October 13

Another piece by Craig Deeley

I had that dream again. We’ve all had it: the one where you’re walking around your old school as an adult. It’s empty; you’re running down corridors, peeking into the classrooms, running through the hall, and then George Clooney pops out of the caretaker’s cupboard.

For most of us, and for a variety of reasons, school was the best of times and the worst of times. The secondary school I attended was a grammar school which in some ways was reminiscent of Tom Brown’s Schooldays and in other ways a surreal film. I recall one teacher kicking the front desk to see if the row would topple back, domino-style. There were tales of a woodwork teacher who once flipped out and threw a hammer through a window. There were many more such stories and I look back at them a lot. Some people say history teaches us nothing, but I disagree. I learned how to deflect the sunlight with my watch on to the history teacher’s bald spot. And how to avoid a flying board-rubber.

One of the lesser-celebrated annual events in the school calendar was always the day of the school photo. I have never liked how I look in pictures, and I think this may be where it all started. I don’t have many ‘official’ school photos in my possession any more, but the earliest one I have was taken in infant school. I have very fond memories of that school: being allowed to play on the grass when it was sunny; sitting, cross-legged in assemblies singing ‘Knick Knack Paddywack’, ‘I Can Sing A Rainbow’, and ‘Sing Hosanna’ – with an extra “Of Kings” accidentally tacked on to the end of the chorus. I only lived 10 minutes’ walk away so came home for lunch. I would tuck into my soup in front of such treats on TV as Mr & Mrs (with civilians, not celebrities), Crown Court and Paint Along With Nancy. Back at school, during afternoon break, I remember a lovely assistant called Mrs Griffiths with a bouffant as big as Marge Simpson’s (I was smaller then) used to sell cups of orange squash for 2p and a selection of confectionary such as Caramac and sweet cigarettes. In those days, sweet cigarettes were called sweet cigarettes; none of this ‘Candy Sticks’ nonsense of nowadays. You could also buy a pouch of candy tobacco which tasted of coconut.

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As you see from the picture, resplendent in tank top and polo-neck, even at the age of 7, I was quite the trend-setter, even if I did have a look of Isla St-Clair about me (but in the late 70s, who didn’t?) I don’t remember much about the photo being taken, but judging by the half-smile, I was probably annoyed that the photo-session was keeping me away from my sweet-cigarette break.

craig 2A few years later at junior school, a rhapsody in sky blue, I had this beauty taken. My mother’s sage words, “Don’t forget to comb your hair,” were still echoing in my ears weeks later on the day the photo arrived, as I carefully carried it home and slowly took it out of the hard-backed brown envelope. Looking back, I blame the photographer for making the stray clump of side-hair the focus of the photograph. Mum’s reaction was very restrained, but I think that in her eyes, the photo may as well have looked like this:

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On a side-note re photographs – for a little while in the early 80s, on top of the family TV set we used to have a photo-frame containing the picture that came with it: it was of two pretty women in their 20s wearing knitwear that looked far too warm for the exotic location they appeared to be in. My brother and I used to tell people that they were our sisters, Anita and Anita-Marie, who lived in America. Just how many people actually believed that my mother had two daughters almost the same age as her, or who she’d given almost identical names to, I’m not sure, but we thought it was hilarious and the frame was allowed to stay. It certainly stayed long enough for my dad to get into the habit of polishing it along with the other family photos in their frames.

But I digress. For me, a successful school-photograph was a bit of a lottery. And it got to the point where I would dread having a school-photo taken. Imagine my joy then, when my brother, who had never had a bad one taken, came home one day and handed over an A4 glossy picture of him with neatly combed hair, a big smile, and his eyes closed. Not half closed. Not drowsy-looking. Actually closed. I don’t think a photographer before or since had ever captured that split-second when a blink was so perfectly at its fully closed position. And alongside the A4 eyes-closed picture there were 8 identical smaller versions to send out to friends and family. The photo in its frame adorned pride of place in the living room above the door to the kitchen. No one appreciated my efforts to embellish the picture by cutting out various pictures of eyes and sticking them on the closed eyelids.

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One of the last pictures I had taken at school was when I was 18. It was a class photo; I was getting ready to leave Punchem High and clearly rocking the Paul Young look. We were 18. We were old enough to vote, marry, drive and buy alcohol, and yet we’d still get into trouble if we were caught wearing the wrong colour socks or eating chips at a bus-stop in school uniform. I still keep in touch with a handful of old school-friends, but for many of us, that period was such a bizarre experience, that when do we meet, we don’t really talk about it. It’s a bit like Fight-Club, if Fight-Club had had prefects and a tuck-shop.

Craig Deeley

t: @craiguito