School Daze: ‘I went to seven schools’, says Alison Spittle

School Daze: ‘I went to seven schools’, says Alison Spittle
Alison Spittle has fond m e m o r i e s o f s o m e of the teachers who encouraged her.

I moved school lots. I went to seven primary schools, I think. My family moved from London to Ireland and back again and then to Germany, though I didn’t go to school there. I was used to being the new girl in school all the time, so I had a routine down.

I think that having to be the new girl so often definitely contributed to me becoming a comedian. When I would roll up to a new school, I would decide that the easiest way to fit in would be to be the funny one. I would flit around to different social groups, because everything was temporary to me.

I looked at it like summer camp, because sometimes I would only be there for a few months. My aim was to make friends as quickly as possible to get the most out of it. I look at the way I approached school as a social contract. I just didn’t have the time to pussyfoot around with these people. I had to create social interactions for myself.

Also, my Dad was English, which made me a little different. The main difference I saw for myself during the primary school years was through my packed lunches. Coronation chicken wasn’t a big thing amongst Irish people or scotch eggs — they were not common at all.

My Dad used to make my lunches quite often, and he was really good at it. He used to make these cheese and tomato sandwiches with a sprinkle of salt on top of the tomatoes — they were delicious. I remember, a real treat was a Dairylea Lunchable, which now is absolutely terrible, but they were such a treat to me. I knew a fella who used to have three packets of crisps every lunchtime and he would stink of Meanies. That smell lingers. My parents are good lunch people.

I was very bookish when I was a kid. I was reading before I started school, and books were my whole world. I didn’t socialise with very many children outside of school, so I loved my encyclopaedias and my books. I adored Roald Dahl. My Mam used to read to me in bed and I remember her reading The Twits to me and her crying laughing. I was so sad when I opened up an encyclopaedia and found out he was dead.

When I left primary school, I decided that the being bookish thing wasn’t working for me, socially. So in the first few weeks at Moate Community School, I asked to be moved from the top class to another class that was more full of cool people, as I saw it. I had this teacher called Father Hipwell for two weeks, while I was in the top class. He was this priest who was really interested in English and history and he advised me not to move down. He used to run the debating society and I loved it. I remember once, I said the word diabolical in a sentence and he told me that I had a very good vocabulary. It meant a lot to me. He passed away very sadly on a school trip and we were all devastated. He was a really, really good man who encouraged us all.

Mr Evans was another guy who really helped me. I had a mini breakdown when I was about 13. The school were incredible and really onboard to help me from the outset. Mr Evans and another lady called Ms Doherty were half counsellors, half religious teachers and they went out of their way to help me.

These people change lives, and often they don’t even know they do. I thought that every school was as good as mine, but it’s only now in adulthood I realise how lucky I was to have landed where I did.

I played up a lot. I really veered out of the academic and straight into my two favourite subjects, mitching and smoking. I am the age of most of my teachers back when they were teaching me, and I don’t know how they didn’t slap me! I was bold; I didn’t push myself academically in either of my big exams.

I worked on my personality a lot more than my academic side. I know now that exams can convey your ability to reel off information that you have learned off by heart, but it can’t convey your aptitude for curiosity or whatever you are interested in, in the world. I left my school with bad exam results, but it helped me so much in terms of shaping me as a person.

Starlet, the debut play from Alison Spittle runs from 17th-21st of September at Smock Alley Theatre, as a part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019. See smockalley.com.

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