The Faerie Queene

Faerie QueeneIt’s my birthday today and I’d like to share a little poem that my English teacher, David Steddall, wrote in the card he gave me when I reached sweet sixteen.

I know you’re not a fairy queen

I know you’re not a donkey

Perhaps you’re something in between

Like a hairy gnome gone wonky

It reads worse than it was. It’s certainly true that I was relentlessly bullied as soon as I entered the gates of my ancient and prestigious South London grammar school. The other kids knew I was pink-leaning even when I didn’t (well, actually I did but that’s another story). I survived the ordeal by developing a sharp tongue and fast legs. But, by the time I reached my O Level years, the torment had subsided and I’d won the grudging acceptance of my peers, and high praise for my compositions. What Dave was actually telling me was to pull my finger out in the poetry stakes. “It’s not that difficult,” he wrote in my final school report after I miserably failed my English Literature mock. You see, I just didn’t get it. Simile, descriptive prose, analogy, word play?  It just flew right over my cute curly head. Do I get now? Well, let’s see:

“I know you’re not a fairy queen”

Because we’re not all camp as a row of tents (ok, I can be a little lary and loose-wristed, particularly when on the sauce).

“I know you’re not a donkey”

I’ve never claimed to be hung like Eeyore.

“Perhaps you’re something in between

Another sexuality reference, perhaps?

Like a hairy gnome gone wonky”

Well, my balls did drop sooner than most of my cohort and I was (and still am) vertically challenged. And the wonky bit? Another allusion to the Friends of Dorothy? I have a feeling in my water that this isn’t about Shakespeare’s sonnets after all.

There you go. Sorted. Now, where did I put my Chaucer?

PS.  I’m sure this degree of familiarity wouldn’t be allowed these days. We live in more hysterical times, imagining a pedo lurking round every corner. And, just in case anyone’s wondering, as far as I remember, Dave was a straight as my school ruler. No mucky business going on or intended.

Jack Scott’s School Days

Quite by chance, I’ve just discovered that Sebastian Wood became the British Ambassador to China in 2010. Why should I be interested in Her Maj’s representative to the Middle Kingdom? Well, I went to school with him. We weren’t in the same class but we were in the same play. He starred as Puck in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream; I was cast in the bit part of Snug, the Joiner. He was cream of the straight ‘A’ crop; I was middling in the could-do-betters. He studied hard; I hardly studied at all. He became a member of the civil service elite; I became a middle ranking municipal bean counter. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Our man in Beijing got me thinking about other boys I schooled with. Tomasz Starzewski is an internationally successful designer who’s done rather well dressing the rich and ridiculous. He charges top dollar for his top notch frocks. I remember being rather unkind about the ample curves of his puppy fat years. Kids can be cruel and I had an acid tongue. Tomasz began his path to profitable haute couture at a young age and, when he found out that I worked for Habitat in Chelsea, popped in now and again. It was his way of pointing out that he was on his way to wealth and distinction while I was working in a shop on the minimum wage. Revenge, no doubt, was sweet.

I was a lazy pupil and tended to focus more on my hormones than my homework. I’ve never much had an ear for languages (my persistent failure to acquire more than a few mispronounced words in Turkish is a case in point). During Latin lessons I made sure I always sat next to Mario Franz Xavier Victor Joseph Thomas Da Souza (Mario’s family came from Goa in India, hence the saintly Portuguese roll call). Our chalk-dusted old teacher’s style was lamentably predictable. Working left to right from the back of the class, he would ask each boy in turn to translate a single line from a passage. All I had to do was count the number of boys and the number of lines and get Super Mario to translate my line for me. It worked a treat until my abject failure at the end of year exams.

I last saw Mario (at about the last time I saw Tomasz) when I bumped into him in Kings Cross. I’d just been to an appointment at the Institute of Ophthalmology where a research professor had been fascinated by how I’d managed to contract an STD in my eye. Who knew? Not me. It certainly brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘It’ll make you go blind.’ Ah, memories.

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