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The Lightning Express October 26, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Speaking of heartlessness, I think I had my first exposure to the heartless masses aged 9. It’s taken me 27 years to be able to write about it.

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….



1. Marsha Klein - October 26, 2006

Curiously enough, I had a Ladybird book about Rembrandt when I was a child which, in the right circumstances, could move me to tears – the bit at the end about him dying in poverty used to get me every time. I really preferred the Ladybird book of Rubens – happy life, success etc,etc…Your early schooldays sound rather similar to my own. Thank God for Ladybird books, that’s all I can say!

2. Wyndham - October 26, 2006

That’s a heartbreaking story and similiar to the occasion that I dressed as Marlene Dietrich – I was six – to sing Falling In Love Again in front of the whole school. The first and last time I have worn an over-sized evening gown.

3. Mangonel - October 26, 2006

Oh my – I had that by the Everly Brothers. Still brings a lump. Also Ebony Eyes. I can type no longer . . .

4. Bowleserised - October 27, 2006

Wyndham – is there footage and can you load it onto You Tube?

5. BiB - October 27, 2006

MK, I don’t know if mine counted as an inner-city sink-school or not. Perhaps that terminology hadn’t come in yet, and I was sent to a supposedly decent secondary school to make up for the shortfall in early education. Boys still stabbed each other with compasses there too, though. In the knee was a particular favourite, if I remember rightly.

Rembrandt was a bit tiring on the eyes and legs after three hours. We instantly regretted buying the ‘whole hog’ ticket, as I think it was called, instead of the ticket for just the interesting, paintingy bits. I so didn’t have any art-mood left for etchings after a while. And I did slightly start wishing he’d painted at least ONE not hideously ugly person. I must make sure my next exhibish is for a modern-preferably-Russian-or-German-splash-of-colour person.

Wynders, I’m with B. Please tell me there’s video footage of the occasion.

Mangonel (want to abbreviate to Mango, but that seems rude), I don’t know Ebony Eyes. I’ll get googling.

6. annie - October 28, 2006

ha ha ha! ha ha ha ha! This story had everything – laughter, tears, comedy, tragedy… Poor little BiB. What could Miss H have been thinking? She sounds like a sadist.

7. BiB - October 28, 2006

Do you ever belt out a song for your young’uns, Miss B_? Or has spontaneity been national curriculumed away?

8. Welshy - October 28, 2006

Not all that relevant but I used to be inconsolable (also in second year juniors, I believe) when we were forced to sing ‘Puff the magic dragon’ almost weekly. It was the bit about Jackie Paper growing up that did it…

9. annie - October 29, 2006

I have been known to belt out ‘I’m A Little Teapot’ (with hand actions) on occasion – though inflicting my voice on the children alone is quite sadistic. Maybe will give the Lightning Express a go and see how many of them I can reduce to tears…

10. BiB - October 29, 2006

Welshy, I’ll have to get googling again. I’m not sure we ever sang that one. I once composed a (probably awfully good) poem about my pet dinosaur, called Rex, when actually not that young. It wasn’t based on fact. But I did have to read it out in front of the class. Miss A_ quite liked it, I think. No-one cried.

Annie, make sure you’re not fired. Might 2006 children complain that such a cruel song amounted to abuse of one sort or another?

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