At the back of the class, a young boy is being shouted at and told to be quiet. He scuffs his Doc Marten boots and kicks against the edge of the leg on his desk. I can picture his cheeky smile and blonde unruly hair. He was in trouble again. You could tell from the look on the face of our young teacher who trembled at the front of the class,
Miss Watson had only recently graduated from teachers training college, Tall with lanky long brown hair, she lowered her eyes, she knew she had lost this battle, a never-ending challenge educating a group of who was to be assumed as your average teenage delinquents. Anticipating that by now he would be leaning back on his chair, arms folded behind his head and a look of defiance plastered across his face. This would now have resulted in the rest of the class sniggering in support of him.
Poor Miss Watson, as with most of the other teachers, she would be at a loss to know what to do with him. Mark Brinkworth was the class clown, superlatively managing to provide the entertainment to our drab and uninspiring lessons with his wit and rebelliousness. He pretended not to care, and so he refused to learn.
The year was around 1968 and unfortunately, there was no place in our classes for any light banter. Our secondary modern education made sure of that. It was heads down as we were to be funnelled through the system. Whatever that was meant to be. Outside in the real world, there was a revolution going on. Crazy revolutions which were happening in music, fashion education and politics. Society was simmering, and about to hit boiling point unprecedented changes were coming and nobody had any notion of how my generation of young learners could be inspired to blossom and contribute, instead we felt as if we were to be swept along amongst the confusion and told to fit in, put up and shut up.
This was the 70’s. No wonder we went wild on the side-lines. I sat next to Lizzie Pratt, a freckled-faced girl who was my first introduction into bizarreness. She could have easily been modelled on the female version of Ron Weasley. She was my strange link to sanity because daily class life was far from the normality that I thought real life should represent. For the next five years, we were to endure, not question and hopefully come out at the end unscathed and unscarred.
Only when you look back and remember the day you left school, shrugging your shoulders and shaking an acceptable attitude flicking your long-feathered hair whilst trying to balance on your platform shoes. We all needed some Brinkworth humour to show us what a bloody farce it all was. Labelled as just a troublemaker, Mark Brinkworth had a voice that nobody in authorisation wanted to hear.
I recently met up with him, unexpectedly on a Facebook group and discovered we bare similar scars and yet we have both moved in directions very different. He views me as the lucky one, believing I had the right set of tools to work with. His were taken away from him at a much earlier age resulting in him working bare-handedly towards a life with few aspirations having convinced himself he was not worthy of a fulfilling career.
Lucky for me, I had a powerful Mother who said I can be anything I wanted to be and who also got cross with my teachers when anything to the contrary was expressed. Never reflecting on my school days with any importance, I came out with few qualifications, not needed as I was encouraged to work for my family. Thinking my only options to get on in life was either to work for them or work for myself. My education left me with nothing to shout about.
Looking back, my education of life started at 16, the day I left my uninspiring school. Mark and I chatted over a Facebook group It was amazing to reminisce about our school days. 45 years is a long time and I was interested to see how much my impression of him remained. Laughing about how our foundation years never panned out as they were supposed to. I wondered if he was the same cheeky rebel. ‘I remember fancying you.’ he joked, ‘Well you and a few others.’ he added, Hooray! the sense of humour was still there. Putting the jokes aside we talked about our lives, the journeys we have made and getting older. “Did you know I was asked to leave?” I didn’t but I was somewhat not surprised. ‘What happened? ‘I enquired. “The headmaster, Mr Cotton stated to me that I would be out as soon as I was old enough, even though my dad was a senior master in a local grammar school. I was only fourteen at the time and I remember crying in his office. Picture this, I was trying to portray a hard nut skinhead and there I had teardrops falling on my Doc Martens. I was devasted.
By the time I was fifteen they could legally kick me out, and they did. All they had taught me in four years was that I was good for nothing.”
He went on to tell me that he later found out he was suffering from dyslexia. In those days nothing was understood about this condition, “So I was just labelled as lazy and a troublemaker. My teachers were abusive to me physically and mentally. I was told consistently that I would never succeed in anything.It was hard growing up as the black sheep of the family. My siblings went to grammar school and I was dumped in the local comprehensive shit hole.
My parents were arguing a lot and every time my mum walked out on us, I thought it was my fault” I knew none of this, but, how could I? kids rarely talked about their problems at home especially with their classmates.
Some things have at last changed for the better in education. My kids speak more openly with their friends, perhaps the creation of Childline had something to do with that plus the increasing acceptance of mental health which stops them from holding all of their insecurities in.
If any of my teachers had taken the time to help Mark come to terms with the problems bothering him, they may have just discovered a funny, creative child who had a great love for books about nature and the countryside. At the age of fifteen when he should have been embracing a career chasing path, education had blocked his way and similar to me we both exited the school gates with a feeling we were not quite good enough.
Reading the stats, only one child in nine from working-class families in 1972 would make it on to university. By rights, Mark should have had more chance of going into further education than I should have. His father worked in education, whereas mine was a factory foreman. The difference that decided my destiny was that I had a mother who was a suppressed entrepreneur and she told me I could be anything I wanted to be.
Thankfully I listened to her more than my uninspiring teachers. Perhaps it was easier for me, I was still a rebel, but I had that earlier support. I was able to keep myself out of trouble, the teachers did not bother me but neither did they ever try to push or inspire.
Whilst running my own dance classes in school clubs not once was I ever asked to participate in any school production. I soon came to believe that it was only the kids at school that were academically clever who got main parts. It was never about talent- it was about grades.
Mark kept himself busy too, but to get noticed he had to burn down the science room. He is probably remembered more for that although he assures me it was accidental.
Mark left school and gravitated to jobs that were manual, dirty and unfulfilling, This downward spiral did not stop until he went travelling and here we share an experience. I was 29 and looking over the bay in San Antonio Ibiza and he was 31 and on a beach in Krabi, Thailand, leaning against a palm tree looking at the ocean. We both had that thought, there is more to life than this and we both deserved it.
Mark went back to the UK and enrolled into college in Luton where he studied photography. He relives the story. “On the day they accepted me onto the course, on my way home I pulled my car over to the side of the road because I just broke down and had tears in my eyes. I just wailed. I had an interview and they accepted me. No GCSE’s just Photography.”He went on to earn an HND in documentary photography. I left Ibiza and went home to start building the framework of my company Snazaroo.
As we continue to chat, 45 years later we compare our lives, “I’m proud of you he says for what you have achieved,”He is talking to me from his van overlooking Barry Island. I leave him with one final question, ‘If you could go back to the rebellious boy sitting at the back of his class and tell him one thing, what would you say?’. Without any pause for thinking, Mark replied ‘I would tell him to be creative.’‘It is never too late. ‘ I chip in. Tell me more about that documentary you want to make. We are all good enough and there is no one correct route to success, however, we have one life and we do not want to waste it.
Negative naysayers – whether they are parents, teachers or your next-door neighbours. Don’t listen to them. Do what is right for you.