It wasn’t so very long ago that I wore a 1971 Red Submariner, spent money like a Labour government and fantasised about buying a Bentley. Bills were paid without fuss, the rent disappeared from the account without being missed and as I ponced about the West End, the price of ‘things’ in Selfridges or Liberty just wasn’t really relevant. I even endulged my life long desire to have a coat made on Savile Row… I don’t know what the opposite to, ‘a fool’s paradise’ is, but we’re now inhabiting it. Strangely, whilst I felt pretty smart back then, I feel a total fool now… Somehow I feel cheated.
Today, we’ve already spent some considerable time in TK Maxx, out of economic duress, not slumming it as frolicking fashion foragers. Now we’re parking in a McDonalds on the edge of a trading estate. We’re driving an eleven year old Vauxhall that someone gave us, bless him. As I alight from the car, I notice that the moss growing from the rear bumper seems to be burgeoning rather more vigorously than our fortunes.
I’m probably not really a fascist, but I can’t help feeling a bit squeamish around the people who currently seem to populate every scene in our increasingly dismal and downwardly mobile little soap opera. They seem to lack ambition and deportment – and a lot of them wear Ugg boots, which is a sure sign of moral degeneracy. Moreover, they all seem to drive these bandit hatchbacks. The school carpark looks like some sort of holding area for a mass ram-raid on Primark. How did I slip into this milieu? Me, a man with a silver mounted Brigg umbrella? Why am I rubbing shoulders with people who will never polish a shoe? As I look at my wife, smiling back at me as she pretends to enjoy her birthday Mcdonalds, I curse audacious corporate buccanneering.
Audacious corporate buccanneering was supposed to have delivered untold bounty by now – Eldorado! Boundless plenty! Heap big wampum… But alas, after a year of striving, the company has about £200 quid in the bank and despite the fiendish schemes, the prospects, the promise, nothing yet has transpired. My lowest moment occurred whilst sitting in a meeting with a room full of stolidly agnostic civil servants. I was pitched forward in my chair, my eyes coruscating with ingenuity and commercial dynamism, ready to strike like an entrepreneurial viper. Whilst I delivered a fusillade of innovation and acumen, the Chairperson’s eyelids flickered, her head bowed woosily, and she was gone. Fast asleep. The cream of the Home Civil Service… Corporate woe has been heaping up ever since, and I’m beginning to countenance the notion of failure. Since that bitter realisation has begun to dawn, I’ve become by turns, inconsoleably grave and gaily, wantonly insouciant. In the modern parlance, I’m ‘losing it’.
It was the wanton insouciance that gave rise to the recent predicament. A simple homework assignment has resolved itself into a scandal at my daughter’s school.
Yesterday, I found myself outside the Headmaster’s office. Now, it’s not the first time, but I confess, it has has been a good thirty years or more. However, time hadn’t blunted the anxiety, and as I waited outside, I felt a mild hysteria rising in my craw. Should I stay and face the music? should I punch the Headmaster and run? Should I convince him that it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding? What was he going to do, anyway, tell my Dad?
The door opened.
“Come in, please.”
After a somewhat diffident greeting and flaccid handshake, the interview was interrupted by a phonecall from the office, and then resumed rather haltingly. I think the Headmaster felt as awkward as I did. If only he’d been Mr Stillman, my Prep School Head. An ex Commando wouldn’t have made a big scene about this trifling, allegedly ‘rascist’, situation. He’d have just hit me with the ruler without too much preamble and then winked at me on the way out. We’d both have understood the form. Today, a man doesn’t know where he is…
“So, really we were thinking of the traditional idea of the pirate when we set the homework…”
“Right. Yes. I suppose at the back of my mind I knew that…”
“I mean, I thought perhaps that was a bit old fashioned, though. Do kids even know who Long John Silver is these days? I thought perhaps a more contemporary look at piracy might have been a little less…predictable…”
“Right, yes, well, perhaps, but your daughter is five. The Tadpoles might be a little young for the more contemporary context. And anyway, it’s not so much the central idea, as the…um…what was it on her face and hands…?”
“Gravy browning,” I said, in a sort of neutral, free-wheeling brain gear. He scribbled a note in his book at this point, which I found quite alarming…
“And the sprig of leaves, what was that?”
In retrospect, that hadn’t been a good idea. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made the pirate outfit after drinking all that rum, but it had been a bad week – and the imp did enjoy singing along with, Frigging in the Rigging… Her little face lit up… (I didn’t give her any rum did I? No, no, I definitely didn’t…)
He continued, interrupting my inner monologue: “We did have to send the leaves to the police station. What was it?”
“Well, you know, it was satire really, I suppose…”
“Well, it was supposed to be khat…”
“Well, you know, it’s a sort of cultural thing out there, isn’t it… they chew it.”
“Oh, you mean a drug?”
“Well, I take no view – we’re getting into sort of moral equivalence here, aren’t we? Who are we to say?”
“Well, I think in the context of the Tadpoles, we can probably say it’s not appropriate…”
“Right. Yes. Possibly…It was just something out of the garden – it definitely wasn’t drugs..”
He nodden slowly. The meeting was drawing, painfully to its end.
“Well, look, under the circumstances, I think it would be appropriate for you to write a letter of apology to the school governors, and you’ll need to submit the homework again, of course.”
“Right, so just a normal pirate, just to clarify? Just something very conventional?”
“Yes, that would be fine, just a traditional pirate,” he said as he ushered me toward the door. “And don’t worry, a Caucasian one will do perfectly well. It’s funny, there was no confusion amongst any of the other parents. I think if this was your idea of a joke, Mr Disappointed, let’s agree that it backfired…” He smiled curtly and the door closed.
What do these teachers know anyway? Surely, portraying a Somali Pirate is real, relevant education? It’s foreign affairs, for God’s sake. No wonder A Levels aren’t worth the paper they’re written on these days… Maybe I should seriously look into home schooling…
Anyway, back to the drawing board. Was Adam Ant a pirate in Prince Charming?