But I’m Different Now

Although there was no uniform as such, “Don’t Stand Out” could easily have been the Breogan High School motto. Before starting secondary, I was looking forward to a more relaxed sweatshirt and Wrangler chords sort of atmosphere.

I’d come to hate clumsy boots and prefer a pair of light slip-ons, but there was a time when I was desperate for a pair of black Doc Martins. Eight-holers would’ve done, never mind the fourteen or sixteen-holers that some were acquiring. Kids were oblivious to the fact that, along with their skin-tight canvas trousers or stay-press, they looked more like anorexic wrestlers than cool punks or mods.

Dad brought back an extra pair of brown steel toe-cap boots from his first fortnight on the rigs. I was speechless when I opened the box on Christmas morning.

“Do you like them?”

“Aye, they’re alright.”

Were they? No Docs label or air cushioned sole for a start, so I had my doubts. The only way to find out was to wear them to school and see what happened. I set off one cold January morning. The soles had quite strong grips but, somehow I slipped on ice while crossing the bridge. Maybe I tripped over my own feet. A lump the size of a golf ball shot out of my kneecap. I hobbled along the road and limped into the music class at ten past nine. Laughter interrupted the War of the Worlds on Madam Curie’s record player. This LP was a major part of the school’s feeble attempt to embrace youth culture.

“What’s this?” asked the teacher. “An alien from another planet?”

“He definitely looks out of this world,” Martin roared. “And look at those clodhoppers he’s wearing!”

Martin snorted and whooped, making the respectable DM-clad majority laugh louder.

“He canna walk in them!”

“I fell over ya cunts!” I said. And for that I received three strokes.

Madam Curie (real name Marie Curry) was pretty keen on the strap, although she wasn’t its most ruthless exponent. There was a certain kudos in being belted. It made you the talk of the playground. Sandy once received eight strokes for two different incidents in the same class. He hardly batted an eyelid and had something else to boast about later. Yet, he was a decent pupil who did well in exams and didn’t get into a lot of trouble outside of the music room. 

The stuff we did there was of no interest to anybody. I doubt if Madam Curie was that fond of War of the Worlds herself. Xylophones were the closest we got to real instruments. The beaters used to play them were aptly named. Whenever Madam C. left the classroom, which she often did, everybody got up to lay into Willie or Peter. Their heads were well swollen after Music. The joke was as welcome as an attack by a swarm of wasps. Peter had the misfortune of being English and hadn’t done himself any favours at the beginning of the year when he admitted to a soft spot for Abba. Willie hadn’t helped his cause by wearing the leg warmers his Gran had knitted him. This was Breogan High, not the New York City High School for the Performing Arts.

Glam metal bands like Bon Jovi or Motley Crue were a few years away from making androgynous dressing even remotely acceptable again. No self-respecting guy was going to admit to liking Duran Duran or Culture Club, and even metallists were embarrassed by Twisted Sister.

Marie Curry would’ve been as well putting on The Wall soundtrack and headbanging along to it. We didn’t need no education or thought control of the musical variety. We liked things that made us feel part of a group. In two years of lessons, I don’t think anyone progressed beyond beating a tambourine or playing the theme to Postman Pat on the xylophone. The only thing to look forward to was the last day of term when we could bring in our own records. Then Madam C. was faced with another headache: ensuring that Madness, The Damned and Iron Maiden all had an even share of air time before school was out. Never Mind the Bollocks was already banned and New Boots and Panties was added to the blacklist. It grudgingly passed Madam Curie’s initial sleeve inspection, but when Plaistow Patricia came on with Ian Dury shouting, “Arseholes, bastards, fuckin cunts and pricks…”, the needle was swiftly removed.

Excerpt from my novel Countries of the World ©2011 Steven Porter


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