School Days and Beyond

I received a ‘Former Pupil’s’ magazine from my old school the other day. There had been an ‘Old Boy’s Association’ of which I was a member, having paid into a fund every term for the privilege. Things changed when the school, all boys when I was there, acquired a Girl’s Division when the local High School, a selective Grammar, finally fell under the Comprehensive axe. Obviously we couldn’t all be Old Boys now, and it gave the opportunity for a revamp, a new organisation (with a joining fee obviously!) and much more regular contact and vibrancy than before. All of which are good things.

It does make me wonder however when I read of the successes and careers of my former school mates what I have done with my life. Comparisons are odious, but unlike Ian Taylor of Vitol (d. June 2020- RIP Ian) I never had £2million or £3million to give each year to the arts. I remember rugby training with Ian after school and watching his performances in the Drama club with admiration. It never occurred to me at the time that he may go on to be the man to transform the oil trading and energy commodities industry.

There are others. I remember having impromptu late night coffee and drinks with the now Director General of the International Labour Organisation, in his parents kitchen after a night out not long after we left school. Amongst the usual young men’s trivia, we discussed what we were going to do in the future. I don’t remember mentioning what I ended up doing and I don’t recall becoming DG of the ILO being at the forefront of his mind either.

I wasn’t in the same year as the first Captain of the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, now a Vice-Admiral, but he followed me through the same classrooms and gymnasium and Main Hall.

There are luminaries of all kinds: England Rugby Union scrum halves, England Rugby Union doctors, England Cricket coaches, leading business chiefs, scientists, senior civil servants and yes, the odd pop star, who attended the same school before, during and after my time, including (many years before) the Judge who tried and signed the death warrant of Charles I.

And what did I do?

Well not what they did, although I have had an eclectic, entertaining, and rewarding life. Possibly not as well, depending if and how you judge these things although I have had successes both personal and career I would not swap for all the oil in Vitol’s accounts. There has, however also been bewilderment and frustration. I was surely as clever and as capable many of the people in the list above, but doing something with my ability proved elusive at times.

Ian Taylor, interviewed by Bloomberg News in 2016 said ‘ You need to have relationships’ discussing his success and the constant travel and willingness to meet and negotiate with people that characterised his work.

I never quite felt happy or confident with that side of life’s equation and my late diagnosed ASD probably helps to explain a lot of my difficulty in recognising opportunities, career and personal, that presented themselves. It wasn’t that I disliked people or didn’t want to have relationships with them, I simply didn’t get the different levels, nuances and interactions that others took for granted. I learned many of them as the years went on, but it was never an instinctive thing with me. It was like working really hard to learn and speak a foreign language. I could make it work to a point but the instinctive recognition and speed of response was often missing.

If I had known in that kitchen with Guy, or on that training field with Ian, what I know now, would my life have been different? Probably. I would still have had the ASD. I would however have been able to make changes of approach, expectation and how I let people know about why I am the way I am. I would still have been me, but maybe those relationships I needed to have developed could have been simpler to make, easier to maintain and more frequently identified.

29 March-4 April was World Autism Awareness Week and some organisations are extending this to make the whole of April, Autism Awareness Month. I would rather we are all more aware and accepting of those who see the world differently all the time, but hey, I’ll settle for a month to start with.

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