Little Spurt 02

The Leopardskin Speedos

English was my favourite subject in my early secondary school years and in my second and third years at the school I was taught by the same master. He was young and “trendy”. Well, his classroom discipline wasn't trendy, but the work he got us to do was. He used all the various BBC Schools Radio English programmes that were available and was instrumental in introducing early video recorders to the school so that we could watch recorded Schools programmes. Although set books were usually the reasonably classic titles such as A High Wind in Jamaica or Moonfleet, we also used the brilliant Penguin poetry anthology series Voices.

Drama wasn't a separate subject, but our English lessons included plenty of drama work. We often played out scenes from, or improvisations based on, the set books we were reading. As inevitably as The Guns of Navarone being the film shown on the evening of CCF Field Days, we spent at least a term on The Lord of the Flies. Sometimes our dramas involved makeshift costumes and even make-up.

Fuck knows what the actual set task was, but I decided, working with a small group of other boys, that it was essential to the artistic integrity of our Lord of the Flies-inspired piece that I should appear in the leopardskin-patterned Speedos I wore for swimming. We were to do the final performances of our pieces during double-English one afternoon in the school's smaller theatre. My group was, I think, recreating a ceremonial/ecstatic ritual as practised by the marooned boys. For the rest of the group Games kit was wild enough, but I understood that an animal-skin-patterned pair of Speedos was the obvious costume for a wild dance around a "fire" on a desert island.

At the time, the master in charge merely laughed uproariously when I reappeared on stage thus clad at the climax of our noisy "ritual". The other boys, including those in my group, just regarded this as another example of how weird "wogs" were. Later, after we'd both left the school, I became very good friends with the English master and he told me that he had found this, and a few other incidents involving me and conversations we had had, very, um, disconcerting. He was, he said, unsure if I was "coming on" to him. Perhaps I was. I really liked and admired this master, and was eager to do well in his lessons. I'm quite happy to accept that the leopardskin Speedos were not an entirely innocent stage costume.

I did come top in English that term.