I was never the cool kid at school. Year 7 hit me like a slap in the face. I had a bad haircut, the wrong accent and a pre-pubescent skin problem. Having been pretty popular throughout primary school, I remember feeling out on a limb in this strange new territory of older kids and cool girls with super-savvy sportswear and an attitude to match.
By contrast to the Reebok Classics and Adidas hoodies I rocked up to school in scuffed DMs and a hippy hat I’d found in a Vintage store. In any other school this might have won me street cred points, but in my school – the one deliberately out of catchment area so I didn’t have to attend the local comp my mum taught in – I was instantly branded a bit of a loser.
I had various nicknames in Year 7. “Little Man” was the one that stuck – given me by a Year 10 who thought my hairstyle looked less like my intended heroine of Justine Frischmann (“off of Elastica”) than the tragic Chesney Hawkes. I scuttled past those Year 10s in the corridors into the safety of my classroom, only to be met by equally scathing comments of some of my less forgiving classmates.
“Have you got a spot of tea?!” They’d joke, mimicking my invisible Bristolian accent while simultaneously jabbing my spotty T-Zone. I’d cry, if that bloody Chesney Hawkes haircut wasn’t so funny.
I had mates though. A posse of friends falling similarly inbetween the rebellious cool kids and the introverted geeky gang. One of those mates fast became a best friend and remains my most steadfast loyal soul sister. She was (is) tall and was the only one strong enough to battle off the girl who waited for me at the bus stop one time to “teach me a lesson” for beating her friend in the cross country race in PE one rainy Tuesday afternoon. I can still remember that gasping humiliation as I staggered onto the bus, having been slapped in the face by a girl twice as tall and twice as scary, in front of a double-decker full of agitated witnesses.
That episode could have made all the difference in my adolescent life. I pleaded with my parents to let me swap schools and join the one my mum taught at afterall. Perhaps the humiliation of having a popular teacher as a parent would be less than the humiliation of not having a strong enough Bristolian accent and a crush on Daman Albarn – deemed a total posho lightweight by many of the girls in my school. My parents listened, talked and persuaded me (after a lengthy chat with the headteacher) to stick with it. I’m glad I did.
By Year 9 I’d found my tribe. And by Year 10 I was confident enough to be proud of my love of lessons. My previously unforgiving classmates had seen me let loose at parties and came to accept me for the academic homework-loving party animal that I was. Plus, I’d grown out that failed Justine haircut and replaced it with a ponytail with two artfully selected strands hanging down each side of my face. Gotta love the 90s.
I remained the original Inbetweener though. Throughout Year 11, 12 and 13 I went to the pub, hung out with my mates and cracked on with school work. Getting A grades was still important to me, but I also loved sneaking into nightclubs with my gang of friends (and older boyfriend who, I’m sure at the time, probably inadvertantly won me cool points). I refused to be lured by the temptation of rebellous drop-outdom but was equally unimpressed by – what I saw at the time – the pretentious show-offery of the academic geek troupe.
I left school with 11 GSCEs and college with 3 A’levels – all A’s. I went to uni. Finally feeling comfortable in my own skin at the age of 18, it was a shock to find the first year of university was very much like my first year of secondary school. I hung around between the edges of various groups. Again, I found my uni “soul sister” (another special mate all these years on), but I found myself with lots of groups of friends like a chameleon who couldn’t decide what colour to pick.
This is still me now. Back then, I thought it might be a bad thing. I had too many groups of friends and wasn’t in the “inner circle” of any of them. I had ex-private school mates, muso mates, stylish girl mates (all work in PR now, natch), tortured soul academic mates and sports club mates. I loved them all and flitted about like a fly on heat between them although, when it came down to it, there were only a handful I felt truly myself with at 3am at the end of a heady night out.
Now I’m 32 years old I find my past has set me up for a lifetime as the original Inbetweener. At school, I get on with all the school mums without obviously slotting into any particular group (although, granted, it’s a small school). Online, I don’t easily fall into one particular bracket of bloggers. And don’t even get me started on work politics – I work from home so at least that’s one bullet I can dodge.
This used to bother me. Right up to a few months ago I felt I needed to have an Instagram tribe, a blogging clique, a #mumboss gang I could easily identify with. I looked for parenting approaches I could easily subscribe to, just to have an obvious “village” to slot into. Alas, like the chameleon I am I picked and chose different bits from each approach. Failed at the parenting village too, it seems.
But recently something clicked. I don’t need a clique, village, tribe. Having friends from all walks of life with all sorts of opinions and backgrounds is a GOOD thing. So what if, at 32, I’m still the original inbetweener? Maybe the Inbetweener IS my tribe.
I always loved that show anyway.