Sunday, September 03, 2006

Another very charming essay by Andrew O'Hagan

at the Observer Sport Monthly:

My mother must have known I was trouble when I asked for a poster of Margot Fonteyn for my side of the bedroom. (I fancy she was secretly delighted: all is fair in love and perversity.) I don't remember the exact moment I realised I wouldn't be Kenny Dalglish, but I know it coincided with the realisation that I might be Mikhail Baryshnikov instead. Put it down to daddy-baiting or one of the other domestic arts, but I got a lot of pre-teen pleasure out of watching my parents suffer at the idea that I might be the only male pupil at the Jacqueline Thompson School of Dance. I joined the class and attended them with ceaseless application. Perhaps I wanted the very opposite of football - well, I got that, and a place for a year or two at the Scottish Ballet school, but I also got the reverse of the typical football hero's admiring glances. I can't have been very normal, for I liked those as well.

But my father wasn't giving up without a fight and everything came to a head at Christmas 1978. The Smurfs appeared for the first time, songs from Grease were in the charts, Jim Callaghan's government was on its last legs and Elizabeth Watt, the girl at number 27, had just announced she was joining the majorettes. My father seemed to spend a lot of time in the car park at the head of our square and there, from the seat of his green Corsair, he must have seen me eyeing up Elizabeth's twirling silver baton. When my mother told him of my wish-list for Santa, he was having none of it.

And so it was that on Christmas morning my brothers and I woke up in the usual state of consumer delirium, groping above our heads for the fat orange at the bottom of the football sock/stocking, knowing it was time for The Presents. We tumbled out of our beds, ran along the hall and landed in a jumbled heap at the bottom of the stairs, only to jump up immediately and head for the living room, where it was traditional for each of us to have a separate chair on which our Christmas presents were laid out.

I can see it now - the four chairs, each bedecked with a new Celtic strip and a pair of brand new boots sitting on top. We also had socks, a football each, and a Christmas annual about the recent exploits of the Bhoys. My brothers, crazed with joy, wasted no time in stripping off their pyjamas and pulling on their shorts. But I stood there like Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette, weeping into the middle distance as if confronted with a strange vision in the grotto. My vision was anything but ecstatic: failing the longed-for silver baton, I had wanted a soap-making set, a desk and chair and a jumbo writing pad from Woolworths. With my father seething in his armchair, my softer-hearted mother promised to get the other things for me as soon as the shops opened. And then she reached down behind the sofa and lifted out a secretly purchased Post Office set. My tears dried instantly. My father poured himself a drink. He took a deep breath - and didn't breathe out again until I had my first girlfriend.

The soap-making set is a rather adorable detail....

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