Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Imagine That

 As a eight year-old child I was just becoming aware of the Beatles, largely due to the continual use of Beatles songs on BBC television programmes: hot day = Here Comes The Sun, feature about publishing = Paperback Writer, etc. The only Beatle whom I had a strong individual impression of was Paul McCartney, though. Perhaps because of the video for ‘Coming Up’ I thought of him as being youthful and jolly, a child-friendly grown-up.

 I remember the death of Lennon vividly, largely due to the blanket news coverage. At that age, being told that an event was significant was enough for me to believe that it was significant. For my parents, however, the death of Lennon meant nothing at all beyond a very small degree of inherent interest as a murder.

 So I watched the news, and then I watched the special BBC1 screening of Help!, which did seem highly enjoyable, more like a Pink Panther film or One Of Our Dinosaurs Has Gone Missing in giving me an immersive experience of adventure, multiple locations and jokes – not the mournful wake which the news had prepared me for. I then pushed my luck too far and tried to stay up to watch the Whistle Test special. My mother refused (“I let you watch ALL of that film”), and I probably had a temper tantrum.
 Even in the midst of Lennon hysteria, I can’t remember ‘Starting Over’ at all.
 ‘Imagine’ disturbed me though, I think because of the echo on the piano, film of a dead man mooching about in a white room with his hairy wife, and ‘important’, ‘political’ message more than anything else. I can remember my 20-year old sister visiting home one Sunday lunchtime and telling us repetitively that she had bought the single because it was so sad that he had to die and it was such a sad song, etc.

 This led to me trying to adopt a similarly soulful reaction to the work at school the following week, running the piano motif again and again in my head, trying to make myself feel melancholy, refusing to do any work in a maths lesson in a prefab hut while I did this… Eventually I was summoned to account for my not working. I realised that saying ‘Because this man of peace was shot and its so sad’ would be a ridiculously precious thing, and so instead said nothing.

 I feel nothing but embarrassment in recollecting this incident.

 'Woman' was less frightening than 'Imagine', but had a similarly facile melody and one-word universal concept title, deepening the impression created by Imagine as Lennon as dead merchant of profound statements. By this time, I was getting rather fed up with this pondorous stuff, and was glad when pop eventually returned to the fizz, silliness and sass which had initially attracted me towards Top of The Pops in the first place.

Thursday, 15 November 2018


 A moderately famous South London public school in September 1984. Its chilly. My first rugby lesson. Studs clattering on the tarmac, we cross the road to a playing field. I don't know who any of the other boys are, so I feel wary. I know next to nothing about rugby, but don't like the idea of tackling or scrums.

  The games master is an old man, bald, very keen on the game. Many masters in the school are former players, and I think he was one of them. We're supposed to bring both a blue and a white jersey to every games period, but many of us haven't. "All right. Shirts v skins!", we are instructed. I'm one of the skins. It feels fated that I would be. It wasn't like this in primary school.

  A hailstorm starts. I know that in my primary school this would cause the lesson to be abandoned and we'd make our way back indoors, but this doesn't happen here. Nobody mentions the possibility. I feel cold and don't like the hard tingle of the hail on my skin.

  We are instructed in how to form a scrum. I am in the middle of the formation. I feel very uncomfortable. I don't like being unable to control my own movements. I don't like being pulled by the motion of others. I don't like being topless and cold. I particularly don't like the forced proximity to 15 other boys and the strange, automatic, insensitivity that seem to take over them. I feel trapped and frightened. I start to cry. I start to keen.

  The master stops the scrum. He pulls me out. The feel of the muscles of his fingers on my feeble naked bicep. He seems stunned. "You, boy! What's wrong with you? What are you doing?" "I'm crying, Sir" "What are you? Are you a girl? This is rugby!"

  I rejoin the scrum, and continue in silence, feeling the same discomfort. The other boys respond with contempt and disbelief. By the time the lesson is over, I leave the field a different boy than I was at the start. My unsuitable disposition for this education has been revealed, both to my peers and to myself.

  I often think back to this pivotal scene, and age has given me a different perspective. I'm surprised by the master's astonishment, and retrospectively I'm aware of holding a fleeting, momentary, power in the instant of our exchange. I now know that what I should have done was to shake my head, say "I'm not doing that again" and refuse to go back into the scrum. There would have been unforeseeable repercussions, but as my response had already exposed me as irrevocably different, I wouldn't have had anything in particular to lose. And because the situation had never happened before, the school wouldn't have had a set response to it. I think that a present day schoolboy probably would successfully get out of it.

  You have three options in dealing with authority; obedience, struggle or revolt. My habitual reaction is struggle, but this was one occasion when revolt would have been the right decision. Not though I knew it at that one moment.