When I was 11, I failed the 11 plus exam.
So I couldn’t go to a good school.
In fact, I went to the worst, roughest school in the area.
At my school no one had much of a future.
So, when I was 16, I left school and worked in a factory.
After about a year I couldn’t stand it any more.
So I asked my dad if I could go back to school to take A levels.
Dad said okay, but how could I get into a good school?
It turned out there was one good school that would take me.
Because my sister had been there.
She’d been the head prefect and captain of the hockey team.
She was remembered so well, in fact, that they were prepared to take me, despite failing all the exams.
When I went to that school I felt pretty much like a loser.
For a start I was a year older than everyone in my class, because I’d worked in a factory for a year.
And I was comparatively thick because all these kids knew Latin.
And then there were the girls.
At my old school all the girls could talk about was shopping, celebs, and TV.
Here, the girls talked about Shakespeare, Kafka, Sartre, Rimbaud.
They’d discuss Modigliani, van Gogh, Gauguin, Bacon.
I’d never met intelligent females before.
I was so embarrassed about being thick that I hardly said a word.
And the teachers made it pretty obvious they disapproved of me.
Largely because I parked my motorbike outside the school.
Eventually I began going out with a tall blonde girl in my class.
She was the school captain.
But after a few months I wanted to break it off.
So I stopped answering the phone when she’d call.
I’d just tell my mum to say I wasn’t in.
Then many, many years later I advised my son the correct way to break up with a girl.
And I thought what a hypocrite I’d been all those years ago.
And I realised I needed to clean it up.
So I went on Friends Reunited to see if I could find her.
And sure enough she was listed.
So I got in contact and we agreed to meet for a coffee and a chat.
She was great, just the way I remembered her.
Confident, attractive, articulate.
But the most interesting thing for me was the way she remembered those days.
It wasn’t anything like the way I remembered them.
She told me what she and her friends thought of me at the time.
She said, “Oh yes, we always knew you were going to be a star.”
That nearly knocked me over.
I saw me as the thick loser parking a broken down old motorbike outside the school.
They saw an angry rebel, an outsider rejecting conventional rules.
That hit me like a brick.
I was so busy living the bad interpretation, I didn’t realise there could be a good one.
A few years back I was talking to my big sister about our dad.
I said “You were always Dad’s favourite, Shirl. The sideboard was covered in cups you’d won for running, hockey, long jump, high jump, hurdles, relay-race, discus, javelin.
He was really proud of you. He was disappointed in me because all I’d do was sit around reading comics.”
My sister said to me “Oh no, it didn’t look like that to me at all.
I was always envious of the way you and dad were always working on cars. You two had the engines in pieces all over the front garden, and you’d sit there for hours covered in oil, taking them apart and putting them back together.”
And I thought, blimey she’s right.
I had some great times with Dad, chatting with a cup of tea and a fag, covered in grease
I’d been so busy concentrating on the bad bits, I’d completely ignored the good bits.
Because the good bits don’t need fixing, we put our concentration only on what’s wrong.
What we think needs fixing.
And pretty soon, inside our head, the bad stuff squeezes out the good stuff.
And all we experience is the bad stuff.
What we think needs fixing.
And we think that’s reality.
And we aren’t aware there’s another reality outside our heads.