The Lightning Express October 26, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
It was second year juniors. I was already feeling a bit discombobulated because our school was having repairs done to it and we second year junior types were in portacabins round the corner from the real school premises. Not to say that I’d managed to create the provinces in London and concentrate my whole life in a 1km squared space – my mother still calls the West End the City – but it must have been at least 15cm outside my regular stomping ground, so was pretty frightening.
So, with me feeling discombobulated and 9, Miss H_ decides she’s going to strike up a song one day. Honestly, teachers had it easy then. “Fucked if I know what we’ll do next,” Miss H_ probably thought to herself. “I know. I’ll belt out a song.” Miss H_ had a not bad voice. I think it was to make up for her looks and lack of anything resembling a pleasant personality. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s still Miss H_ to this day, in fact. Or in prison for child abuse. Normally, we were tunefully indoctrinated with One Day at a Time, by the songtastic Lena Martell, but Miss H_ went out on a limb on this fateful day. Either she wanted to work out who the gay boys in the class were – the experiment worked a treat, if so – to send them for extra Lena Martell instruction, or was dealing with an admittedly tragic event in her own life.
Miss H_ belted out – bosom heaving, huge glasses bobbing – the Lightning Express. (Please listen to the audio link. I’m emigrating to Arkansas TODAY.) I listened intently. This song had gloom. And relatively few references to god and not a sniff of Jesus. Tragedy at a gazillion levels. Dying mother. Boy travelling alone. From where? Was he the Arkansas-equivalent of down t’pit? Poverty. The cruel (but converted) conductor. The kindness of strangers.
I began to bucket. I sobbed and sobbed and my bosom heaved more than Miss H_’s. I looked around the room, 9-ly, expecting to see a concert of tears. But all I saw were the hardened and emotionless faces of 9-year-old, working-class girls with plaits and dressed in miniature dinner-lady outfits – our school didn’t do aspiration – and the boys already stabbing each other with compasses again. The only solidarity came from Manuel N_, the fattest boy and slowest runner in the class who pronounced dodo doodoo and emigrated in shame to Portugal. (Even his cousin, the much thinner Maria N_, who became head-girl, didn’t cry and looked on at Manuel in horror.) The ever-sensitive Miss H_ asked us what the bugger we were crying for. Manuel N_ said something in Portuguese about his mummy, and that he was hungry, and I sobbed. Deborah D_ may have given me a comforting arm round the shoulder (and then stolen my dinner-money).
Dunno why I’ve got onto this. I was planning to tell you all about the Rembrandt exhibish on in Berlin at the moment. Funny how things work out, as I once heard Julian Clary say when the gay couple thrashed the straight couple at his own version of Mr. and Mrs….