Monday, June 20, 2011

1982: There's been a change inside my life

The summer was over. Surprisingly, it had been a great summer. I'd worked in my dad's office - publishing, so quite interesting, we'd been to New York, San Francisco and LA, back to England at the height of Come On Eileen then back to Bahrain for a month until it was time to finish off the sixth form at a boarding school in the heart of the countryside. Back down to earth with a bump. I was dreading it.

As September dragged on Bahrain was cooling slightly, getting a hazier outside, Big Blue Marble on the telly, days drawing in. I'd never felt so unsettled.

I was seen off at the airport by the family and faced the whole experience on my own. I loved flying having done it a lot, and I had my little routines. I didn't want to speak to anyone, I'd plug in to my state of the art Walkman and listen to Tin Drum on a loop. To this day Japan's version of All Tomorrow's Parties soothes me when things get a bit rough on planes.

At the airport I'd spotted odd, rather ancient woman of indeterminate nationality who looked just like the Ruth Gordon character from Rosemary's Baby. As we cleared customs she shuffled up beside me linked my arm and asked me where I was travelling to.

'London,' I said, trying to be as taciturn as possible in the hope she'd get the message and go away.

No such luck. 'And I, to Paris', she said, theatrically. 'Come, we shall sit'. My plane went on from Paris to London. In those days, depending on your route, you always had to change. This made it doubly exciting for me, as I got to wander round aiports like Schipol or Zurich or Kuwait. Nowadays I'd just want to get there, but back then I was in no rush to be anywhere.

So I told her I had to go to the Duty Free shop and never returned. I saw her later and she pursed her lips at me. She finally got the message. I often think of her. She was probably fascinating. You couldn't have made her up. No one spoke like she did outside of films. I probably missed out there.

But I needed to gather my thoughts. I was being met by the school at Gatwick and was told to look out for the sign. I was leaving my old life behind and going to join a bunch of squares stuck in the 1970s. My life as I knew it was over.

And I was right. There were two others being picked up along with me. A fat boy with greasy hair and a sullen Nigerian. The school was full of expats' kids like me, rich Nigerians and Arabs and a smattering of other nationalities. Big Blue Marble indeed. There was no uniform, you called the teachers by their first names, it was two to a room and you could smoke. Should be great, right. But I was still dreading it.

The minibus ride to the school was tense. The windows were steamed up. No one really spoke. The woman who was known to all as Matron was jollying things along. I wasn't in the mood to be jolly.

We arrived in time for tea. And there was... just the three of us. We'd all arrived a day before school started. We tried to make conversation over sugary donuts and milky tea, and I realised they were returning and I was the only new boy. I was relieved when it was time to be distributed to our various houses.

Mine was a 10-minute minibus ride away in a large house built to look like a Norman castle. Would my record player be there? Would it have survived the summer after being dropped off by me and mum what seemed like years before?

Indeed it was. Thank God for that. My room was on the edge of the main house, but not actually inside it. It was actually a really great room. It was at the foot of the housemaster's back stairs, and at least one member of the family would thunder down with their dogs thrice daily.

It was cold though, and I was feeling slightly lonely. This brief respite As I lay there on the bottom bunk I was wondering when my roommate would arrive - and what he would be like. All I knew was that he was Maltese and he'd already been there are year.

I didn't need to wait long. The door burst open and in a blaze of olive green leather, stonewashed jeans and Kourous he came. Curly-haired Eurotrash who never stopped talking. I knew instantly we'd have nothing in common.

He spotted my record player, opened his suitcase and put on his favourite song of the summer...


  1. Gripping stuff. And I thought going to the comp ten minutes up the road was harrowing enough.

    I like to think Catherine Deneuve will play Lady At Airport when this becomes a film.

    I loved this, by the way. "A blaze of olive green leather, stonewashed jeans and Kourous he came. Curly-haired Eurotrash who never stopped talking. I knew instantly we'd have nothing in common."

    It could have described a bloke on my landing at my hall of residence in my first year of university. Except I think he might have smelt of Aramis.

  2. I think I love your ex-roomie. Have you kept in touch?

    Another highly evocative piece - though I've never heard 'Blue Marble' before, and Please God I never shall again. Worse than '99 Red Balloons'!

  3. I have no idea what happened to him. Something amazing probably.

    Big Blue Marble is one of those tunes where you have to be right in the moment. It's the theme to to a pen pal-flavoured US kids TV show we used to get in Bahrain. I was in a moment there.

  4. Oh Chris she was in no way Catherine Deneuve, otherwise i might have been happy to go with her.

    She'll be played by that dwarf medium out of Poltergeist.

  5. I'm thinking you might need to glam it up in a few places.

    I've got John Cusack down as the adult you.

  6. I'm more than happy with that, Chris.