The Seven Stages of (Wo)man.

This week I had the relative misfortune of suffering from a birthday. In truth, it was a lot less painless than I had expected. As my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, I decided that the only commonsense thing to do would be to take a little visit to the Comedy Store. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it but I thought it would be nice to see my friends, so as is standard in this age where no-one communicates, I sent some nonchalant text messages publicising the said event. Everyone replied saying no, they were busy/couldn’t afford it or whathaveyou. I was a little more sulky about this than I liked to let on and was subsequently delighted to find that the sneaky, sly bastards had snuck up to the Comedy Store to surprise me. I can’t help but wonder at the genuine loveliness and generosity of my friends who deceived me and travelled all that way (some over a hundred and sixty miles) to surprise me. I had a truly delightful evening and was given some amazing gifts; playdoh, a Matt Munro cd, a pen, a build it yourself VW Campervan and a 1986 Manual of Horsemanship. I’m not sure that this is what the majority of people receive for their birthday, but I was delighted with each and every one of my gifts.

As happens with every birthday, I began questioning my age, wisdom, maturity and general journey of life; I realise that my twenty-third birthday was quite a premature year to start a mid-life crisis, but it pleased me. When I was told “but you are younger than the Comedy Store Players”, I realised that indeed, I was just a kid and had a good deal of birthdays to survive in the future. I have always respected the wisdom and maturity of my elders and I think that must be what makes me want to watch the Comedy Store Players frequently. They are perhaps some of the wisest and most mature people in the world; actually, this sounds mocking, but they (especially Andy) do have an encyclopaedic knowledge. Another of my elders who I respect immensely is Jo, of fame. She has an innate ability to write funny, incisive and cutting prose with little thought. I suspect that this is what she learnt in the six months before I was born. To be entirely honest, I think I spent the first three months dribbling anyway, so I think her head start must have widened at this point.

Scientists, swots and the genuinely clever people Ok, Shakespeare divided human life into seven stages, which I have attempted a rudimentary recreation of here.

Bryony showing off

Infantius Dribblus

From the moment of birth, the female infantius dribblus soon learns how to succeed in life; a small smile, a giggle or clasping a finger in the hand is enough to get all kinds of adoration from the adult breed. I remember very little about myself from this time, but am reliably told by a completely impartial bystander (my mother), that I was a delightful scrumple of wrinkly skin. I giggled, cooed and charmed my way into everyone’s hearts. These charms carried me through into toddlerhood. I can be seen on the left here, practicing my charm offensive and in my defence, they have remained useful in my later life. I continued to hone these skills during a short stint as a living statue last summer.

Until one is required to go to nursery or school, the infantius dribblus is the apple of the collective family’s eye and as long as they remember to keep that cheeky smile close to hand, they can do little wrong.

Swotius Intellectica

It can come as a huge shock to the infantius dribblus when they have to leave the bosom of the family for a few hours a day, but they soon develop the habit of succeeding in the classroom. Little do they know that this work thing is a habit they will not be able to shake for the next sixty odd years. The swotius intellectica is not worn down and jaded by the years of hard work, so they treat every piece of school work as a race and a challenge to win and be the best.

To get a true reflection of myself in those early school years, I turn to my school reports. Now, before I do this, I must tell you a little about my primary school; it believed that all children were individuals, so we had no school uniform and we had a large array of animals including Bucephalus the pony.

At the earliest stages of my swotius intellectica:

“Bryony is a bright, sensible little girl. She is quiet and well-behaved. She likes to be independent and can be rather impulsive. She is eager to please and works well.”

They say that I was independent and impulsive, but I wonder whether what they meant was a loner and didn’t listen. However, it wasn’t just in my personality that I excelled.

In English:

“Bryony listens attentively and speaks clearly. She reads fluently and with enjoyment. She is writing creatively and imaginatively. Her handwriting is well-formed and her spelling is good.”

In geography:

“Bryony has seen a local map. She used her enquiry skills to compare the village to life in Pakistan.”

I have to be honest here and question quite how many similarities Flackwell Heath (a large, suburban village) has with Pakistan (a country). But, it is good to know that by the age of 8, I had seen a map.

I fell down a little in my recorder lessons, but as a typical swotius intellectica, it was not for lack of trying.

“It has been a slow, but very enthusiastic start. Recognition of note names and values are not a problem, but a few co-ordination difficulties have made it more difficult for the music to flow – however, this could improve with practice.”

Yes, it ‘could’ improve with practice, but I am almost positive that it never will. Despite my musical struggles, I was a high achiever in other areas, such as sport as I have demonstrated with the following pictures. My hockey career was at an all time high, however, the team I rolled with were so violent, it was important to tie my legs up with a duvet and wear a riding hat. Moving on to my winning three-day eventing, we can see that I was a little smaller than my riding hat and my horse was scarily jaundiced looking, but I powered through.

Teenagius Rebellius

After a year or two at secondary school, the swotius intellectica suddenly realises that this is it. There is no more to their life and it is up to them to inject a little excitement into everything. In general, I was a very well-behaved little girl, but I cringe when I think back to my fifteen year old self. Again, my school reports tell us all we need to know.

Every subject, bar English tells us the same story. In English, I was still the model swotius intellectica.

“Bryony puts every effort into all she does and has worked extremely hard in all aspects of the course. Her behaviour is exemplary, and she is always polite, cooperative and helpful. Bryony is very confident, self-assured and outgoing in all she does.”

However, in French:

“There is some reluctance on her part to concentrate and this often disturbs other students in their work…As a way forward she must give this subject her full concentration at all times to enable her to gain maximum benefit of the lesson time.”

To bluff my way through a significant lack of knowledge in Science, I reverted back to my infantius dribblus type.

“Increased periods of concentration in class will improve Bryony’s level of attainment. She must remember that it is not her job to entertain her classmates.”

Maths was my weakest subject and fully enhanced by the mutual hatred I shared with my teacher. I think she took great pleasure in writing my terrible reports.

“Her recent examination result was disappointing, betraying considerable uncertainty over many of the topics covered this year. Unless Bryony increases her current rate of learning, I fear she may not achieve a pass grade at GCSE.”

Then in year eleven:

“On some occasions Bryony has a tendency to daydream and needs to be more motivated to concentrate on her work. Bryony has genuine problems with tests because she does not read the questions carefully; she is apt to write down the first answer which comes into her head. I hope this will improve. On her recent examination, Bryony gained the few marks she got on the probability and enlargement questions. Apart from this topic, Bryony shows very little knowledge of any of the work covered in the past two terms. Her progress will be enhanced if she can give her entire concentration to the lesson rather than passing notes and chatting.”

Even my excellent sporting skills were failing me:

“What Bryony lacks in skill she makes up for in sheer brute force. Bryony takes a major role in the success of her team; indeed she displays excellent leadership qualities. However, she finds it difficult to work alone and constantly seeks reassurance from others.”

I think that what was described as “independent and impulsive” aged 5, is called a loud, attention seeking brat once it hits 15. However, outside of the classroom, I was truly excelling as teenagius rebellius; I quickly learnt that as long as you toed the line sufficiently to remain under the radar, you could get away with a lot. I have memories of sixteenth birthday parties where I drunk so much that I spent half the night with my head down a friends toilet or behaving so inappropriately that I blush to think of it now. But it was fairly acceptable behaviour and no-one pulled me up about it.

Examinus Roboticus

After a few carefree years of the teenagius rebellius, one is suddenly aware of the impending exams and the impact that this might have on the rest of your life so you buckle down and become a memory machine. I managed to move through my teenagius rebellius just in time for it to only impact one or two of my exams (GCSE history to name but one). As an examinus roboticus, you do not change as a person, you just learn how to succeed in school; you don’t have the untainted enthusiasm of the swotius intellectica, so you just make it your task to memorize huge chunks of information dangerously close to your exam.
This shift in persona was seen, again, in my school reports:

“Bryony, you have demonstrated a consistently engaged and committed attitude to your studies. Your contributions to class discussions are always valuable and constructive, building upon the thoughts of others and promoting interesting discussion. Your coursework writing was fluent, persuasive and detailed.”

I remained in the examinus roboticus until completing university and it served me well. Without the ability to spout recycled theories about literature, I would not have found the inclination to pen 10,000 words about the female characters of Charles Dickens. I would not have had the energy or the necessity to write:

“Although Dickens allows Esther to take a central role within Bleak House, it is her role as a narrator that causes the reader to question her.  Using a past tense narrative is both advantageous and detrimental; Esther is able to omit details or highlight others to advance the story and keep the reader’s interest.  By doing this, Esther leads the reader to question the validity of her narrative and whether she deserves her central role.  Slater argues that “Dickens seems, in fact, to be trying to make Esther function both as an unreliable and as a reliable narrator at the same time.” This is seen repeatedly throughout the narrative…”

Thankfully, the examinus roboticus is only a phase, which one can always see the end of. There is no place for the examinus roboticus in the workplace.

Relaxicus Maturitus

The next phase is a brief, but enjoyable part of life. The examinus roboticus is soon left behind and all the knowledge that has been gained over the past twenty years soon falls away as the human turns into a relaxicus maturitus; with their education behind them, the human can settle into the mind numbing routine of a forty hour week. The early stages of work can be defined as relaxicus maturitus because the human has little responsibility – they are closely managed at work so they don’t fall back into teenagius rebellius and have no mortgage, marriage or children to tie them down. It is their time to enjoy themselves. They can splash money around, enjoy the excesses of alcohol, food and fun without the pressure of the teenagius rebellius to get blind drunk pissed.

This is what occurred to me whilst I was pondering the terrifying fact that I was already 23. I am in the best stage of life right now, so I ought to enjoy it before I get rushed along the conveyor belt of life to…

Motherus Stressium

All too soon, the relaxius maturitus is swept up in marriage, a home and the impending children. For the woman in this situation, it can be an awful shock. They are required to give up their looks, career, money and self-respect to grow some ungrateful infantius dribblus in their stomachs. The infantius dribblus will burst out in a manner not unlike John Hurt and take over the female relaxius maturitus and turn them into a motherus stressium. At this point, the infantius dribblus takes over and becomes the most important thing in the motherus stressium’s life and they had to adapt to that. The relaxius maturitus finds herself discussing breastfeeding and all manner of revolting topics with total strangers in public. But, in return for all these sins, they are seduced by the infantius dribblus and their cunning ways of charming everyone over.

Infantius Dribblus (the Second Coming)

After having some infantius dribblus of your own, the motherus stressium is reminded how to win friends and influence people; giggling, dribbling and smiling. However, as the years get crueller to the motherus stressium, they have less control over these functions and find themselves doing it automatically anyway. As a form of revenge to their own infantius dribblus (who are now fully formed relaxicus maturitus), they gain various degrees of deafness, blindness and obliviousness. One will never know quite how deaf the infantius dribblus (II) are or whether they are simply blocking out what they do not wish to hear. Personally, I don’t want anyone to tell me, I can’t wait to be an infantius dribblus once more and wreak my revenge.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Craig
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 20:02:24

    Wow…quite apost. I don’t put as much emphesis on birthdays as I used to (I’m 35 this year), but I agree they are significant. As for some of your other thoughts, I can’t really comment as Shakespear goes over my head at the best of times (unless it stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes), but certinaly a good read!


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