother’s family and realised that genes would take care of this problem for me, with a little patience. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the anxieties of the adolescent seem like the end of the world at the time, even though in the grand scheme of things these problems are pretty trivial.

The only thing that dates this book is the fact that the sanitary towels Margaret buys in secret to practise using, so that when she has need of them she’ll know what to do, are the kind with loops attached to a belt around one’s waist, which haven’t been available for many years now.

Judy Blume said she wrote this based on many of her own experiences and feelings in adolescence. They resounded with me as a pre-teen, and I have no doubt that they still resound with today’s pre-teenage girls. Sometimes I feel old when I see today’s teens. But sometimes, books like this serve to remind me that some things don’t change at all.