At around this time of year, children start to go back to school. My local primary school opened its doors again yesterday to welcome in the very little people, those who are only beginning their education; I happened to be outside yesterday afternoon at around the time they were being released into sweet, sweet freedom after their morning’s learning. It was an interesting, and rather poignant, thing to witness. I saw one young boy, his schoolbag almost as big as he was himself, holding his mother’s hand as he made his way home. When I tell you his face bore an expression that wouldn’t have been out of place on a man coming up out of a coal-mine after a fifteen-hour shift, I’m not telling you a word of a lie.
This little boy – who can’t, realistically, be more than four – looked like he had been broken. It was as if all his tiny dreams had fallen apart, and everything he’d ever believed to be true about the world had turned to dust. I almost wondered if he was saying to himself: ‘Right. So, I tried school. I didn’t like it. At least I’ve got it out of the way. Phew! Am I glad I never have to go back!’ I wondered how he’d react when his parents gently broke the news that not only would he be going back to school the next day, and the next, but that he was actually at the beginning of at least fourteen years of education.
I have some very fuzzy memories of my earliest schooldays. I remember being shoved into a sandpit and pushed down a slide; the same boy, incidentally, was responsible for both these hilarious and rather painful japes, but luckily we became great friends later in life and I don’t still have a master plan in place to wreak my revenge upon him. (Honest.) I recall that my favourite school dinner, as a tot, was a concoction of small pieces of sausage mixed up with baked beans, which is something that would turn my stomach if I tried to eat it now. I remember a lesson about birds – I could have been no more than five or six at the time – which the boys at my table found hilarious because it mentioned ‘Great Tits’ and ‘Blue Tits’. I didn’t really understand what was so funny, but I do remember laughing anyway, as one does when one is outwitted by one’s peers.
Actually, I was one of those weirdos who enjoyed school. My parents tell me that I never really minded going back to the classroom when August rolled around, probably because I was the kind of kid for whom sitting down indoors and looking at a book was, pretty much, as good as life could possibly get. I really loved to learn, and – to be honest – I still do. Back then, being at the beginning of a school year was a wonderful thing. The excitement of empty copy-books, waiting to be filled with slanted, wobbly handwriting; the (not so happy) anticipation symbolised by the pages of my maths homework book, all the words I still had to learn to spell, all the fresh new textbooks waiting to be read… The memory of it still gladdens my heart.
While to this day I love to learn, it’s a shame that the one thing I didn’t bring with me from my schooldays was that same sense of excited anticipation surrounding new beginnings; nowadays, I tend to be rather more like the young boy I saw yesterday, he of the crushed dreams and tethered spirit. I look up at the mountain of ‘things to do’ and I get a so overwhelmed at the thought of how far I have to climb that I forget about the view I’m going to have from the top. Every new project undertaken is like beginning from first principles over and over. It’s so easy to allow the feeling of ‘I can’t do this again’ to shout louder than your desire to start something new, and make it impossible for you to keep going. Overcoming this takes constant vigilance.
I’ve been pulled out of my writing process for the past few days due to ‘real life’ issues, and so today I have earmarked for working on ‘Tider’. I know what I’m doing, I know where the story is going, I have a clear plan in mind; my goal is to write three thousand words before ‘close of business’. I have the enthusiasm for the work, and I certainly love the story. I know I can do it. Getting myself started after so many days away from it – taking the first step up that huge, looming mountain ahead of me – is the hardest part, though. Wherever that little boy is this morning – whether he’s crying into his cornflakes at the thought of another day at school, or whether he’s glumly packing his books and his pencils into his schoolbag, or whether he’s being supervised as he ties his shoelaces – I feel a certain kinship with him.
Getting started can feel like such a huge obstacle. However – as I’m sure that little boy, and plenty of other small people all over the country, will learn – once you get your momentum built up, there’s no limit to where you can take yourself.
Happy Thursday – hope it’s a productive and happy one for you.