was to ban me from taking
“Rachel it says here,”
Miss Hitch says with a flurry of papers,
“That you got UNGRADED
in your mock P.E. exam.
Would you like to tell me
just why that is?”
I kick my Doctor Marten shoes around
on the dusty floor.
“Erm,” I try,
searching the inner recesses of my brain.
I go red.
“Go back to your classroom.”
She says it with such a bitter bite,
like I’ve been found doing something
utterly shameful in the locker room.
My classmates are brandishing As, Bs, Cs.
I slope about, pretending I don’t give a shit.
When, hang on a minute,
I don’t give a shit.
My hairy-eared BFG form tutor takes me aside,
breathing sour coffee breath
we used to think was whisky,
“We need to talk about your PE grade.”
What they decided
was that they didn’t want a fail
on their league tables,
so asked me if I wouldn’t mind
not taking the GCSE.
For two terms,
two hours a week,
when my friends donned their
scratchy PE knickers
with names sewn in red cotton,
I roamed the library
in search of new adventures.
“You will use this time
to complete your English coursework,”
they sternly chirped,
unaware I had already finished it.
(I was a bit of a goody two shoes, then.
Um, I am now as well.)
I scoured the shelves
for Nancy Mitford
and her sister Jessica,
tales of upper classes,
mad Uncle Matthew
and poor old Linda
in Love In a Cold Climate.
I fed on strange new terms like
“Balling the jack” from
ached to go on the road
and explore the unknown.
I found Holden Caulfield deeply irritating
and wished I knew what the fuss was all about.
I dived into the Dewey Decimal System,
filing my schoolfriend’s outside glares
away from view.
I devoured Jane Austen’s heroines,
tried Jane Eyre on for size,
wished that I knew someone as great
as Rob from High Fidelity.
I disappeared into Kate Atkinson’s
strange and hostile pet shop,
in Behind The Scenes At The Museum
and felt a burning desire to write.
This wasn't the staid and structured reading
of SATs papers and coursework,
the lack of choice on what we read
this was freedom at last.
I couldn’t have been more pleased
to shelve those hours of netball,
the shame at forgetting to shave your legs,
the out-of-breath heaving
and tennis racket bruises,
the sporty girls laughing,
me edging to the back
of the High Jump line.
I kept the reputation of
the school’s P.E. examinations intact
and found my own world
on the library mezzanine;
between the pages
I had come home.