This was tricky, for me, given that my parents fall into that weird chasm where they're posh enough that I still don't know what saveloys are, but poor enough that they couldn't send me to private school. They're also from Norway where all the clean air, fresh fish, and years of quietly progressive social engineering technically makes everyone middle class. Not that they'd know it—they're so Scandinavian and inherently left wing that they couldn't even conceive of the British class system if they tried.
So, in my parents' eyes, all the schools in the UK were equally welcoming. Which they are, as long as you go follow the rules of that aforementioned British class system: people with ponies and long names go to private school, and people who wear non-breathable fabrics and don't know what a "peloton" is go to state school.
Problems begin to arise, though, when you're caught somewhere between the two: I went to the local comp but I was aware that there are different types of mustard, so I was essentially a half-breed. Existing somewhere in the viscera of the middle class is really boring and lonely. I didn't live in an estate, where everyone had Sky and there were lots of benches to hang out on with fit boys drenched in wet hair gel. And I couldn't go to the parties people who go to private school have in the countryside, because they're constantly suspicious you'll nick their silverware or say something mildly pro-Labour, and my mom wouldn't give me the cab fare home from the suburbs anyway because, come on, I was 13.
So, faced with the prospect of being friendless forever, I decided to be a good little immigrant and try to assimilate. Off came my dungarees and on came white McKenzie trackies and velour zip-ups. I stopped eating rocket and got into fish finger and chip sandwiches. I perfected the messy bun. I convinced two bits of hair to lie slicked on my forehead, where they got all covered in No17 powder (shade: sand). Having literally just learnt English from Biff and Chip books, I had to unlearn it: saying "easy" instead of "hello" and "come" instead of "came"—as in: "He come round my house and I didn't even have my extensions in," rather than: "No, he did not come on my face, thank you very much."
After a few initial hiccups (you haven't known shame until you've been a year seven opening a lunchbox of leftover organic moussaka while you're sitting with a group of people eating Penguin bars) (a lot of people do not know what an aubergine is and get angry when confronted with the concept of one), I was in. Emboldened by cans of Vimto, I stalked the canteen with my gang of rude girls—in the manner of a pack of foxes investigating a discarded portion of chips—looking for boys to snog.
Because more than anything, I had learnt that the best way to forcefully integrate yourself in a foreign society is to go out with the scariest cunt in it. My first boyfriend was a scrawny traveler boy who called me one night to say he thought he'd killed someone with a brick (he hadn't) and spent his spare time practicing kicking stuff and eating beans from the tin. In private, he was a total pussycat though: he used to write me poems involving a lot of rhyming of "wife" and "life" and make me cups of tea after frenzied bouts of afternoon fingering. After I gave my first ever blowjob to him in one of the family caravans, our young love was cemented in semen and trackie-induced crotch sweat.
It was with him that I first discovered the joys of spending a night out sitting on a bench in a council estate throwing chips at people and drinking Red Square before giving each other smileys and being sick. One memorable afternoon, after we had been to his cousin's funeral, I had to drive home because his whole family was too hammered and he was busy trying to restrain his dad's new girlfriend in the back seat. She had gone a bit loopy off a potent combination of grief and Bacardi Breezers and was trying to simultaneously climb out the car and scratch everyone's eyes out.
When I got home my mom was listening to Kate Bush and making aioli. I decided then that it was best if I never had those people over.
But there was still plenty of fun to be had round other people's houses while I was hiding the fact that my parents don't like eating vegetables that are out of season. My mate Prangy Dan once had his family's flat to himself for a week. It was about the time that we had discovered that smoking weed was a pleasant way to pass the time, meaning that everyone had within months replaced their ADHD diagnoses with a passion for potato smileys and sitting down.
We all piled in to Prangy Dan's front room and sat in a silence broken only occasionally by a muttered "your mom," addressed to no one in particular. It gets a bit blurry round about the second day, but I distinctly remember waking up with my foot in a box of cold curry from the night before and deciding it was probably time to head home—where I cemented positive relations with my mom forever by eating about eight portions of saffron-infused halibut stew.
But if my parents were unwittingly A-OK with the weed, they were less cool with the fact that I treated school as a kind of makeup counter-cum-fight club. By Year Nine, I had decided I had spent enough holidays in the Dordogne to warrant bunking off French for pretty much an entire year. Instead, I took to sitting on the girl's toilets floor throwing water-dampened toilet paper on the ceiling to try to make it stick and smoking Sterlings. In one of the worst architectural decisions ever made, a school of about 2,000 had only one mirror to service a female population with a lot of acne to be covered and fake eyelashes to reattach. This obviously meant that almost every day someone's extensions would get ripped out when we were battering the shit out of each other to reach it.
Whatever that might have lost me in class time, deciding not to hang out with the few other posh kids in my year definitely made my life more pleasant. They spent all of their time looking for their "lost" iPod minis (Kayleigh in the year above ran a burgeoning cottage industry where she'd change the covers and sell them on) and hiding in the IT department. Which, incidentally, was where I'd sneak off to study while telling my mates I was off to see my (at this point totally fictional) boyfriend. "He's older," I'd explain, proudly. "He has a van."
So when that lying paid off and I passed my exams, my parents finally took a long, hard look at my inability to name more than about seven countries and packed me off to boarding school, where I learnt that real posh people say things like "she was on really good form," and think throwing wet bog roll on the ceiling "probably damages the paint."
Now I have definitively turned, and work in a job posh enough they would probably take offense at me sharing the stories of blowjobs past with the internet. Most of my girls from back home have kids and flats and friendly builder boyfriends. Pictures of their package holidays to Turkey are posted on the same social media sites where we spent our youth furiously undermining each other's confidence. Whenever I visit, I spend most of my time trying to hold their children the right way up.
Now, when I'm in at some terrible "drinks thing" and a middle-aged man who went to Eton is lecture-flirting me on my use of grammar, it is nice to know that I know some people who could help me batter the shit out of him in the toilets.
(Top photo via Wiki Commons)