Talent – B Side: Must Try Harder

The window is far left, second from the top

There’s a window I think of when I hear the Beastie Boys ‘Brass Monkey’ or ‘Paul Revere’.

It’s a window that exists today, but really it lives in 1986 and 1987.

The building that houses the window is impressive. The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School “Old Building”. It was old, because across the road was the New Building. You spent the first three years of school in the Old Building. Then the last two – or four, if you went on to sixth form, in the New Building. I only made it to the fifth year before they turned me out.

The Old Building has history. It had scuffed up, concrete stairs. There were wooden tables we’d use to play impromptu table tennis games – long before it was hip in the bars of Berlin. It had the smell of misery and utter contempt. I spent far too long in that building if you include the detentions – both after school and on a Saturday.

But hey, that window. The window that my chair backed onto when I was in Class 1V.

We had a class system based on the initials of the school. C was for the brainiacs. The bright kids on a pathway to Oxbridge. In V you had hope – a future. Russell Group or a high achieving Poly was your target. I missed my target.

M was for the ‘average’ kids, who could one day be bumped up to V if they did OK in the year one exams. Some did. Some didn’t. There wasn’t space for everyone in Hope City.

S. Shit. If you were in S, the next five years would mean that you were pretty much given up on; ignored. Until GCSEs rolled around. Then you were put in for a C grade paper, with the intention that you wouldn’t be put off by the challenge of questions worthy of an A or a B. You were a stat, on a league table. Nothing more. They merged the M and S classes in the second year. But you were still an S kid. That’s how the teachers saw you.

That window though. That’s where I sat, looking out onto the Holland Park street below. Avoiding the questions, the accusations, the threatening glares. Of teachers who expected more.

I just wanted to listen to the Beastie Boys. To play the tape in my bag. The vinyl under my stereo at home. With that plane on the cover, stubbed out like a cigarette. It’s the new style. I was 11, going on 12. Growing up me. I loved that album. It was everything to me outside of that class room. Behind the window I still think about.

Four and three and two and one. School was very rarely fun. But I had the Beastie Boys. There was a life outside of that window. A world where I could tear off my school tie. Stuff away my blazer. Put on my Walkman and lose myself. Until I had to find a better, more elaborate excuse as to why I would be late in the morning.


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