Stories matter. Although only fantasies made of air, they are potent and can have effects in the real world. Sometimes it’s possible to see people responding to a story, their reactions give away profound changes in opinion or attitude that are happening inside. We storytellers love these powerful stories and seek them out. However, the most important story of all is the one you tell yourself abut who you are.
I went to a small, rural primary school then the small, rural, comprehensive secondary school that it fed to. This meant that I remained in the company of many of the same people for all eleven years of my school life, fine if they were friends but… well I’m sure there were people in your school you would happily have not had to see on a daily basis.
One compatriot from the second category was a chap called Terry Jimbble*. He had an early growth spurt and at the age of five was taller than average and heavily built, sadly this gave him aspirations to class bully. Fate had a different path laid out for him and the rest of his development was rather slower. He soon lost his physical lead, which was just as well because his heart wasn’t really in bullying, he didn’t have the necessary psychopathy for a career in violence and extortion. Academia didn’t appear to be his oeuvre either and he settled down to a school life of low level vandalism and lesson disruption with occasional flashes of minor thuggery for old times sake.
I was initially a target for Terry, until I caught up with his height and forgot to be appropriately scared of him. He hit me. It was surprisingly un-painful and I laughed (possibly through mild hysteria). After that our relationship became one of mutual avoidance interspersed with short exchanges of verbal insults. This relationship was perpetuated in to secondary school by us having to get there on the same bus and being put in the same form. If this was a film the writer would eventually put us in a tight spot together and we would discover some kind of mutual affection born of long association and the shared danger. But that is not the story. The story is not about me and him, it is about him and his story. Now, you may be expecting one of those inspirational stories in which Tessa will take up a sport/fight for a university place/suffer a terrible accident… and win through against the odds! But it’s not that story either.
One day in the fifth year during registration Terry came over and sat down next to me. Since he appeared to be in a peaceable mood I refrained from the traditional jibes and we stumbled in to the unfamiliar territory of a conversation. Fortunately Terry had an agenda and after a brief exchange he got to the point.
“Do you know why I muck around in lessons, and kick off all the time?” he said.
“It’s because I’m not learning anything I need. I know what I’m going to do when I leave here. I’m going to drive a tractor all day and in the evening, I’m going to go down the pub and have a pint of beer and a packet of fags. Then the next day I’m going to do exactly the same thing. I’ve been able to drive a tractor since I was ten. All this school is just wasting my time… and theirs.”
It was a weirdly honest and direct confession and it stayed with me.
A couple of years later I was cycling in to town when the driver of a very large and very smart tractor waved me into a farmyard. I asked Terry how things were going.
“Everyday I drive my tractor” he said with a big smile on his face,
“and in the evening I go down the pub and have a pint of beer and a packet of fags.”
“and I’m really happy.”
He told himself a story. He made his story real and he lived happily ever after.
Well at least until the smoking ban.
* Not his real name.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.