Friday, 21 October 2011

How I Got On In The Music Exam

Greg’s Dad was a plumber and he wore his boiler suit whatever the day. Even on a Sunday. He smoked a pipe and rubbed his own tobacco. His pleasures were simple. On Sunday the whippet needed a long walk and the afternoon was time to ‘switch on telly to see if a good film were on.’ There always was. Something old and shot in black and white. The week was for work. It always took him a while to get going, Greg said, but once he’d got the bit between his teeth he’d be off. There was always work about in those days for someone like Greg’s Dad.  

The first time I saw Greg I’d been fooled into thinking he was a scholar. It was a music exam. We had to put dots onto staves and draw notes. It was my first day at the school and I was hopeless at it. I had no idea what was going on. Greg had thin black hair that wore a lustre of grease. He had this cow-flick fringe which meant that he had to twitch his head like a horse bothered by fly. He wore wire-framed NHS specs and even had a fountain pen which he pressed against his bottom lip when he was thinking. As we listened to the recorded music playing on the tape machine, Greg made these neat dots and strokes on the staves and the best thing for it was to try and copy him.

Did you ever have to start at a new school? It was a lonely business not knowing anyone and trying to fit in coping with the new language and smells. As a talisman I kept looking at the new watch that my Grandad had brought back from Spain for me. He’d bought it on the plane. One of those pre-digital affairs with a blood-coloured screen. You pressed a button and the time lit up in red digits. It felt about as sophisticated as some gadget used in Star Trek.  It was hard to not keep looking at it. Best of all, it was like having a piece of my Grandad with me in school. It made me feel less alone. The exam ticked on in silence. I stole a glance at Greg, now and then, and tried to replicate what he was doing. It wasn’t easy. The distance between our desks was the statutory space as laid out in the exam board regulations. My attempts to copy Greg were impressionistic at best. As the hour approached the watch started to chime Viva La Espana and the teacher pulled me up by the hair and bundled me out the door. Not a great start on my first day.  

I tried to explain that it was an oversight. An accident. But the teacher was having none of it. ‘You did it on purpose! You must have done.’

It later transpired that my faith in Greg was completely misguided. He’d made a total hash of the exam, transcribing marks and answers that were plain bizarre. Worse still, I’d simultaneously recorded, despite the challenging circumstances of the distance, almost identically weird answers on top of sabotaging the exam with a tinny version of the jolly holiday tune.  It seemed that the music teacher’s appreciation for a good tune only stretched so far. 

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