It fell out of my bag at the bus stop Sir

“It fell out of my bag at the bus stop Sir”, it was a pathetic excuse and I knew for a fact that Weber wasn’t going to wear it.

Weber, the music master at our Grammar School, the music master who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ludwig van Beethoven, a smartly dressed Ludwig van Beethoven in tweeds and a masters black gown flowing like a Batman’s cape behind him at all times.

A dour Welshman he taught music to 120 young boys per year group between ages 11 to 14 and of those 360 pupils in his charge every year at least 359 of them wished he didn’t bother, only Clarky in our class enjoyed Webers music lessons but Clarky was a musical freak, a genius who could play the piano like a maestro even before he stepped into one of Webers lessons, Clarky didn’t actually need music lessons and he now makes his living as a musician.

To say that the dour Weber was a strict master is superfluous, I’ve already mentioned the words “dour” and “Welshman” in the same sentence and “strict” goes along with the character assassination too, I only once saw him laugh and that was when David Hay tried to sing once, Webers laugh was like a devils cackle, his teeth stained brown from chain smoking – you didn’t want to hear Weber laugh more than once in your life in the same way that you didn’t want to hear David Hay sing more than once either.

Our weekly recorder lesson was one of sheer torture, 30 boys sitting in a semi-circle holding one of the wooden instruments to his lips as Weber went around the arc pointing to one boy at a time with the bark “Play!” after previously barking “Stop!” to the one sat next to him, what came out of the recorder was a sound like a banshee having its tail stood on, if indeed banshees have tails, we’ll assume for the purposes of this story that they do, the noise that comes out of a badly played recorder is a noise that haunts most parents as they encourage their offspring to keep up with the practice while wishing that the small wooden flute-like instrument had a mute button.

Sometimes the individual playing his set piece under Webers glare would simply stop and stare in fear at him, “I can’t do it Sir” would be greeted with thunderous abuse that left the miscreant in no doubt that he was perhaps the most useless piece of shit that this world had ever produced, such words of encouragement surprisingly not making a blind bit of difference to the performance of the same boy the following week.

And so on that fateful afternoon I stood at the bus stop after school with 300 other boys, nearly the end of the summer term of year three, I had already made my choices for the subjects that I would study in the fourth year and unfortunately for Weber music was not one of them, the decision was made, the music world would have to make do without my musical recorder contribution and indeed it has these past forty-something years since, its a shame for music lovers everywhere I know, but something had to give.

I’d like to say that at our Grammar School we all queued at the bus stop like the well behaved gentlemen sons of gentlemen that we were supposed to be, I’d like to say that but nothing could be further from the truth, truth is that the word “queue” was unknown to us and when the bus arrived at the stop it was every gentleman’s son for himself with all 300 of us battling to be one of the lucky ones that would reach the platform and maybe even get on the bus itself before being either dragged off by a bigger boy who wanted your place, or physically thrown off by the scruff of the neck by the conductor.

For these were the days when buses had an open platform at the back where passengers gained access and it was on the open platform that the conductor rode the bus. The conductor on the first service bus to reach our school after 3.30pm each day would often stand there in shock and awe as his bus drew to a halt and 300 small bodies punched, kicked and scratched to get on, he’d stand pressed to the back of the platform as a cacophony of screams, yells and triumphant hurrahs from the boys who made it on would squeeze passed him to the downstairs or upstairs seating areas.

Other conductors would take the offensive and join in the punching and kicking out at small boys, not to help them on, but to throw them off all the while ringing the bell frantically to tell the driver to move off, that it was a dire error to halt at this stop and death would surely ensue if they stayed here a minute longer.

And it was during this mayhem on that fateful afternoon as I stood with one hand on the platform rail, one foot on the platform, that I heard something hit the road behind me but it wasn’t until the bus pulled slowly away from the stop with me the last one on, hanging grimly onto the platform rail with one foot still trailing on the road behind, that I looked over my shoulder to see my recorder lying in the road.

I had a matter of nano-seconds to make the decision, should I jump off the moving bus to save my recorder from its fate under the wheels of the next bus to arrive, or should I stay on this bus and forget all about it ?

Even one nano-second wasn’t required for the decision and so it was that the following week I profered the most pathetic excuse to Weber that his Welsh ears had ever heard, “It fell out of my bag at the bus stop Sir”.

I sat, shoulders hunched, eyes screwed awaiting my punishment…

“Well sit there and keep quiet boy” is all he said.

Weber had finally given up on me

The world of music was sadder for my loss to it.

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