As I have mentioned in my previous post, A Sassenach in Dundee, I spent my young childhood being teased for ‘speaking posh’ and being accused of being a ‘snob’ because my parents had a mortgage. Therefore, when I eventually found myself on a train to boarding school in Harpenden, in the depths of middle England, I made my first conscious decision to reinvent myself.
In Scotland I had been a straight A student, award-winning dancer, accomplished pianist and lead violinist in my local orchestra. In short, I was a parental wet dream, but most of my peers were suspicious of me.
Trading in good grades for popularity
By the time I was 13, I was sick of being clever. My move to England was my chance to be popular!
I distinctly remember sitting on the train from Dundee to Harpenden, looking at my reflection in the sun-drenched window, the countryside speeding by in the background. In my mind’s eye I began to redraw my own outlines. My priorities were consciously reshuffled. Good grades slipped to the bottom of the pack, good manners were hung out in the wind, a brassy attitude was polished, a repertoire of bad language revised, and a middle-finger up to authority practiced until second nature. I knew what my peers revered and I could emulate that… easily. I was off to claim my independence and I could choose to be anyone I wished to be!
I was all set to impress when I disembarked from that train. Fresh, new, and ready for any fight – as long as it didn’t involve fists!
Unfortunately, I was so busy learning to be this new me that it took many months to realise that, what I believed was revered by my peers in Scotland was reviled in England… Intellectually smart I may have been, but my social understanding was sorely flawed and by then the damage was almost irrevocable.
I found myself both unpopular and in trouble with everyone. My reports hit rock bottom with my first F’s and I had no friends to turn to for solace. I was forced to come to a screaming halt. And, as I stood, staring at my own shame in a steamed-up mirror in the girl’s bathroom of my boarding house one winter’s evening, I found myself having to reach down into a virtual pit to dig up what was left of my intellect and self-respect.
It’s never too late
Luckily, I have yet to come upon a circumstance when it has been too late to change.
With a great deal of effort, focus and humility, I was able to scrape together some semblance of social acceptance to find myself a reasonable number of friends. I also had just enough time left over to hit the books hard and drag my knowledge back up before my exams. I didn’t get straight A’s by a long shot. But I did well enough to move forward with my head held high.
It was a very hard, lonely journey. Having made the mistake all by myself, I also had to repair it all by myself. Such is the price of independence.