Across the Universe

I have always been prone to what are known as ‘practical jokes’. There’s something in me that simply isn’t satisfied with reality as it exists on an everyday level. I want something more. I want something weirder and more outstanding. One of my early efforts was in Mrs Plant’s class at Wellgate Junior and Infant School. This was the first year. We had a lesson where each table was given an occupation – fireman, policeman, ambulance driver (this was the days before paramedics when the guy behind the wheel of the ambulance knew less about first aid than I did, aged five), soldier and so on, and had to do a drawing of the person carrying out their job. I was sat with two lads called Wayne. We were given ‘Bin man’. We each started off drawing the man himself – a jolly figure in an orange boiler suit clutching a plastic bin liner filled with cat shit and BSE-riddled meat. But smiling. And as I looked at one of the Wayne’s sheets the idea struck me. Now the moment of inspiration just appears, I can’t define it. It is a glorious instant when all the world feels to slide into place. Goethe said: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’


Well, in that moment of magic I said something along the lines of: ‘Lads, we have the least glamorous of all the jobs given. Look at Lee over there with doctor. He’s sawing someone’s leg off to save their life. Even the mucky kid with the dodgy eye who never speaks is beavering away on a picture of someone building a house. We can’t compete with that sort of action by just having our fella pick up the bin and tip it into the back of the wagon, can we? Who’s going to think anything about that? We have to work harder. We have to show the bin man doing the job when it is at its worst.’ ‘How can we do that?’ the Waynes queried, looking at their neatly executed drawings. They could see where I was coming from, they could see that we had a problem on our hands. They looked worried. ‘We have to show him collecting the rubbish in really bad weather,’ says I. ‘Like, say, in a thunderstorm.’ So taking – this is an important bit – a blue crayon I went crazy with the sky on my own drawing. Huge, messy scrawls and jagged thunderbolts. ‘This is just to give an idea, you understand?  Can you see where I’m coming from, lads? I’m going to use black when I do it for real.’ The Waynes caught on. This was a cracking idea. This would elevate the humble bin man into a figure of towering heroism. ‘Use the black,’ I coached, ‘show him doing the job during a really bad storm.’ The Wayne’s took the ball and ran with it. They went absolutely wild with those crayons. They blitzed it. After a couple of minutes mad scribbling each of their bin men – still smiling – was surrounded by the apocalypse in black and grey. They added in lurid orange and bright yellow – lightening – the bin man was out doing his rounds with Hiroshima going off behind him. By the time they’d done you could barely make the poor bugger out amongst the debris of civilization disintegrating around him. He was collecting the bins on the day after tomorrow.


Off the Waynes went to stand in line for marking, each with a cocky smile, confident that they were going to spank the arse of those kids who had only drawn soldiers coming under enemy fire and firemen dragging people from burning buildings. They’d struck a new chord – the bin man was society’s unsung hero.


I finished mine off and joined them a few places back. As I got to into the queue, the first of the Wayne’s made it to Mrs Plant’s desk. ‘What on earth is this?!’ I heard her exclaim. Wayne #1 stammered a reply. ‘Showing him doing the job in the worst weather, miss.’ ‘This is a mess! This is a disgrace!’ an angry, outraged tone emerging, ‘And you’ve spent all lesson making this rubbish?!’ You could tell by Mrs Plant’s voice that she thought Wayne #1 was trying to have her pants down. Wayne #2 was a bit further back in line from #1 and I could see the nervous look descend on his face as Wayne #1 slumped tearfully back to the table. Wayne #2 casting worried glances at his drawing of the bin collection in Nagasaki. You could tell he wanted to run, to rip it up and start again, in the words of Edwin Collins. But there was nothing he could do other than slowly shuffle towards his doom. Which he did. ‘Not another one from that table?!’ Mrs Plant screamed. To turn from a lovely picture of a nurse fitting a catheter to an old man by a quiet girl called Janet, to THIS!


The bollocking was lethal. She ripped him a new arsehole. He probably still wakes up sweating about it now, all these years later. Off Wayne #2 shambled, an accusing look at me. Would could I do? I shrugged. You could see he was comforting himself by the fact that I was up next and my turn was bound to be the worst of the three. Mrs Plant had built herself up into a fury by this point and she was going to flay me alive at least.


So I hands over my drawing. In which I had diligently and carefully coloured the remainder of my sky in a glorious, summery shade of blue. And put a big yellow sun in the corner, complete with radiating sun beams. ‘At last,’ says Mrs Plant, a smile cracking on her erstwhile gloomy face, ‘a good, sensible drawing from that table. Well done. Gold Star.’ Thank you, miss.


The daggers look I got as I approached my desk just added the final touch. Absolutely hilarious. How I didn’t wet myself, I don’t know.


And so it began.


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