Posted by philwhiteland on Mon, 20 May 2019
I'm leaning against the playground wall with an air of studied indifference and boredom. A number of my friends are standing with me affecting the same pose. We are watching the antics of the younger pupils. In particular, we are watching the antics of Mortimer, who is not actually a younger pupil, he is a contemporary of ours. Mortimer is being a plane.
It is 1970, it's my last year at Anglesey Secondary Modern and my friends and I are contemplating our future. Except for Mortimer, he's being a plane. The purpose of Secondary Modern Schools was to prepare those who had failed the 11+ exam for a world of work in which they would be, all being well, engineers, printers, draughtsmen or mechanics, if they had shown aptitude, or factory workers and labourers if they hadn't. This relates to the boys, of course. If you were a girl you could hope to be involved in secretarial or clerical work at best or shop work or factory work at worst. In fact, many of our class have already left school to take up apprenticeships or trainee positions in such illustrious places as Rolls-Royce, the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) or one of the breweries. We who remain are the ones who have stayed on to study for our GCE and CSE exams and are now bound for Sixth Form studies at either the Grammar School or Burton Technical College. I'm heading for the Technical College for two reasons. Firstly, the Grammar School didn't want me and, to be fair, I didn't want them. The idea of going back to school uniform and compulsory sports didn't, somehow, capture my imagination. Secondly, I can smoke at Technical College (yes, I know, I know, it just happened to be important then!)
I'm not at all sure what is going to happen to Mortimer (not his real name). He has something of an aptitude for maths, but not much else. I think Mortimer's parents have great hopes for him, which I suspect are going to be dashed.
Throughout his school life, Mortimer has always attended in immaculate school uniform. He is clearly loved and doted upon. In the environment of the Secondary Modern, this would be enough to make him the target for everything going, and he is. There are a number of different coping strategies for this. Firstly, you can attempt to ingratiate yourself and be everyone's friend. Secondly, you can attempt to blend into the background (this was my chosen strategy, sometimes I didn't notice myself) or thirdly, you could be belligerent and chippy and try and face your tormentors down. Mortimer chose Option 3. I can only imagine that his parents had told him to 'stand up for himself', which is very laudable but likely to end in tears. What's more, Mortimer wasn't just chippy and obnoxious with his adversaries, he was quite capable of being like this even with those of us who had his best interests at heart. He didn't make it easy to like him.
What I admired about Mortimer was his absolute refusal to fit in. Here we all were, pretending to be grown up, cool and disinterested in play and here was Mortimer being a plane. Our futures were uncertain, the only thing we knew for sure was that we were leaving school behind and taking the first step on the road of becoming whatever we were going to become. Mortimer didn't think about the future, he was too busy being a plane.
I remember this moment so vividly because I recall how I felt at that time. I realised, as I watched Mortimer, arms outstretched, making airplane noises and leading a crack squadron of first years, that right now I would give anything to pack up the whole idea of growing up and, just for a minute or two, join Mortimer and be a plane.
All of this comes under the general heading of 'nostalgedy' which you can find a lot more of here.