Browsing John Medd's blog earlier this morning, I had a small flashback. Not to one of my cherished Jam gigs, though they are fine flashbacks to have, but to an altogether gentler place - a small patch of grass in the centre of the vegetable garden near the chapel at my old school.
The garden was an oasis of calm in that hive of neuroses and nuns, and even more importantly was one of the few places where you could get perfect reception on your absolutely forbidden, tiny tinny transistor radio at around 1.00pm on a Tuesday when The Charts were broadcast. It was a shining badge of cool to be among the ones who'd heard the new Number One go out LIVE - hearing it third hand on the bus home at 4pm carried no cachet at all. And to be as I was - a possessor of the requisite radio PLUS unusually strong inclusion needs - meant a weekly dance with death as I plotted and planned my way past the sentinel Brides of Christ and bored lay teachers who littered the playground like landmines, to the sacred plot where I and a chosen friend, could hunker down and carry out our rebellious teenage duty.
On this one particularly warm day we found a cosy spot beneath the runner beans, where we stretched out side-by-side with the radio cradled between our Batiste-smelling heads (perpetual greasy hair was the curse of the average 14-year old in 1978, so copious application of dry shampoo was the only thing that stopped the sebum from running down our necks in hot weather. They don't know how lucky they are these days, with their good shampoo and 'product'.). Sheltered from all sight and pleasantly excited by the progress of the countdown, we began to dance on our backs, twitching gently at first and then gradually beginning to roll and thrash as though we were receiving either the Holy Spirit or a good dose of ECT. By the time John Miles 'Slow Down' came in like a bullet at number eight, we were in free-form interpretive frenzy, flailing our limbs and jerking as we screwed up our eyes and laughed hysterically at the pictures of ourselves we could see in our own heads. "Slow DOWN, Baby...."
It was when my head spasmed crazily to one side and my eyes opened for a second that I saw the unmistakable, strict black lace up shoe tapping slowly and with incredible menace a foot from my face. Such a shoe could only be cradling a foot that belonged to a nun, and the prominent bone on the skinny ankle confirmed my worst fears that we were being observed by Sister Ignatius Loyola, the pinched, yellowed sadist who had taken holy orders at the age of 14 and consequently held a lifetime grudge against non-ordained females of that very age. My friend was still in ecstatic oblivion and continued to lead us all in the dance (said she) for a good twenty seconds more, until she realised that I had been turned to stone beside her. Her reaction on opening her eyes was more extreme than mine, an exclamation of "Oh, JESUS", which provoked the chillingly calm comment from the nun of "I am afraid not, Gillian. But I AM here on his behalf."