Nothing in Particular

me you big red fire engine

This is simply a flimsy excuse to include a picture of a stuffed fire engine.

Definitely no hidden secrets here!

… did you click to come here anyway?!

I can’t imagine why. It was clearly labelled as an empty page of nothing. It’s completely pointless.

But since – for some inexplicable reason – you’ve apparently decided to come and explore a page that you were warned was empty, I suppose I ought to make it worth your while.

Let’s have a story.

My family have an ancient legend.

Well, “ancient” might be overstating things a little. The legend stretches back only as far as the shadowy, obscure mid-1990s. Like most of the 90s, nowadays its main function is to be a tiny factory of embarrassment and shame whenever it is mentioned.

As anybody who knows me can witness, there’s no shortage of awkward episodes from my life. But usually it’s me who chooses to bring them up, so this particular story stands out by being more often related by the rest of my family.

Until now. I’m taking this story back, and telling it for myself.

Back in the last millennium, I regularly attended Saturday morning band practice. Where – because I was the coolest of the cool – I played the tuba.

This presented some problems. It’s fair to say I was more academic than sporty, so my coolness level wasn’t high to begin with. And adding ‘tuba player’ to my limited social credentials didn’t especially help. This meant spending years furtively smuggling a gigantic brass instrument (at the time I first took it up it was nearly the same size as me) around school.

Worse than all the tuba-sneaking was losing my Saturday mornings to band practice. By my late teens I didn’t actually mind this too much: the payoff of all the parties, coach trips and tours made a few hours of sleepy tuba-blowing worth it.

But at the age of thirteen those parties were still years away, and I didn’t always greet the prospect of a tuba-filled Saturday morning with energetic enthusiasm.

Therefore, on one particular autumnal day, after being dropped off at practice, I didn’t resist my friends’ suggestion that we skip it and walk to the shops instead.

Skipping school! Rebellion!

It had never occurred to me to skip school properly, during the regular school week.

Growing up reading the Beano meant my head was filled with comic-book images of policemen chasing truants back to school in disgrace. I imagined this was how the police spent most of their time: ensuring no young miscreants were out on the streets without full and proper authorisation.

I didn’t want to go to prison.

But skipping Saturday morning band practice… this was a new and exciting idea! Maybe there was some rule or other against it, but it certainly wasn’t against the law. MI5 were unlikely to swoop down and take me to Teenage Guantanamo for missing an orchestra rehearsal.

So, filled with enterprising fantasy and anticipating a day of thrills, away we went for our very own Ferris Bueller day out.

Of course, there was a sizeable flaw in our plan. You may have already spotted it. When Ferris Bueller skipped school he never had to carry a tuba with him all day.

Our plan was to head for the nearest sweetshop, which is around a ten minute walk…

if you’re not encumbered by a ginormous brass instrument. If you are, I can tell you from painful experience that it takes about forty minutes. Which felt like forty hours.

There are two major consequences to carrying a heavy object with a thin handle for an extended period of time: aching arms, and lots of blisters.

(there is a third consequence too: an increasing sense of shame as it dawns on you that you’ve somehow committed yourself to a very silly idea indeed)

Eventually we reached the shop, which was supposed to be only the first of many possible adventures. But our glacial pace and my increasingly vocal complaints meant that even my friends were beginning to reassess the excitement we could possibly manage to attain in the rest of the morning.

(They had had the foresight to take up sensibly sized instruments that could be easily carried in one hand, and I cursed them for it with every step.)

After reconsidering, we decided to head back to practice with only a bag of sweets to show for our travails. A bag of sweets that – with hindsight – we could have bought during the break at band practice, without the need to waste the morning painfully damaging my hands to nobody’s gain.

As we struggled back the way we came – my resentment growing at each step towards my friends, their compact instruments, this stupid idea, and the world in general – we spotted our parents driving down the street. They’d been informed we never showed up and were out searching for us.

Teenage Guantanamo beckoned.

Visions of much shouting inspiring us, we somehow managed to fit three youths, a tuba, a French horn and a euphonium behind a single tree as they went past.

Once more I picked up the accursed tuba, the abrasive weight agonising on my already-blistering hands, and we resumed the shameful trek back to practice.

The reaction of the adults – parents and teachers alike – once we arrived wasn’t anger, or even worry at where we’d got to.

It was, quite rightly, mockery at our foolishness.

The consequences of our ‘rebellious adventure’ were only ninety minutes of arduous struggle up and down a single suburban road. Plus the aching muscles, blisters on my hands… and decades of ridicule.

This is my story. I skipped school while carrying a tuba. It was terrible.

Stay in school, kids.