I saw my school had a reunion recently. Unfortunately they’d held it just after I’d left the country – so I couldn’t go. A pity really.. They didn’t have one for years, and then just after I’ve got no chance of going they-
..You don’t think they…?
Anyway – they had a reunion, at the Salmon Leap Pub in Totton. It was one of those places that, at the time, seemed to only turn a profit because it was a hundred yards from the nearest Secondary School. I remember once we’d finished performing our school play for that year and, being on an adrenaline high, the cast decided to head to the pub in the evening. Now – most of them went regularly, but I was slightly more… nerdy. So I decided to tag along and become part of the gang. I think it was there I first heard someone order ‘snakebite and black’ which is essentially lager, cider and blackcurrant.
And they say the English don’t have a palette for fine taste…
I watched everyone order their drinks and hung back until I was sure that no-one I knew was nearby. I leant forward with the most eighteen year old expression a fourteen year old can muster and said – ‘Do you have beer?’. The barman (who was either short-sighted and deaf, or had already drunk all their beer) explained they did. I followed up my slightly immature first statement with ‘Please could I have a glass of beer then?’ Which was nothing if not consistent of me. He asked which one and pointed to a row of taps. It was confusing, as none of them actually said ‘beer’ on them. They either said ‘Lager’ or ‘Ale’ or ‘Stout’ or ‘Brown’. I went for Ale as I’d heard a wizard mention it on a cartoon once. (Nerdy, remember?)
He asked if I wanted a pint and I said no, wondering why he wasn’t just getting my beer. Then he looked at me expectantly. I stared back at him, and (after about five minutes of this) began to worry he was falling in love with me. He asked if I wanted a half instead, and I said, ‘No – beer please’. He shook his head and poured me a half-pint of beer (sorry, ale) anyway. I drank it – and it tasted like sweat. Prior to now, most of the taste in my life had come from my Mum’s home-cooking and fruit chews of some kind or another. As I could think of nothing tastier than strawberry Chewits, I had assumed that everything that people enjoyed would taste roughly the same.
Apparently I was wrong. So I forced it down (Strangely, as I got older I got to first, enjoy the taste of beer, then went through a phase where I believed I must have it to run efficiently. But like any good oil – if you overfill on it, it tends to leak out of places it really shouldn’t. At that point I decided to cut down on my drinking).
So they held the reunion at the same pub. I’d always used to go there with my family at weekends for meals, which was nice. And behind it was a wonderful path that led through the woods, and near the river Test. At least, I thought it was wonderful when I was ten and would go on walks with my Grandparents. It wasn’t quite so nice after the pub kicked out and people were using it to perform one of three different activities (one of which you need a bathroom for, two of which you’d need a bedroom).
…The third thing was sleeping. Your mind is in the gutter.
Anyway. It got me to thinking about the school plays. Particularly those that we’ve seen since our kids have been at school. There was the first Nativity play that my daughter was in when she was five. She was playing the Innkeeper, and I spent most of the week beforehand trying to get her to tell Mary & Joseph they had tons of room at the Inn, and offer them an upgrade to a suite with free cable. It didn’t work – so unfortunately there wasn’t quite the cliffhanger ending I was hoping for.
But the best example of a school play has to be the last one we saw before we left for the USA. My daughter was thirteen at the time, and it was the first Christmas show since we moved just outside London. Prior to that we’d been in Wales, and the school had taken great pride in spending about three months of the year preparing for the Christmas Show. The first year they put on Bugsy Malone – then the next year was Grease. We assumed that going from a small school in Wales, to one just outside London would give us the same results but much – much – bigger.
The evening that we went, there were about 500 parents herded into the school hall – and the show started… I knew we were off to a poor start when the teacher hosting the event introduced the first band as ‘Tracey, James and William calling themselves ‘Bad Habitz’ – apparently they play ‘garage’ music, so let’s all pay attention and listen to some ‘garage’ music.’ Obviously, if there were an award for the poorest introduction ever – that would probably have won. However, you wouldn’t know as they would have introduced it as ‘…And the winner is – ah, who cares.’. The show went on for about an hour, with a close second place being awarded to – ‘And now our Caribbean band who have been working very hard recently. Of course they only started two weeks ago so don’t be too rough on them.’
…No honestly. She said that. But then came the big finale. When the Principal came out and asked us all to join in a chorus of some hymn or other. Now – as you know, when you’re at school and asked to sing, there are three kinds of people. Those that sing, those that launch into the first verse as though they’ve had slightly too much to drink, and those that (like most of us) mime to what the others are singing.
Apparently every parent in the room was one of the latter.
As the music started, we could clearly hear the principal singing – (he was type 2) – as around him could be heard only the sound of lips slapping together in mime. Everyone realized at roughly the same time- looked at the person next to them- thought, ‘they’ll have to start start singing now’ and carried on miming. By now we were at the end of the first verse and the Principal put his hand up to stop the music. The band did that ‘slowing down, then stopping’ thing where it slowly descends into chaos (and have you noticed how it’s always the trumpet that finishes last?). Then the Principal glared at us all in silence. He took a deep breath and said – ‘Well… That wasn’t very good was it?’. We all, silently, agreed – but unfortunately we’d all reverted to twelve-year-old’s outside the Headmaster’s office. He continued – ‘We’re going to start again and this time I want everybody to enjoy it. I WILL BE CHECKING.‘. With that he signaled to the band to start up again. He wandered the aisles, staring into the faces of every one of the 500 parents in the room to confirm they had lungs – before moving on.
All in all it was a bit of a poor excuse for a Christmas show. Even my daughter came out afterward and said ‘That was awful, wasn’t it?’. I had to agree that, with the exception of her singing (which was the most awesome thing I’d ever heard), the rest of it had been like watching a Marilyn Manson concert hosted by that drunk Uncle that always shows up at Christmas. Both things are a little creepy – and put together it’s like Peanut Butter and Horseradish. So we left for the evening and I said I’d treat everyone to a meal at the pub on the way home. We stopped at a biker bar that was on the way, and I ordered a strawberry daiquiri.
…And that‘s why we had to leave the country.