When I was nine or ten, I read a letter in the Macclesfield Express from
a teenage girl who lived near us. Her parents, she said, had accumulated
all the material possessions you could possibly want. Given such a comfortable
start in life, what challenges could life possibly hold for her?
The letter touched a raw nerve amongst Maccs petit bourgeoisie,
and next week the letters page was full of admonishing messages to the
girl, including one which memorably instructed her to "Seek and thou
shall find." My Mum seemed a bit upset about it too, which isnt
surprising. After all Dad and her had battled their way from humble origins
to achieve a standard of living their parents could only have dreamed
Like many of their contemporaries, my Mum and Dad were a success story
of the post- war meritocratic society. My Dad, son of a Birmingham welder,
won a Grammar School scholarship and went on to Queens College,
Oxford. He then had a very successful career in industry, becoming Personnel
Director at Cadburys.
My track record at school looked impressive, until the final year; Head
Boy at Primary School, Vice Captain at Middle School, House Captain at
High School, down to sit nine O levels. Then I began to see the world
the same way as the Macclesfield girl. What was this all about? I could
see my life panning out exactly as expected and I started to be suffocated
by the whole pre- ordination of it all. Something deep inside me snapped
and I had to get out.
I became embarrassed by the size of our house and Dads status. I
grew my hair, wore bovver boots and got Dad to drop me off round the corner
so my friends from school couldnt see the swanky car he chauffeured
me in. At sixteen I was wearing clothes from jumble sales and hitching
my way around the country, unable to stomach the idea of joining the rat
race to accumulate material possessions that, in the final analysis, cant
be taken with you.
Miss Gittings, the Careers Advisor came into school and asked me what
career I had in mind. I told her, truthfully, that I wanted to be a continental
coach driver. Id been to Holland on a school football trip, on a
coach driven by an ageing Teddy Boy wed nicknamed Dwayne, as in
Eddy. His lifestyle to me seemed entirely perfect; he got to travel abroad,
have a laugh, chat up women and get paid into the bargain. Unlike my Dad,
who came home stressed out and hung up, Dwayne had managed to avoid growing
up, and I wanted to be like him.
Miss Gittings looked briefly concerned then laughed dismissively. Yes,
Im sure wed all like to be continental coach drivers, she
said, but you can do much better than that. Youre doing O levels.
Why I should have been taken in by someone who valued mediocrity so highly,
I dont know. Put it down to inexperience. In any case, I allowed
her to carry out a computer analysis to identify the career I would be
most suited to. When the printout, as long as your arm, came back a week
later, it spelled out my destiny- Town Planner.
So she fixed me up to go visit County Hall in Worcester where I met a
group of the most frustrated, miserable and unhealthy- looking people
you could ever wish not to meet. Any questions? The Head Planner enquired,
after delivering a lengthy monologue about the parlous state of local
government. No I said, before bolting out of the door screaming.
I lost complete interest in school from then on. I didnt try, but
somehow managed to end up with five O levels, so I went to Technical College
for a couple of years to hang out with a bunch of other hippies I reckoned
If I confused my parents, my Grandma thought I was from another planet.
Why on earth I would want to apparently reject everything she and her
son had given so much for was beyond her. Of course I made no attempt
to understand her and wallowed in her condemnation, as young rebels are
wont to do. Im sad to say that the in last year or so of her life
we struggled to find common ground.
I did make one concession to Grandma, a few weeks before she died- I had
my hair cut. It had been strongly suggested that such a gesture would
make her very pleased, and she could pass on into the next life secure
in the knowledge that her grandson had turned out normal after all. Unfortunately
she was so ill by this stage she barely seemed to notice, and I was choked.
It had taken me a couple of years to get my hair to that length.
Hair played a crucial role in my next life decision. Before sitting my
A levels my Tutor asked me what I planned to do next. Work in a bakery,
I told her, having spotted an job advert that offered enough money for
me to smoke as much hash as I wanted and have fun with my girlfriend.
She looked me cold in the eye. Youll have to have your hair cut
if youre going to do that, she said. Go to University and you wont
have to get it cut for three years. My UCAS (College) application was
in the post next day.
At college, life was more complicated. As Id had gone there to stay
in the idle manner to which Id been accustomed, there didnt
seem a lot of point if I couldnt afford the requisite chemicals
with which to enjoy my, ahem, study periods. The problem was that the
grant didnt stretch to hash AND food, so I had to deal, and I didnt
have time to deal AND attend lectures at the same time. Not when they
began as early as ten in the morning.
So began several years of drifting, a time during which I met many talented
people who had very little in the way of conventional ambition. I knew
a brilliant artist whod stay up all night on speed creating amazing
works of art which hed either give away, or destroy. He lives in
a caravan in Wales, two fingers forever held up to society, and I admire
him for it.
Somehow, I ended up getting a degree and working in the Planning Department
of a local authority, though not as a Town Planner. More recently Ive
become a Dad and this is something thats changed me. I want to succeed
now, on my own terms, and make my son proud of me. No doubt in time hell
become as ashamed of me as the next teenager, but in the meantime I think
Ive achieved what the Macclesfield girl was told; Ive sought
and Ive found.
© John Peters 09. 2000
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