On Friday 16 March, I drove my hire car into the visitors’ car park at Colyton Grammar School and parked next to the classroom where – around 25 years earlier – my friends and I spent break times firing as many paper aeroplanes as we could out the window. I took a tour of the school – the facilities staggering compared to my day – and kept quiet about all the detentions I’d had in the re-kitted classrooms.
I was invited back to talk to the creative writing club (something I wish I’d had in the nineties) and then to give a short alumni talk about my life after grammar school. Which, I would openly admit, did not run in the smooth sixth form > university > career + marriage + children route that was perhaps expected of me when I left, 22 years earlier. But which taught me things, made me friends and gave me experiences that have all gone into building a life I’m very happy with. Now.
The creative writing club were fantastic. Engaged, funny, smart – they asked questions that genuinely made me think and took the creative activities and ran with them. For my first workshop to year seven and year eight pupils, it could not have gone better. So much so that I’d like to do more workshops on story writing for this age group. My favourite part was that we’d had some laugh-out-loud funny group brainstorms based on Little Red Riding Hood and when I later chanced upon a group of the pupils waiting for the next talk, and they didn’t know I was there, I heard them talking and joking amongst themselves, keeping the conversation going.
I can see why people love working with energetic young people, when they seize the ideas and run with them, there’s nothing better.
The alumni talk was less collaborative, more me just chatting. The time flew (I had been worried I’d run out of things to say) and the questions were articulate and generous. I even got to chat briefly with a girl from Year 13 (“upper sixth” as I kept calling it, being an old person) who had self-published her own book. An amazing achievement at that age.
Teenagers often get a slating from all sides, but this generation are the ones who think differently, who ask the big questions, who take big leaps. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.