dark am i, yet lovely, a lily among thorns, majestic as stars in procession

dark am i, yet lovely, a lily among thorns, majestic as stars in procession

Friday, 12 February 2010

CLARENCE (my friend)

When my good buddy Clarence was a teenager, he developed a crush on his Maths teacher. He flunked every other G.C.S.E apart from Maths, in which he managed an A-grade, and four other subjects, in which he was satisfied with C-grades. He stayed on in Sixth Form just so he’d be able to remain in contact with her. That was his one singular reason for further education! A hard knock with a rep, nobody could believe big Clarence was now a college boy while most of us had the whole of the day to start drinking and smoking.

He had no clothes, though……and no more school uniform meant fashion heaped pressure on everyone. Clarence’s family, however (sigh along now……) were very poor. He came to class in baggy cast-offs donated by his older cousin with only a pouch of Golden Virginia in his back burner, and a box of Swan matches. He hardy bothered with the other A-Level subjects, never so much as popping his head into General Studies. It was all about Her lessons, where he was first in and last out (although he did sneak into the Art Department from time to time to nick charcoal pencils).

The pictures he drew were disturbing, to be frank. I’m at a loss as to how the other teachers refrained from pulling them down; by a miracle, just perhaps, She saw them and liked their boldness upon the magnolia common room walls? Just perhaps? The scenes always depicted two lone figures, male and female, the man holding onto the woman in the pathway of an advancing legion of spectres, ghouls, monsters and beasts. Nobody batted an eyelid when he was present, apart from me. I told him they were too two-dimensional, lacking depth. I told him they needed colour. Felt, or crayon......anything would do.

He was never out of the Computer Room, bashing away at the keys which made a jolly change from his typewriter, but it wasn’t theological essays he was typing (he completed those at home with a calligraphy set). It turned out he was writing a book. We used to browse Borders after school to check out the tag lines on the covers of Point Horror teenage books. They must have inspired him. They inspired me.

Anyhow, what I forgot to mention is the fact that Clarence was arriving at college every morning in a secure ambulance and leaving every afternoon the same way. He’d had an acute “psychotic reaction” to speed during the summer break and gotten himself detained in a madhouse. His bedroom, I recall, before his admission, was like a shrine to Her, his fav teacher, its altar a Polaroid of him and Her together on the last day of school, glued on his cabinet mirror. I seem to remember him oddly tippexing-out his face from all other photographs in his mum’s treasured biscuit tin of family memories (tut-tut-tut). There were endless short poems too, like poison pen letters from newspaper cut outs, sellotaped every which way but loose.

I was there when he went mad with the lump hammer and destroyed his house from top to bottom. He avoided jail, after his psychiatric assessment, but didn’t finish college and ended up hostel-hopping down south. A jabbering gollywog, as he calls himself (try as I might, that expression will never fail to hit a comic nerve).

This was thirteen or so years ago, and I’ve only seen him once since all that business. I received a letter from him last month after we connected on Twitter. He completed that book he was writing back in the Computer Room, start to finish, all handwritten, on a nutty ward with wildly-bearded cardigan-wearing maniacs, but he left behind the manuscript during his homeless ramblings, optioning to carry his portable television instead. Gone forever.

A decade on, he finds one single chapter sandwiched down the back of his National Record of Achievement, the only thing he’s managed to keep a hold of after all these years. The book was entitled CLOSER TOGETHER THAN EVER, and I will be helping co-rewrite the only chapter that remains (by his request) as a story called Stolen Escort in the upcoming 50% RUDE.

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