Out Now!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Killing Frenchmen or catching fish

I think I was a strange little boy, trudging along in a Jansenist muddle, the highlights of the day consisting of the blue ticket dinner and the mid morning milk break: Milk Monitor, the acme of privilege in Blessed Sacrament. I never made it, though I once got to ring the school hand-bell signifying the end of break. Not leadership material then.

What to do with me? I needn’t have worried. The school had it in hand.


It was a large grey-paged scrapbook into which you could paste cutout and coloured pictures you’d researched about a particular career. You could write about them too.
I chose the army, seduced like an C18th peasant boy by red coats and breeches.

The History of the British army. Joy. I researched like a beaver, scribbling away, colouring, planning my route to the top. Eventually I settled on a favourite period -the late C18th to early C19th. Napoleon revolutionised style, but I remained loyal to British uniforms oscillating between the Hussars but finding romance in the colours of the infantryman. I dreamt of killing Frenchmen, and marching home to a rose coloured cottage in the middle of green fields; a beautiful woman waiting.
Eventually my teacher became concerned, perhaps about an unrealisable obsession, or a recognition that the army had moved on.

My scrapbook was replaced by another. It was empty. Alongside it was a book about fish.

Dutifully, I began all over again, cutting out and colouring, learning about fish. Maybe my career would lie in commercial fishing.
Cod, turbot, halibut, hake, Tuna, Pollock, Bass and Skate. I drew them all - occasionally subverting things by slipping in a regimental motif about the fins or gills, sometimes the tails. It made no difference. Whatever I did, they all looked the same. Flat or thin, long or squat, the same dead parody of a face stared out at me from the page.

Going to sea would be fine, I eventually decided, but not fishing. The uniform was rubbish.

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