The school wavered between being conservative Christian and outright fundamentalist; there were rules in place to banish every vice that might be imagined, and even some vices that had never even occurred to most of us. Television viewing was strictly monitored, though how one could have found much to lead one astray in the evening viewing of the three British television channels of the 1970s was a complete mystery, perhaps there were hidden meanings in the anodyne family programmes of those times. Once a housemaster flew into a fit of rage upon discovering that a group of us had watched an episode of the 1970s crime series, ‘The Sweeney’. With schoolboy bluntness, we concluded that he must have a dirtier mind than an of us because there didn’t seem much in the adventures of the characters that would have caused offence to most ordinary working people.
The one single vice that was tolerated was listening to pop music – there we could outfox any of the staff, whose lack of worldliness meant they rarely paid attention to the lyrics of songs.
Standing at an open air bar drinking gluhwein, those schooldays were conjured up by a sequence of songs audible for hundreds of yards around.
The Bay City Rollers was the first of three from 1975, “Bye, bye baby”. ‘Rollermania’ had been a big thing amongst some of the girls at the time, not that we were ever allowed much contact with the opposite sex. Les McKeown and his band, with their short, tartan-trimmed jeans, sang about an extra-marital relationship,
“Should have told her I can’t linger,
there’s a wedding ring on my finger”.
We couldn’t watch ‘The Sweeney’, but the housemaster never gave a thought to what the songs were about, particularly “Lady Marmalade”, the second in the sequence. “Voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?” seemed to pass clear over the heads of staff on duty in the recreational area. The song could not have been much more explicit, but not once was there any query about it being played.
The third of the three from 1975 was ‘Going to Barbados’. Its opening words are instantly recognizable and it would aways have seemed an innocent song, something to which our puritanical staff could have taken no exception. Only in more recent years did someone point out that there were words in the song that had meanings to which the housemaster might have raised very strong exception.
For eight or nine minutes, memories from those months some thirty-five years ago came flooding back. Moments and incidents long buried were evoked by ordinary pop songs.
The mug of gluhwein was finished and it was time to return to 2010. What fools the school staff had been, did they not realize that their narrow worldview only survived while they could completely control our lives? As soon as there was a moment of freedom, the shackles were shaken off and, even in school, the most severe rules could never crush the imagination.