Mr Fordham would sit at the front of the English classroom and his desk and peer at us from behind it. He was a friendly and camp giant. I didn’t mind him, he remembered my name and would use it, a sure sign that he knew who I was and that was my way of testing whether or not I liked my teachers. My English exercise book was a complete mess; I dislike the word graffiti because that suggests that I was drawing on a public space and my English exercise book was not a Right of Way. It was disgusting though, with love hearts, peace symbols and crush names in codes. Even worse, on the first day of GCSE English in year 10, I joked that the title on the board was not in fact a autobiographical piece called ‘Me, Myself and I’ but was another biographical piece on Jim Carey entitled ‘Me, Myself and Irene.’ My best friend, C, at the time trusted me enough not to look at the board and took the lesson from me. The first page of term, where every student takes the vow to make it neat, had been ruined on the first line. C ensured I made the same mistake as her, and since I was laughing so hard at her gullibility, I made no pleas for her to stop. Even then it was obvious I was going to be a ‘teacher.’
The back page of my English book was as untidy as the first. I would write a list of CDs that I wanted to buy that weekend. Meadowhall or Sheffield had become my weekend saviour and I was just about to turn 15. I would tick off the CDs I had bought and add to the list just as quick. I wanted to listen to everything. I was interested in any suggestion that could build upon my love for Oasis and James, especially since it was before James had got back together.
I liked English. It was the only time in the week that I had a lesson with different types of students. There were geeks, popular kids, Goths and the weird ones that like picking their nose. I don’t know where I fit in, but I definitely didn’t indulge in exploring my nostrils. I wore battered converse before they became the fashion again and wouldn’t leave the house without a casio on my wrist. I loved school, but I wasn’t allowed to do Art. It was during the time when I actually listened to my Mum and she thought Business Studies was a viable option, thwarting any creativity that I might inhibit. I remember seeing one student, who did study art, come into English with a brand new GCSE folder for his coursework. He lined the sides with the cover of Meat is Murder by the Smiths. I had heard of the Smiths whilst trawling through music but never bought their music because there was always a bargain to be had on other compact discs. It is no coincidence that the Smiths made it to my to-buy list at the back of my English book, nor that I spent my weekly paper round earnings on Meat is Murder that weekend.
I would try and listen to music in every lesson, to and from school, at home and whilst falling to sleep. The Smiths became my soundtrack to a lonely existence within music because none of my friends enjoyed what I liked. Nowadays, I tend to magnetise towards people who listen to what I do; in school it was different, you could argue it was both easier and harder to just accept getting on with who made me laugh.
English is my theme with The Smiths. We began reading our GCSE Poetry Anthology around this time. I came across Simon Armitage and I felt choked. Nobody in Rotherham read poetry in their spare time, not like his pieces of work anyway and limericks do not count. I had always borrowed books of prose and poetry from the library since I was old enough to venture there alone. Simon spoke a language that was appealing to me at a time when I was falling in love with Morrissey’s prose. I would read my English book at home and play tapes that I had made consisting of Manchester Music from the radio. Mp3 players had just been released and I was stuck in the decade before, my heart in no hurry to catch up and my cello-tape reel full ready for rewriting tapes. My English book became littered with questions about music and Simon in the margin. I began not to hand my book in for marking scared that angry notes would be made my by teacher but Mr Fordham never questioned me why. He naively trusted me when I said I had taken it home to make more notes.
The most re-occuring question on most pages was ‘Does Simon like the Smiths?’
We were fortunate enough to see Simon at City Hall, Sheffield. Mr Fordham was stressing the whole time mainly because it was the whole GCSE cohort that was there and some of the bunch were a troublesome lot. I was angry for most of the time, reclining in my red velvet seat, scowling as I disliked Carol Ann Duffy and felt that she couldn’t be further from our working class hearts. We had studied her alongside Simon and we had to listen to her pretentious drones, she was on the syllabus and if I was to pass I had to lump it. I didn’t like it. This was before she became Poet Laureate, and even prior to that she smelt funny – Essence of Twat. Minutes before Simon was due to come on the stage, I was anxious because people were still talking to me when I didn’t want to move my concentration from the stage. When I heard Simon’s Northern voice, my arms pimpled with goosebumps. I felt like he was someone who had escaped the life like I had, from his stories from Kid. He was a somebody; all I wanted was to be in his presence and have him explain to me how life would be alright. I trusted him.
I got an A in English Literature at GCSE. Now the only legacy that has is that I still read books. My record player is next to my bookshelf in my flat, in Manchester. I escaped from Rotherham and that makes me proud. The needle on my player devours Original Rough Trade 45s Smiths, all with picture sleeves; it sounds beautiful. My Mum threw out my mix tapes when I left for university, but I bet that reel of cello-tape is still in the house somewhere. Even so, it doesn’t stop me reading one of Simon’s many books I own from the shelf in the armchair. Sometimes I stop and wonder:
‘Does Simon like the Smiths?’