Cat hangs out with Dr Jazz

17th February 2006 at 00:00
I'm walking down the corridor in 1977. "'Ere, Wigwam, you free?" A cherub visage peers out of a door. Mr Hawes. Deputy head. And boogie-woogie pianist. I'd recently expressed an interest in jazz.


"Come 'ere, then!" Is this the sack?

"You're in for some real education!"

He pours me a coffee. An Irish one. A Jameson coffee. He locks the door.

"Bleedin' kids. Had it with the bloody nutters! Right! Jazz." He gets out a box of vinyl and a Dansette. A sound like fried eggs is followed by a gorgeous racket. Mr Jelly Roll Morton tinkles the ivories. Mr Hawes is in a trance. Next up is Bessie Smith. She needs "a pigfoot and a bottle of beer!" Not a song for the seventh-year assembly. "The great Bessie!" He scats along and nods to every nuance.

"Yeah! Yeah! Alright! Bugger education, eh?"

"Erm..." I'm a fledgling teacher. I'm meant to be rather keen on the idea.

The dizzy coffee kicks in. Sidney Bechet rings out. The deputy has epiphanies. Knock! Knock! "Ssh! Ssh!" Knock! Knock! "Blast!" Door unlocked.

It's Charles Mania - later to spawn the dread Dave. He's set fire to his head in Resistant Materials. He must be disciplined.

"Sit down and shut it!" says Mr Hawes. "Or you'll regret your birth!" He winks at me. He has never been on board with the ILEA Correctness programme. We proceed to Frankie Half Pint Jaxon and the Harlem Hamfats. He informs little Charlie of this. Charlie is more of a Sex Pistols man.

The bell goes. Charlie, too. "Free next week?" I nod. "Billie Holiday!" I return to the happy shambles of the English department. The next lesson is a breeze.

Scandalous. Unprofessional. Incorrect. No matter. That was 1977! Now we're professional. Correct. And stressed. Free periods don't exist for my younger chums. They must sit mute at hot desks and gaze at screens and have blue-sky thoughts or hatch action plans and mission statements or measure Pandas Cats Sats Bats or Midyis scores, or puzzle over psychotic phonics, or Janet and John, or meet targets, or consultants or school inspectors - until they blaspheme and seek out Ms Limpet the Freudian for some counselling. I had Mr Hawes. Doctor Jazz. Perfect stress management.

So many of my chums become pallid bullied drones. They can conk out after five years. They need more relaxation. Real free periods. Less Ruth Kelly and more Billie Holiday.

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