When I was 14 years old, along with thousands of other British kids I was the front line for a new type of educational curriculum, called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (or GCSE). At the start of this 2 year endeavour (think of this as junior high in the US), you were advised to take 9 or 10 subjects. Some of these were compulsory; English Language, Mathematics, Religious Education and Physical Education. Then you had to select another 5 from a list, but include at least one science and one social science as well as one ‘creative’ class. The choices were Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, History, Sociology, Psychology Economics, Art, English Literature, Typewriting, wood and metal work etc.
In addition to this life-determing moment at the tender age of 14, my dad had sent me off to a different school than my catchment area might otherwise have precluded. I didn’t know anyone there at all; none of the teachers, none of the pupils, and so had little. When I returned home, my dad asked me which subjects I had chosen. They were; Biology, History, Sociology, English Literature and Typewriting. My dad was shocked, and had good reason to be. At the time, I loved computers, electronics, anything I could take apart and put back together. I couldn’t really explain why I’d chosen subjects I knew little about and hadn’t really shown any interest in up until then. When I chose my A-Levels, I cemented that educational path with Sociology, Psychology and Geography.
The truth is, I didn’t really want to be a ‘geek’. I’d seen the kinds of kids who hung around in the computer labs and went to the extra-curricular physics classes and bluntly, they were boring. I didn’t want the only conversation I could strike up to be about bits and bytes (despite being a fairly handy programmer), or how to get to level 256 of Bounty Bob Strikes Back. I wanted to be able to discuss Marx and dialectical materialism, or the 6-day war and Palestine. Perhaps it was part of being an only child and having few friends or peers, that your most pressing concern is impressing adults.
I didn’t do particularly well in my later education – in contrast to my early years; I practically aced every test I took up until I was 15 or so, and then barely passed everything else – but I did become a reasonably well rounded person, quite possibly because I chose to study things that I wasn’t naturally interested in.
Ever since then, I think I’ve carried a dichotomy inside me. Things I do because I like the idea of those things, and things I do because I’ve always enjoyed doing those things. At this point in my life, the distinction is getting blurrier. With running, I didn’t honestly enjoy it to start with, as I testified in my very first blog entry. Even after 2 or 3 months, it was more the idea of it, and the idea of being like other runners who always seem so purposeful and strong. Now, over a year later, I can honestly say this is something I do enjoy and get a great deal of satisfaction from.
Even so, there is a part of me that could still quite happily blow 30 hours or more over a weekend, playing a computer game like Elite 2 or Civilisation, as I often did 20 years ago. Which begs the question; who am I really?