The Conductor’s Baton

bourbonI’m in one of those moods right now. Part reflective, part distracted and part creative. These are the best times. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m having a sneaky bourbon biscuit – well three! I dunk them in my tea – even though I’ve been scolded once as a child – ‘bourbons are not dunking biscuits!’ This sends me into reflection and as I begin to look back, I wonder how far will I go.

My mind rests on a moment. A grey morning and, as I remember it, a grey junior school classroom when I was nine years old. I don’t have to think hard to remember my teacher’s name: Mrs Shaw, and I hope that she reads this one day. This was the morning that I learned to write. Not literally, of course – you understand.

The details are sketchy – I’m 44 now – but the way I felt that day…that couldn’t be any clearer.

Mrs Shaw had played us Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and we were told to write a poem whilst she played it through a second and then a third time on an old 70’s record player. I’d closed my eyes and imagined when we listened the first time round, just like I had been told to do. It felt like I was alone with the music.

I had been transported to another place: the concrete steps leading down into ‘the warren’ at midnight.

I should explain. The ‘Warren’ is a place close to where I grew up in Southampton. It’s basically an overgrown valley between two districts on the outskirts of the town. And you didn’t go down there at night! We’d sometimes dare each other to go down the concrete steps that wound their way through the trees to the small concrete bridge below. Under the moonlight, you could just about see the bony hands of the monsters that reached out for your throat as you descended into the pit of hell that we called ‘the warren’. You never got very far before fear got the better of you. This was what I chose to write about.

My hard-earned blue handwriting pen soon became the conductor’s baton. Every cadence and every note played was in response to my craft. A colourless scene arrived on a damp little writing book and a poem was drafted, edited and written up ‘in best’ on ‘best’ A4 lined paper.

I experienced the way writing could make me feel in Mrs Shaw’s class that grey morning. I didn’t care that it might not be considered good or a Level 5 or a B grade or whatever. I just wanted to write.

The poem that I wrote was rubbish. I’m kidding, of course.

The poem was read out to the class by Mrs Shaw, the next day. She shared it with the head teacher, Mr Golding, and he read it out in assembly. It even got framed and hung on the wall outside his office where the small square of carpet was. You know.

I never looked at it again not even when it was hanging on that wall. When it was read out in class and in assembly, I didn’t recognise it as mine. If you showed it to me now, I wouldn’t know that those were my words – written on the fading A4 lined paper that was reserved for our best work. I don’t remember that verse and I wouldn’t care to read it now.

Today, the conductor’s baton is a keyboard and the music is an orchestra of light traffic and afternoon birdsong. It’s a grey day.

The front door opens and I thud back into the here and now. My family are back from their long walk with a now filthy dog and my tea has gone cold.

Thank you, Mrs Shaw. I hope that you read this. One day.

Now, where are those bourbon biscuits?

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