My parents were outsiders. I’ve only come to appreciate how much recently. My mum is borderline personality disordered, whilst my dad was a stubborn overprotective person who revelled in going against the grain. If it was unfashionable, unthinkable or plain difficult, between them they would choose the hardest option, which made growing up in the strange cultural island of their making, quite interesting.
Living miles from my schools and living on a small holding was a contributing factor to being an outsider in my formative years. I would occasionally escape to my friends’ houses which were modern, welcoming, and reassuringly normal. Given that my home was in a state of restoration having variously no roof, no floor, or no utilities, this was a refreshing change. The story of my parents’ housing project probably deserves telling someday. The families of friends I enjoyed visiting were part of the village community, and they were involved with everything.
As newcomers to a close knit village, it was hard for us all. With a strange accent and an outlook distinctly foreign to a small community, my family were definitely outsiders. Dad was appropriately cynical about the whole integration and no doubt ruffled feathers as he refused to conform to village life. I tried to fit in, what else can you do? I was five years old and heading to a school where generations of village families had been educated. I’d already done a year of school in the north, so being ahead also didn’t help either.
It was hard. And it didn’t really improve into secondary school, where distance and over protectiveness meant I couldn’t participate in after school events. So it would be straight home to our bucolic haven. All the same time I was being told to embrace my differences and pity the kids who were popular and unbullied. I played to my quirkiness and spent most of my time alone – apart from two friends, one of whom was more of an outsider than me.
Towards the end of my school life and on into sixth form, other people moved into the area, which was becoming quite fashionable and well to do. I made friends with these other newcomers and my social life blossomed. I can’t help thinking that it was the same for my parents, who also enjoyed a broader circle of contacts. There was more opportunity for them because they had finished the house they were building and life was easier.
The various groups of people who accepted – and continue to accept me – will probably never realise how surprised I am when I find myself part of something. The downside is that when people inevitably move on, I’ve been devastated and long for those happy times again. I started thinking more about this after a horrific conversation with my mother who was clearly having some kind of episode. In an exchange later when I was satisfactory numbed, my flatmate called me an outsider, a description of myself which I’ve never considered.
It was hurtful but it prompted me to words. Clearly history is doomed to repeat itself with generational variations, and my parents were outsiders who ensured I was equipped with the same determination and strength as they were. To never become anything other than an outsider.