Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian! Carol post...
Friday, 7 January 2011
Behind a Plaintive Smile?
As the Isley Brothers didn’t quite sing.
Anyone who doubts the veracity of the title of this story should steel themselves and take a look at the school picture at the end of this post. Now you have that image firmly fixed in your mind (and don’t blame me if you find yourself waking in the night, screaming), you may ask yourself “how could such a thing happen?” Well...
My first two years at Anglesey Secondary Modern were spent at what I believe was the old Burton Technical High School in Bond End. I don’t know why, they just were. Each year the collection of spotty adolescents were paraded before a camera to obtain pictures that could be sold at an exorbitant price to the adoring family of the child concerned. In this particular year (Year 2, if memory serves) an all-female team of photographers drew the short straw. The gender is not particularly important except for the fact that, in what was a rather chauvinistic age, it was most unusual to find women carrying out this particular task.
On this occasion, the photographers were not just breaking new ground in gender terms. We were also told that they were employing a brand new form of technology which should result in high quality colour photographs. I have no idea what form this technology was supposed to take, but it was obviously ‘cutting edge’ as the equipment kept breaking down, which seems to be a fairly reliable definition.
We pupils were lined up in the Hall (boys down one side and girls down the other, presumably to deter any potential unpleasantness). Clearly processing hundreds of schoolchildren in one session was always going to be something of an uphill struggle, even without temperamental technology, and we seemed to be lined up for hours. As each boy was photographed, a series of cat calls and ‘smart alec’ remarks issued from the line of waiting youths. Those who had the misfortune to be in the chair when the camera failed, came in for particular attention.
Always a nervous child, my apprehension was increasing at a rate of knots as the line shuffled slowly forward. This excessive waiting time meant that I had considerable time to think about exactly how I would go about posing for the photograph. You see, whilst most ‘normal’ lads would spend the time in line nattering about football, giving each other ‘dead legs’ or surreptitiously chewing gum vacantly, I was wondering how to smile. This, as the photograph indicates, was not a constructive line of thought.
Finally, my turn came and I was positioned in front of the camera, lights and flash equipment. There was a fairly constant stream of insults and ribaldry heading in my direction from the assembled students. My confidence, already at rock bottom, was further knocked when the photographer asked if that was what I called a smile? However, my embarrassment peaked when the equipment failed spectacularly just as my photograph was being taken. This was clearly over and above the previous problems, as it engendered a great deal of bustling about, head scratching and rushing hither and thither. Of course, the entertainment value of all this to my compatriots was beyond price. As I sat there, cringing with embarrassment, my fellow students had the time of their lives. Eventually, the equipment was coaxed back into action and the photograph was taken.
You can see the result. I’m sure you can imagine how pleased I was.