A Take on the Grammar School Debate, by Someone Who Actually Went to One

The new school year is upon the nation’s sproglets and there’s a new-ish argument in Parliament and the media about grammar schools. Am I glad to be back home. I want to add my two cents to the great grammar school debate, because I actually attended one – after 1974, which as far as I can tell is when most politicians left university – and no one seems to have thought to ask grammar school pupils what they think.

I went to a grammar school in Essex from 2007 until a couple of years ago, partly because I grew up surrounded by them, and their students looked very accomplished and clever and grown up in their uniforms and I wanted to be like that, and partly because my parents and teachers had worked out by the time I was eleven that I was a precocious academic brat. Also, the alternative schools were shit. They weren’t all shit schools, but they were shit for me. Had I gone to the local comprehensives, I would have spent my teenage years with the same people I went to primary school with. I did not like most of the people I went to primary school with. I was shy and awkward and did all my growing in year five, so I looked 15, not 10 – and wearing a bra and shopping for sanitary products when your classmates are still getting the giggles when they look up ‘vagina’ in the dictionary is less fun than it sounds. Plus I loved reading and reading = smart, right? SO I WAS GOING TO TRY OUT FOR THE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS.

Sherlock Series 3 Mary Thumbs Up GIF from furiousposhman.tumblr.com
from furiousposhman.tumblr.com

At school we already had to do shitty tests and homework and SATs, and I signed up to the Eleven Plus assuming it was basically the same, which it was. I fucking hated all tests and homework right up until year 13 – so shout out to my parents, who gritted their teeth and walked me through my verbal reasoning book, and to my primary school teachers, who ran extra classes for the kids they thought could try out for the grammar schools, or the grammar stream that ran in one of the comprehensives.

I don’t remember much about the months leading up to the Eleven Plus, other than I listened to evening radio while I finished my verbal reasoning, and that’s where I got into MCR. But I do remember visiting the different schools, and one of my classmates mum’s saying to one of the teachers at an all-girls grammar: ‘Lucy much prefers boys to girls. She doesn’t get on with girls. Would that be a problem here?’ The answer was yes. Lucy went to a comprehensive. I never got on with her – and I thought boys were mostly gross, and I saw no reason to share a desk with them unless forced. My other resounding memory of that time is another child’s mum saying in the playground ‘I won’t let my daughter go to the girls school. It’s full of posh people and dykes.’

My friends and I conducted pretty thorough studies over the years and trust me, it’s really not.

Anyway, a lot of children at my school went in for the Eleven Plus, and a lot of us passed (again, shout out to the teachers for having faith in so many of us). A few went to the different grammars, but most went into the grammar stream at the comprehensive. I don’t know if that still exists, but if anyone reading this is worried their little girl might miss the company of the Y chromosome aged 12, consider that.

In my first week of year seven I was surprised at how quiet the classrooms were. My primary school was raucous and busy and chairs got thrown and kids hadn’t met their parents for years and kids were on medication and kids were loud. I couldn’t get over how much people wanted to learn (to anyone who taught my classes after year nine – sorry we couldn’t keep that up).

By the end of year eight I had learnt that I went to school with girls who were thick as shit but whose families had the money to tutor them through the Eleven Plus, with girls whose families didn’t have enough money to buy food and the expensive school uniform, with girls whose parents seemed to treat the grammar system as an extension of the private school system, with girls who are smart enough to run the country. I also learnt that I would not contract lesbianism by virtue of not being near boys, although I took an extra-curricular karate class just to be on the safe side. I still think boys are mostly gross but I would like to apologise publicly for confusing queerness with the flu. In my defence, I went to primary school with kids whose parents were twats.

I also learnt that I kind of hated school. I hated homework and poncy assemblies in which we politely applauded the latest hockey victories. I hated standing up when a teacher came in (show me some respect and I’ll show you some, dude) and the optional but-not-really letters asking for ‘small donations’ and the PE lessons run by people who never seemed to exercise and the ridiculous assumption that we should all go to university. I hated that the highest standard wasn’t high enough, I hated that the arts were ignored in favour of maths and science, and that maths and science was ignored in favour of sport.

But I loved my friends, my blazer’s many pockets and the weird little intricacies that came with a century-old institution. We had two staircases, one going up and one going down, and sometimes someone would lose a shoe on the way up. We celebrated our school’s birthday with giant fruitcake and a rousing rendition of Jerusalem. We’d visit foreign language teachers in spare offices once a fortnight to play with index cards about verbs. I hated that the highest standard wasn’t high enough, but only when it came to homework; I give the same attention to my work now that teachers wanted me to give to my work then.

I did well in my GCSEs by grammar standards, and badly in my A Levels by grammar standards. I’m doing okay now in life standards, although probably not grammar school ones – I didn’t go to university, I work for myself and I’m broke, there’s nothing about me that they can put on a brochure to encourage the next generation of precious academic brats.

BELOW AVERAGE from The Perks of Being a Wallflower from taylorbtw.tumblr.com
from taylorbtw.tumblr.com

If I had gone to any of the comprehensives, maybe the part of me that says ‘fuck’ a lot, dyes my hair pink and refuses to get a normal job would have flourished a lot earlier. Maybe I would have been more relaxed about homework and less frustrated by all the hoops I had to jump through as a student. Maybe I would have gone to university. Maybe I wouldn’t be blogging, wouldn’t be an MCR fan or wouldn’t be a writer. I have yet to see if being an alumni of my school can open doors; I’ve had more interviews based on my blog than I have my qualifications – although a during lot of local interviews people have mentioned that they went to a grammar, or their kid did, or their aunt’s cousin’s neighbour did. I don’t know if that’s an exclusive club I want to be in.

So, politicians and parents and teachers and, for once, the kids who are in the education system today:

I don’t know what’s best for you. Your parents might not know what’s best for you. A wonderful teacher and a supportive home life will get your far further than the number of A*s you’ve achieved. I didn’t do well in primary school because I was magically gifted, I did well because my teachers were brilliant and my family gave a shit. I’m no smarter than the children who didn’t go to the grammars, although my parents are smarter than the parents who didn’t let their children try out for the grammars. If you fail an exam aged eleven, you have the rest of your life to do everything in your life. If you want to try out for the Eleven Plus, do it. If you want to dye your hair pink, do it.

Only one of those things will ruin your clothes, your bathroom and some of your job prospects.

Referendum Flu

Since every other motherfucker in my Facebook and Twitter and household is telling me what they think and/or why I’m wrong, I thought I’d return the favour while I still can – and share some of my favourite referendum satire. I can’t upload the entirety of this week’s Private Eye coverage, but if you see a copy please do have a read, they’ve outdone themselves.

So, for what it’s worth and despite the EU being flawed beyond belief, I’m voting remain. I think the economy could be fine/shit either way, not that many people seem to actually have a clue, and I’m more interested in the fact that we live in an unstable world in which isolation of any kind would be a bad idea. Whether we like them or not, close cooperation and communication with our neighbours is crucial. The EU was originally something the British helped create to prevent another war, and I might be getting sappy in my old age but I think that’s something worth preserving (although I would like to see it sort out all the bullshit).

And now for the satire: the Now Show did a Vote Now Show which takes the piss for a solid half an hour, and John Oliver explained the referendum to the US. If you watch any of that, please for the love of god watch the song at the end just for the rhymes. I’m also in love with this, which asks the right question:

I have probably forgotten something funny (the number of people who think Boris is a suitable candidate for Prime Minister, maybe), but in case this is my last 24 hours of living in a country that hasn’t collectively voted to agree with the likes of Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and every racist who’s ever lived, I think I will leave this here and go and look at last minute plane tickets to the continent.

 

Dropped Mic at the BAFTAs

Who else inhaled audibly on Sunday night when Peter Kosminsky mentioned John Whittingdale? Who else wants to see his full speech plus a lil interview with some awkward filmmakers?

I am one hundred percent done with any and all British and/or world politics at the moment but the BAFTAs made me sit up a little straighter, pick up a pen and write some things because who the fuck is a one term government to dictate what viewers can and can’t see? I’m not a fan of everything the BBC makes (like what the hell was the actual point of The Voice except to see Tom Jones be lovely?) but British television collectively is the best in the world, goddamnit, and I want to work in it someday and even if I didn’t I would defend public broadcasting to the death because commercials are the bane of my life and if the only shows available were TOWIE and that talent one, I would move to Australia.

Dear god they have the talent one in Australia.

That’s my ranting done for the week; I’m off to make something that might annoy 50 year old Tory secretaries of state…

Mild Life Appreciation feat. Dogs

I noticed that I’ve been blogging at the end of the week a lot and thought about doing an Election Flu miniseries with the local/police crime commissioner/London elections. What do crime commissioners do when they’re not commissioning crime? But voting day fell on the same day as the funeral for one of my family, and the thing with funerals is that they make doing everything else very unappealing, so my election leaflets are in the bin and I voted for candidates I know even less about than usual.

Still, both the elections and the funeral are now over so I’m going to work my day around the sun’s placement in the garden – because what the hell is the point of being freelance if you can’t take advantage of fifteen minutes of summer – and realign my life’s priorities. That’s the thing with funerals, isn’t it? You start realising that a) one day it’ll be yours, and b) that day might be sooner than you think so why the fuck are you spending so much time watching shitty television.

It is nearly time for my first sun appreciation session of the day and I have a sneaky feeling I have real work to do so I’ll leave this here and maybe come back before next Friday. Maybe I shall realign my blogging priorities too… bring back that luminous green font from 2010, or try my hand at fashion blogging. Maybe some how-to videos about the different types of writing pencil, or on ways to pretend you have lots of friends but actually most of the stories you tell involve your dogs.

Dogs playing GIF
I don’t know where I found this but I’m glad that I did.

‘Speak now or forever hold your peace’ feels like a pertinent parting statement. Happy Friday!

The Queen is Quite Lovely Really, and Free Etsy Delivery (unrelated)

Hay birthday, your majesty. I can’t wa as lyrical as I would like to about the Queen turning 90, for reasons obvious when you notice that ‘hay’ was meant to be the word that comes before ‘birthday’ in the song we’re forced to sing when the ageing age, and that ‘wa’ was meant to be the word that has the same letters but a different meaning to the gross stuff that we get in our ears.

TL;DR: I need to buy a new keyboard before any more keys start to stick. I can’t afford to get another fancy ergonomic one, so I think I will head to Amazon with a voucher and get a standard ergonimic one instead. I’m going to miss this one, although it is unfairly enormous and makes me feel like an 80 year old, because it is so fuckin’ comfy. It’s cushioned. Cushioned keyboards should be mandatory.

Back to Elizabeth II. I have never considered myself an ardent monarchist, but I’m definitely not a republican either (thank you to sellchecker for fiing that for me. While I’m at it, I’ll let it fi sellchecker and fi too – oh wait it’s not that clever) and I think that’s down to her. How many 90 year old ladies continue their day job aged 90 having committed to it vocally half a century before, and do so followed by the tabloid media, 80 security guards and a husband constitutionally banned from walking alongside her? Also, let’s face it, without the Royal Family the UK’s international influence would be even shittier. What else is there for tourists to do in London but visit another royal-related building?

I can’t remember if the walking-alongside-the-queen thing is a rule or tradition, but I think if I were her I’d bloody hate it (and swear too much at foreign dignitaries, etc) so long may she reign over us, contribute to tourism and international goodwill, and fake being okay with our terrible choices of government.

That’s it, I’m going to Amazon. I can’t take this any more – what if the F goes? How will I communicate?

Oh, before I forget: with Shakespeare’s (oh, you can correct that) birth and death day this week, Charlotte Bronte’s birthday today and The Raven King out on Tuesday, I thought I would celebrate on Etsy. Enter CHECKTHEATTIC at the checkout between now and the end of the 26th and get free, er, mailing. You know, that thing that gets tacked on to the end of every online sale. The, er, carrier charge. THESE. I WILL COVER THESE.

Elizabeth II 90th Birthday
Oh look, that links the two subjects nicely.

Because Jane Eyre should have checked the attic, right?

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2015

Here we go again…

Record of the Year

My stereo has been home to two CDs more than any others this year: Chantal Claret’s Battles of a Heavy Heart, which if God existed would be available in all good music shops with a world tour. As it is you can buy it directly from Chantal’s site and follow her on social media to pretend she’s on a world tour.

The second CD actually came out last year, but I am always late to the music party, so I would like to highly recommend this Hozier chap. I think he may go on to big things. Remember when I lost my shit over the Take Me to Church video? Make a sequel.

I’ve also recently fallen back in love with Fall Out Boy (thank you to whoever made a Tumblr edit to The Kids Aren’t Alright and The Raven Cycle). FOB are a band I forget I love until I’m listening to them, then I can’t remember why I don’t listen more often. I got American Beauty/American Psycho a few weeks ago and my ears are so happy they want to set something on fire.

Video of the Year

I forgive you for Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen. I’ve also come to really love Call Me Maybe.

Book of the Year

This is hard. There’s The Raven Cycle, which has stolen my heart (and will break my heart when it concludes in April), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit… but because I didn’t do book reviews when I read them, and because I went to a talk with the authors who were lovely:

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

I wish this had existed five or ten years ago. Basic summary: there is a kid who is transgender. I can’t tell you any more than that because there are twists (don’t worry, she doesn’t ‘go back to normal’), but I finished it in an afternoon and it’s amazing.

Trouble by Non Pratt

A girl called Hannah gets in trouble. Some random guy offers to help her out. ‘In trouble’ means pregnant, by the way.

The ‘I Saw This Shit Live’ News Story

Once upon a time there was a Liberal Democrat named Paddy Ashdown. As it became apparent that his party lost a general election more severely than Sepp Blatter lost his morals, he refused to believe the exit poll and threatened to eat his hat if the poll turned out to be correct.

Then, like all good politicians, he did a U turn. The end.

The ‘My Twitter Timeline United Like It Never Has Before’ News Story: Equal Marriage

I’ve never seen so many people so happy as when Ireland held its referendum and when the US Supreme Court sorted their shit. I do have quite a selective timeline, apart from that one day I accidentally followed the Westboro Baptists, but it’s not usually entirely focussed on one thing. So I think everyone should be allowed to get married, all the time, because it makes everyone stupidly happy.

Equal Marriage Celebration.png
Even lawyers win when love wins

The Homophobic Dick Award: Kim Davis

So it turns out not everyone was stupidly happy about letting the queers get married. Some were stupidly stupid. I will devote no more of my time to her than this paragraph.

The Indifferent Ignorance Ignorance Fuck Award: Donald Trump and Daesh

I am upset that this year, like most others, one winner of this particular category is American. Come on, rest of the world, raise your game. Although reluctant to pay either of them any more attention, I felt that both Trump and Daesh deserve the award for similar reasons: they are both ignorant of human empathy, dangerous when armed and an embarrassment to their respective cultural and racial groups. I actually chose Trump before Muslim Visa Gate, but that clinched it. America, if you’re reading, kindly do not allow this gentleman to run your country. Sincerely, everyone. I was going to ignore Daesh as one does an attention-seeking child and Katie Hopkins, but if they are reading this then they’ve sat through Tom Hanks lipsyncing, a video of two men kissing and Paddy Ashdown, so they’ve got a good idea of what hell will look like when they get there.


 

All right, that’s it for 2015. I think next year I will keep track of people who are doing their bit to eradicate ignorance of the likes of Trump and co. Doctors, artists, civil rights activists, etc. Balance the decent person:motherfucker ratio. My instinct tells me we’ll need them when the US election heats up if not before.

Happy new year to everyone!

In Which I’ve Run Out of Things to Say

Events like Paris always remind me why I started Indifferent Ignorance, but the older I get the less equipped I feel to discuss them. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to read a news article and analyse it further than thinking ‘what a lot of shit we are living in’; every terrorist attack feels more like a black hole and no sooner have we recovered from one attack than another one reminds us that we’re only ever about a week from world war three.

Maybe that’s what happens when you reach adulthood, maybe the downside of becoming more emotionally stable and less self-centred is that the shit hits home a bit more. Remember when six year-old me took 9/11 in her stride and went back to eating birthday cake? I miss those days. 20 year-old me wants to move everyone I love to Mars. If I ever have children I’ll raise them in a basement so they don’t have to risk getting killed by deluded radicals or join wars intended to kill the deluded radicals. Course, in doing so I’d let the deluded radicals win, so I should bravely raise my offspring to be sensible, empathic liberals and regularly take them to public places.

I am really glad that’s not an actual decision I’ll have to make in the near future. In the mean time, I think the best thing we can do is get on with our lives and try to spread love and empathy wherever we go? Unless you know a safe multi-party mission to Mars, in which case I will see you in space.

In Which I Learn to Spell Srebrenica, and Use it a Lot

It’s always a bit strange to have two big anniversaries at the same time, and I’m really glad one of them was mentioned on the radio this morning or I would have gone about blissfully unaware of the cosmic irony/coincidence/shitfest. I was about to ask how many of you remember Srebrenica , but I don’t actually remember Srebrenica – I was gestating at the time and too busy growing legs to listen to the World Service (I have no idea if my parents did either now I think about it). Anyway, Srebrenica was one of the case studies we learnt in Politics about how the UN is well-meaning but inefficient, which kind of tells you everything you need to know.

Basically, between 1993 and 1995 there was a war between ethnic groups in the area that’s now Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The whole area was part of Yugoslavia during the Soviet era, and when the USSR ended people who’d lived side-by-side for decades suddenly remembered they didn’t like each other because they had different religions and whanot. The war was so bad that in 1993 the UN announced that the predominantly Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica was a ‘safe area’ for Muslims. (The opposing side was Christian. Love thy neighbour indeed.) In July 1995, Christian Serbian forces, led by a dude named Ratko Mladic, twigged that there were lots of Muslims living in Srebrenica and stormed the place, deporting and raping women and forcing the men to flee into the surrounding mountains. Then they found the men, shot about 8000 of them and buried their bodies so well that people are still finding new ones today. The Dutch UN forces in Srebrenica had neither the means nor permission to do anything for about ten days, which is when the UN got their shit together and NATO bombed the Serbian forces.

That, kids, is called a genocide. It was the worst European one since the Nazis and you can learn more about it here.

Anyway, I’m guessing more of you remember 7/7? I’m doing that old person thing of thinking it was two weeks ago, but seriously it’s hard to believe it was 10 years. Thinking about it now, although 9/11 helped cause the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which inspired ISIS, al Qaeda seem hopelessly 2000s. No one bombs public transport any more – they brainwash teens on the Internet and shoot random strangers. And take their children to live in Syria. And try to make their version of a religion into a functioning Middle Eastern state.

In a few years we’ll all consider ISIS perpetrators of genocide. President Assad’s regime too, although I believe he’s back on the West’s side while ISIS are a bigger issue than democracy and chemical gas.

from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com
from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

What I’m trying to say – and I’d be a lot more eloquent if the draft I saved hadn’t disappeared 15 minutes into an excellent paragraph – is that there are a lot of people who will try to tell you that human behaviour is inborn, or that all Muslims should personally apologise for ISIS, or that Word War II was the last time anything bad happened to Europeans. These people haven’t thought about anything that goes beyond their front door. Shit happens, and sometimes we could have prevented it if we thought a bit harder. Sometimes we couldn’t. Mostly we’ll never know. Regardless, if you take a moment to think about Srebrenica or 7/7 or any of the other waste of human lives that’s happened in the last century, you might be a teeny bit smarter than the people at the UN who didn’t fully think through Srebenecia, or who let the Iraq war happen without considering consequences.

That in itself will probably guarantee that you’ll never get a place in the UN, huh.