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THE DAY OF THE QUEEN MUM’S VISIT (aka Crime and Punishment)
It was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, year of flags and street parties and the last British winner at Wimbledon for decades. Her beloved mother was going to visit our school, to open a new science, language and music building. This was a rare honour for our bedraggled and usually forsaken neck of the woods and old Biffo Watkins the head had been beside himself with pride and excitement for weeks. For after all, who was deigning to travel in our direction but the mother of Empire, the victor over Hitler, who had looked the devastated and homeless East End in the face when a wing of one of her palaces took a hit? We were well prepared in the protocol; you bow or curtsey, only speak when spoken to and address her royal highness as Ma’am.
So there we were, lined up in readiness for the great moment. There by the entrance was Sally Williams, perfect as ever and resplendent with her tanned legs and knee length skirt, a model of comportment for us all, desired by almost the entire male gender and some besides, yet unknown to have accepted so much as a kiss from even the most ardent and practised suitor. And Robert Jenkins had had them all: “must be a dyke” he’d declared after an unexpected rebuff. I, on the other hand, was disconcertingly at 16 the only male virgin left in the class. A few years earlier, i had tried my best to make my feelings known by twanging Sally’s bra strap from behind but this had far from the desired effect. There, on her left and my right was another responsible fellow, Snobby Johnson (an incomer who, born the wrong side of Offa’s Dyke, had once punched me in the gob simply for breaking into a rousing rendition of Bread of Heaven as Wales went 16-0 up against the Saes). Once a prankster but now deemed mature enough to handle such serious matters, i was third in line.
At last the moment arrived, her majesty descended from her vehicle and headed into the building, accompanied by the venerable Archbishop who had some obscure reason for venturing our way. When her Highness finally exited and progressed along the red carpet towards us, i had time to inspect her appearance. It wasn’t that i expected a halo, but i was looking for unmistakeable signs that would separate the divinely appointed from us her humble subjects. Now she resembled noone more than Mrs Watts, who’d once run the sweet shop, on the way to church in her Sunday best. “Poor old Mrs Watts” my gran, seven years her senior, used to say. Just as Sally Williams was about to present to her majesty a statuette of a Welsh corgi skilfully crafted by the metalwork class (with only a little help from the teacher), to my left i sensed a movement, and a quick glance told me that two places away, with the smoothest and swiftest of interchanges, Grabber Evans had now gone from the undeserving also-rans behind and replaced Conkers Collins at the front. I have never to this day seen an expression of shock and horror to match that which now afflicted the features of Biffo Watkins. Here was his worst nightmare come true.
Until that point i’d been anxious that on being addressed nerves would get the better of me. Now i was more interested in the panic in Biffo’s eyes and his inner voice- “please let her not talk to Evans, please not Evans”. After the corgi it was Johnson’s turn. “Do you think the new building will be useful to the school?” “Yes, ma’am” came the considered reply. I’ve often wondered about that question. Was it stupidity, concern for the potentially overawed respondent or could her majesty even have been more intent on getting to Evans? Had it been the movement she’d noticed or was it compassion, noblesse oblige, the need to show royalty does not neglect its more unfortunate subjects, that in spite of all her experience drew her magnet-like to his pock-marked and misaligned features, and the inevitable consequences?
“Have you been using any of the new facilities yet?”. A closed and shut case for Johnson and now a tougher one for Evans! Not that it would have made any difference. “Not yet, Lizzie, cos we’ve been waiting for you. And i was thinking it’s a shame you’ve had to come all this way on a beautiful day when you could have been betting our money on the gee-gees”. Give Lizzie her due, the old stiff upper lip and all that, but there was no disguising it. Watkins somehow managed to usher her to safety.
It was the last we saw of Evans. Back inside the classroom we excitedly surmised over the hold he must have had over poor Conkers. We already knew he must have had something on Biffo, to have avoided expulsion before, but now that was of no use. Not long after, Biffo’s wife divorced him. Intoxicated by the new spirit of revolt i had blotted my copybook as her majesty departed by calling out to our easy-going Antipodean teacher “g’day, Bruce”. I’d never seen him so angry, i was in deep shit and i was starting to reflect on my punishment when i noticed an upward turn in the luscious lips of Sally Williams. A most radiant sun was emerging, and now there was a full beaming, a dazzling, smile. I knew then my time had come.
Twenty Four Eyes
- Takamine Hideko in one of her most popular roles as a kindly teacher loved by her class in the 30s.
Mädchen in Uniform
- this is an anti-authoritarian classic and landmark film of lesbian desire, banned by the Nazis
The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short
- a teacher develops a crush on a teenage student in Belgium