Sigoth and I turn into a couple of old fogeys some nights, when it is dark and cold, and the wolves are howling in the hinterland. To distract us from the fear of Grendel coming to call, or worse, his mother, we turn to the bright, shiny presence in the corner, and watch TV.
I have a plan for spending my time at the moment which is going well. At least, I thought it up yesterday on the train home and managed to do some of it last night. So it’s going quite well, by my standards anyway. The plan for how EBL Spends Her Time is to avoid watching the bright-shiny-presence-in-the-corner all evening and then kick myself for failing to solve world poverty, finish my knitting or some such frippery. It finally guides me as to which hobby to pursue most evenings of the week, and is designed to be manageable when away from home, as I often am; it allows me evenings off, because I know that there are other things that will get in the way such as School Governors, or even, Heaven forfend, social interaction.
Meanwhile, the other night the wolves were loud and we turned to the television for comfort. It was a Top of the Pops Special for 1978.
Ah, 1978, that heady year! My dears, I remember it well. I was 16, completed my O-Levels and went on a couple of great trips to Germany and to the Baltic. I saw drop-dead gorgeous Swedish boys, fjords, the Tsar’s Winter Palace and the Little Mermaid. The sun shone, the birds sang and I got good enough grades to study A-Levels that September. I wasn’t allowed to take Latin, despite getting an A, even though I wanted to do Classics at university; so I rebelled, dropped History and took Maths instead, along with English, French and German. That showed them.
I remember the careers advice I got too. Our careers teacher was the chief French teacher, a fearsome spinster, with an interesting approach to pedagogy; in brief she wasn’t happy unless she had at least half the class in tears by the time of the first bell. She only managed it with me once, and that was a day she had the entire A-level class fountaining en masse because we failed to translate her reading of a JB Priestley novel in English into French on the fly. Indeed, we were veritable scum.
I entered the careers room, a dingy attic space full of dusty books and broken audio-visual equipment, keen to discuss courses, and options and the advisability of working immediately vs studying for 3 years. No one in my family had ever been to university and no one in my family, apart from me, could think why anyone would bother.
“What are you reading with French at university?” she asked.
“I’m not reading French,” I said.
She ignored me and continued to talk about careers for language graduates. It was fairly pithy stuff.
“You could get a job as a translator in Brussels with the Common Market. You can’t be an air hostess; you’re too fat.”
She was right. So I rebelled again. At least she settled the question of whether I was going to university at all. I was going and not reading French. Oh yes.
She glared, and assumed I was reading German instead. She and the German teacher were sworn enemies. It was worse than Paris in 1940. When she found out I wasn’t even reading a language she sent me away, unadvised but resolute.
School, eh? Worst time of my life. As Evelyn Waugh says in Decline and Fall:
Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.
That was 1978 for me, a topsy-turvy time, making life-changing decisions in the midst of hormonal fire-storms and the strenuous opposition of teachers and family. It was a bit lonely and a bit exciting and it was the year I made some good friends.
Back to the TV in the corner though. Sigoth and I watched amazed as our youth was exposed for examination from the distant perspective of middle age and parental experience.
The music – quite extraordinary! I hadn’t quite realised. There was everything from old glam rockers to punk, Mannfred Mann to Sham 69, Abba to Kate Bush, Brian & Michael to Althia & Donna: pretty much you name it, it was there. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped disco would go away soon, and that this new-fangled punk was pretty good if hard work to dance to (we had to pogo, it was utterly exhausting!).
For me the highlight of the programme was The Boomtown Rats. Bob Geldof in his youth, New Waving across the decades at me with “Rat Trap”. Absolutely fantastic. And is it just me, or does it make you think of “Dirty Old Town”, just a little bit?
Two years later I met Sigoth. We fell in love. We were kids. I realised it for the first time seeing that. Who knew?
Now we are older and greyer and more in love, and I hope always will be. Somehow it seems appropriate, in memory of that dreadful teacher, to quote Ronsard:
Ronsard was a bit of an ass, but I do like the poem.