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Them Little Green Things

October 7, 2009
tags: ,

It’s fun to see my friend Lauren Kirshner making high profile public appearances all over the place in support of her ace debut novel Where We Have To Go. Lauren’s work is fiction, not autobiography, but nevertheless the fact that the novel introduces its protagonist as an eleven-year-old girl growing up in the Toronto got me thinking about my own eleven-year-old self in Bradford.

Other than that, I have no real reason to tell this story now, except that green seems to be the Idle Tigers colour of choice right now.

sprout

I am a schoolchild, perhaps 11 years old. I’ve recently left my comprehensive middle school, because I’m the embarrassed and reluctant recipient of an “assisted place” at a local school that classes itself as “independent” – neither a grammar school nor the classic public school, but some semi-antique product of northern Methodism where morning assemblies are soundtracked by Wesley’s Hymns and Psalms and the playing fields are used more for egg-chasing than football. Unlike those other types of private school, there are at least girls here, but I have no idea what they’re about.

Unsurprisingly, for the first couple of years my closest friends at the school will also be going there for free. Most of the other pupils, the ones who’d come through the prep school named after the Brontes, keep telling me that I have a thick Yorkshire accent, which seems to me like the most bizarre and stupid observation anyone’s ever made. My Dad will later point out that since I was born in Yorkshire and am living in Yorkshire, it would be much stranger if I were to have an Irish or Chinese accent, and I see his point. In the evenings I meet up with my old friends who stayed on at the comprehensive school, and spend most of the time flushing self-consciously, aware that I’ve made myself weak by going to the “posh” school. My natural shyness around brasher boys is exacerbated by a violent mix of crippling class consciousness and oddly-placed guilt. I don’t know this yet, but I’ll never quite finish my expected career at the posh school, and will leave in a horrible rage a few years later to sit on a park bench for five months and then resume my A-levels at an inner-city college in Leeds.

I don’t eat well. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that this is a class thing; based on experience I’d say that all eleven-year-olds are grimy little bastards when it comes to nutrition. After all, this is well before Jamie Oliver has even decided to be a cockney. What I’m saying is, the fact that I’m not particularly good at identifying different types of vegetables by sight isn’t as unusual as it may seem. Nevertheless, when it comes to a break-time ruckus beside the school’s vegetable patch, I’m there or thereabouts, by God, despite my ignorance of fresh fruit and vegetables, despite my natural shyness. You see, having learned quickly that in my new school, any old semi-insolent remark made to a teacher earns guaranteed laughter from classmates, due to my accent being just a bit thicker than theirs, I’ve volunteered myself as a bit of a clown. Even a plainly offered translation in French class, such as “’Ow much are t’carrots?” (now there’s a vegetable that I do know about) will get a response. A resourceful little mite even at eleven, I’ve started to trade on my provincialism. I’m a very able student when prompted, but by habit rough and unbookish, always enjoying being thrown in the boy-high rhubarb. At eleven, I’m known for calling most things in life, whether obviously enjoyable or not, “a beaut laugh”. Strangely, a few years later I’ll be known for finding most things in life simply painful.

I don’t know how the great Brussels Sprout fight begins, or through what series of negotiations I turn from innocent bystander to rogue participant. Whatever the case, it’s every man for himself and the situation turns grim when several of the principal sprout-chuckers are caught and immediately marched to the deputy head master’s office. I flee and hide out nonchalantly by the special needs centre for a few minutes, before being caught and sent belatedly to the same office, like forwarded mail.

The thing about the deputy head, Mr. Wilberforce, is that he is a man who lives up to all the might and severity of his surname. He has a fat bald brainy head, and two little lights on the outside of his office door labeled “Enter” and “Wait”, and he responds to knocks on the door by pressing a button that lights up one message or the other. I’ve never seen anything like it. By the time I’m deposited in Mr. Wilberforce’s office, the rest of the gaggle are already several minutes into their proper bollocking, augmented with all the usual feats of rhetoric: hints of violence, general appeals to the Christian spirit and unspecific aspersions cast on the boys’ manliness. At least two of the lads are in tears.

He addresses me. “Why are you here?” is his standard question.

It’s a classic disciplinarian’s tactic – it’s a horrid thing to have to name your crime, especially so just minutes after having been caught. I flounder a bit, but get it out. “I was throwing things.”

The answer obviously seems incomplete to Mr. Wilberforce, and he is not pleased. He probes, painfully. “What were you throwing?”

It’s a simple question, but one that I’m honestly not able to answer. I certainly don’t know that the missiles I’d been sending and receiving were sprouts. I could play it safe and just say vegetable, but I don’t know for sure that it’s a vegetable – you can’t be too certain what’s a vegetable and what isn’t, when there are untrustworthy articles like tomatoes and cucumbers at large.

He asks again: “What were you throwing?”

I decide that what I should do is go for a wholly descriptive answer. Resolute, I tell him straight: “Them little green things.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 7, 2009 9:31 pm

    i needed to read that,it made me smile

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