Public service announcement: I gave up smoking a long time ago.
I mentioned to Sid’s teacher at a recent parents’ evening how pleased I was that there seemed to be an awful lot of fighting at the school, and how this had attracted us to their syllabus in the first place. Despite my current girlfriend telling me to ‘For fuck’s sake shut up’, I pointed out that we’ll be glad of this if he turns out to have a violent career in later life, and that it was illegal to swear in a classroom such as the one we were currently sitting in, on tiny adorable children’s chairs. The conversation drifted a bit after that, eventually turning to a large picture of the late Queen Elizabeth that Sid and his friend Harry Christ had painted. Incidentally, Harry Christ’s name isn’t Harry Christ, but Sid has always maintained that it is, because it sounds similar. Anyway, I doubt Sid’s teacher is going to be particularly fussed about a bit of playground scrapping, as she has a drinker’s face and has probably been about a bit. I’ll ask her how much she drinks when I see her at the Christmas carol concert, just out of curiousity.
Remarkably, my own school managed to arrange a fight with the Windsor Chapter Hell’s Angels a couple of years prior to the Minstrel stealing episode that we are, at some length, discussing. No, I also don’t believe that this actually happened, either, and I speak as one who believed a classmate’s father was Bungle from Rainbow, as previously discussed. Anyway. My school claimed victory when they did not turn up at the appointed time and place, which I think was Plaistow tube, in the days before it was full of Guardian readers gluing themselves to public transport, obviously. The fact that they probably didn’t want to fight children was of no mind: as a school, we had faced down the Hell’s Angels and, even though the incident can’t possibly be true, we felt it gave us bragging rights.
To return to our story: one of the worst things that could happen prior to having a fight at our school was for a teacher to intercept the combatants on the way to the wall behind which disputes were traditionally settled. If this happened, you were fucked. For a start, there was the legal minefield of liability for lost television revenue. There was also the no-holds-barred surprise lynching you would receive at some unknowable future juncture because you didn’t ‘stand’, and were therefore some sort of wanker. If the contest went ahead you were in the clear, legally speaking, even if you got marmalised, because at least you ‘stood’. Of course, I intended to avoid marmalisation by stabbing Nat with a sharpened compass point because I was of the opinion then, as now, that you either get bullied once, or bullied forever. It was tricky though. We had been, well, not close mates exactly, like Sid and Harry Christ, but on good terms. In fact, Nat taught me to smoke a few years later, and that’s what friends are for.
Thus it was that on an otherwise nondescript school day afternoon behind an anonymous wall at the end of the ninth decade of the twentieth century, Nat Baker and myself readied ourselves for combat. The thing about bringing localised but overwhelming force to a broad-front conflict – the schwerpunkt or ‘blitzkrieg’ doctrine associated with German success in World War Two, for example, or my improvised weapon consisting of a modified technical drawing instrument with which I intended to stab a Tottenham fan who had stolen my Minstrels – is that you only have a short amount of time to use it. A surprise is not a surprise if your opponent knows it’s coming, after all. As far as modified classroom equipment goes, it’s not a surprise at all if your opponent can already see it because it has worn through the pocket of your Farahs, as had happened in my case. This was extremely bad news.
‘You gonna stab me with that?’ said Nat, gesturing towards the compass point.
To this day, I can’t remember exactly what I said to de-escalate the situation. He maintains it was ‘No, I had to measure my bollocks for biology homework’, and this sounds plausible, clutching at straws as I was. In any case, he claimed it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard and, whenever our paths have crossed since, has never failed to mention it. In return, I usually offer to stab him now, if it will shut him up, but have thus far not done so. In any case, peace was restored and, thanks in no small part to all the Superkings which children smoked at the time, tranquility descended once more upon the school. Say what you like about smoking, but it kept a generation of children calm, focussed and slim during the Cold War and AIDS. That said, a liberty had been taken, and I was still a disgruntled plaintiff. I decided that the best thing to do was wait for a quarter of a century before my next move.
Main: Sounds nice. This was in Bermondsey or New Cross somewhere, part of a feud between Tottenham and Millwall.
Top: Windsor Chapter Hell’s Angels. Why would people like this want to hang out with children?
Lower: Liver biopsy stuff. This is for four consecutive biopsies; I never set up for more than one at a time because it looks cluttered and untidy unless the patient actually has four livers or has been force fed foie gras style for a larf beforehand.