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Friday 8th September 2006

The Kings of Wessex School Hall has been the scene of a few humiliations in my life. Not for a good twenty years. But the scars remain. There were numerous knock-backs at school discos from the girls I fancied, or worse numerous times I just looked at girls and wondered how I could ever possibly even talk to them, let alone anything else. There was the time I was told off by Mr Carter for talking during assembly. There was more notably the time that I was nominated for House Captain (it wasn’t a posh school, but we had houses for sports and other school events. I believe I was in Lyonnesse, but may have got that wrong – they were named after local mythical lands or something and I am guessing Camelot and Avalon may have been two of the other three, but my memory lets me down). Our house, whatever we were called were meeting in the Hall to decide and the teacher in charge asked for nominations. Steve Cheeke, one of my best friends (and as his sister was my first proper girlfriend he was also a potential brother-in-law), but also my chief rival was already Head Boy of the school. He was that rare thing, someone who was fiercely intelligent, but also very popular. He was something of a rebel and managed to make being Head Boy seem like a cool thing. He and I came first or second in most exams. He more usually first. I usually pipped him in maths and occasionally also in history. How tragic and interesting that I can remember that when so many other things are less clear!
I was, of course, that more common thing: a clever pupil who was unpopular and nerdy. I had the additional baggage to carry that my father was headmaster of the school. I hadn’t even bothered to put myself forward for the Head Boy thing. There was no chance of that ever happening, especially given that my older brother had been Head Boy six years previously. But maybe I could be House Captain. Maybe that would be something I could get, something for the all important UCA form that I’d be sending out to Universities.
Someone immediately nominated Steve and there was a buzz of acceptance around the hall. He was the obvious choice, even though he already held one position of power, there was no fear amongst his peers that he might be in danger of becoming autocratic or dictatorial. Steve must have known that I would have liked the “job”, but we were teenagers and rivals so there was no way he’d be tempted to step aside for me. Think of us as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It’s almost a perfect parallel. Just my luck to be in the same house as him. A one in four shot and yet we ended up competing again. My friends Geoff and Bri, also knowing that I would have liked the position and perhaps sensing that it might be fair if things were shared out a bit then nominated me. I remember people laughing at the idea there and then, with me still in the room. I might be imagining that. I might be imagining many things. We were the only nominees and were asked to leave the hall while our friends and Housemates democratically voted on who they wanted to lead them. I must have known the outcome was inevitable, but maybe a part of my brain hoped that this would turn into a Hollywood film, that my classmates would sense that I was more than my father’s son, that justice could be served, that I was at least owed this one small cherry, when Steve already had a bagful of big juicy ones. Steve was polite enough to wish me luck and pretend that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but as the vote took place in my mind the sound of the raising of arms for Steve was audible from outside the room, whilst when they came to vote for me (and I am definitely sure of this) there was nothing but a laugh. Clearly everyone had voted for Steve and only my loyal friends, Bri and Geoff had voted for me (funnily enough Bri and Geoff also were both at the recent school reunion that all the cool kids kept away from– maybe we’re just a triumvirate of nerds). I mean I can see why it’s funny. If I hadn’t been the headmaster’s son and the headmaster’s son had got two votes out of 200 then I would have laughed too. Or if anyone had got just 2 votes out of 200. Sure enough Geoff and Bri sadly confirmed the scale of my defeat. It was disappointing, but unsurprising. At least I came second.
I will print this story up and keep a copy for my therapist, whenever I get to the point that I decide I don’t want to be funny any more and want to sort things out.
I was reminded of the heated prick of humiliation on my return to the Kings of Wessex School Hall tonight. I was hosting a charity evening for a local man, Peter Davidson, who had sadly died of cancer earlier this year at the age of 45. He’d been a big football fan and had attempted to visit every league ground in the country this year and collect memorabilia to auction for cancer charities. Alas he died before he could finish this, but the auction went ahead anyway, with many extra items collected by his family. It was a great cause and a moving evening and I was happy to lend my services for just half my usual five thousand pound fee. I am joking. I did it for nothing, of course.
Peter had supported Spurs and so the big draw of the evening was a talk from Steve Perryman, who played over 1000 times for the club. Another local celebrity, Geoff Twentyman was doing the auction, so I had been asked just to host things and do a bit of stand-up after the quiz.
I’d had a good time at the last auction I had done in Cheddar and got some personal pleasure out of opening the Cheddar Big Event and was expecting the friendly and warm reception of the former given the nature of the evening. But the school hall was big and the amplification system was a bit knackered and I had made the mistake at the start of the evening doing my joke about smelly Bridgewater (how the plastics factory has closed now and they’re discovered that it wasn’t the factory making the smell) without realising that all Peter’s football mates at the back of the hall were from Bridgewater. Also when it came to my stand-up bit I had to immediately follow a fairly long quiz. People were getting up to give their papers in, and chatting and stretching their legs and getting more drinks. The mike I tried to use wasn’t strong enough, so I had to use one at the side of the stage with a very short flex that kept me rooted to the spot. It was still not efficient enough to project my voice over the noise. No-one was interested in seeing stand up now. Given the mixed nature of the evening (grannies and kids in attendance) I had promised not to be too rude, but then I don’t have that much clean material and there was a core group of people my age who were encouraging me to be rude. I decided I would be a little bit rude, but take the curse off things by visibly donating £20 to the charity every time I swore. But the problem was that most people weren’t listening and those who wanted to couldn’t really hear me. I stood on stage, trapped in the corner, trying to shout over the cacophony. “We can’t hear you,” shouted a bald football fan at the back. “Maybe if you stopped talking you’d be able to,” I not unreasonably replied. The jokes were not hitting even amongst those who were straining to listen and I was dying on my arse. At a charity do. It was kind of an impossible slot and I should have just given up and told them to enjoy their dinner, but I felt I’d come all this way especially and so should at least do a set.
But it was going down like a lead balloon. I hadn’t really realised how many non-Cheddar people were in at this stage, but doing all this, with my dad sitting in the audience watching, it was impossible not to remember the times that I had been humiliated in this room before. I commented on the fact that I was still unpopular in the school hall. “You thought they’d like you now, you didn’t think they’d still see you as the headmaster’s nerdy son, but you were wrong!” I told myself out loud to those who could head, “Of course they still hate you!” I was mainly joking and mainly fighting in the face of impossible odds, but it was still a strange feeling. As they still refused to settle down I commented “A genius is never recognised in his own home town”. Sadly that’s also true of idiots. Either way, I think you can see the parallels with the earlier story.
I am laying this on with a trowel of course. I genuinely find it quite funny. But also interesting. I am playing it for pity. I think I deserve a little.
I managed not to get too frustrated, but very nearly started just doing my filthiest material to spite them, even though Peter’s young lads were sitting at the table in front of me. I said “fuck” a couple of time and piss once and threw £60 on the stage. I tried to make the kids laugh with my kids’ jokes. It didn’t really work. “Aren’t you even a bit amused by a fat man swearing?” I asked. They smiled and politely said they were. They were very nice young lads. Shame I had to die on my arse in front of my family though. I battled on for five or ten minutes and then accepted defeat. I was no-one’s fault. I had just been put on at a time that made my job impossible
Later on I fixed the raffle so they won something. More movingly, the talkative football fans at the back joined forces to buy the youngsters one of the signed footballs in the auction. Nice gesture from some men who up to that point I thought had been fairly rude. But only to me. So that’s OK.
When I came off a woman apporoached me. She said, "I hadn't realised who you were til you started talking about your dad. I was in your year at school. All I remember about you is that you never once took off your school blazer. Never once. You always wore your school blazer." I think this memory speaks volumes about the kind of person I was and the position I was in. "My dad was the headmaster," I replied, by way of explanation.
"You never took off you blazer. That's all I remember about you," she repeated.
Steve Perryman spoke for fifty minutes through the same microphone that I had started with, to a perfectly quiet room. That’s what respect will do for you. Once again I came in second.
But charity was the winner and it was a very good and full night and I don’t think anyone will remember much about my set in the end (in fact I’d say about a third of the audience might not even have noticed that I was on) and there are much worse things that can happen to a man than a failure to become House Captain and a failure to amuse the people of his home town. Just interesting, rather than tragic, I suppose.
We didn't even get on to the time that Emma Kennedy beat me to the Presidency of the Oxford Revue, but that's for another time.
Who's being mawkish now?

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