Elegy on the sad death of pleasure

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
I'm with the 12th year under a plum tree. Grass sparkles, birds chirp and blossoms dance. My little aesthetes huddle reverently in shades. Pale youths with floppy locks and slim volumes. We're in the garden of the poet Keats. We're having a Keats day.

The 12th year used to be the best of times. An intellectual gap year. You could get some proper education in. It was the lower sixth in my day. We had Mr "Min" Hills for English. He let us loose over any literature. We discovered the Beat poets and Kerouac.

We were drawn to anything French, sexy and incomprehensible. We wore shades and Hush Puppies and existential hats. And talked bilge. We met in cellars and wrote verse with no punctuation and wide margins. Utter balls. Mr Hills didn't judge us. He was patient.

I tried to emulate Min - for years. To promote passion and pleasure. "But you can't measure pleasure," says Mr Killjoy. "We must examine the blighters! We must have AS exams. We must have modules."

Well, we've fled for more important things - under this plum tree. Ned tweaks a guitar, and shakes those KeatsDoherty locks. Teodora searches for the nightingale she read about in Bulgaria.

"The very tree!" I drone, waving at a pigeon. "The very plot!", pointing at a bit of lawn. "The very spot! He wrote the nightingale ode just there!"

Lily and Josh are quite awed. Rhapsody unfurls her slim volume - and recites a verse like a prayer. Teodora takes a photo of a pigeon.

We then saunter through lustrous grass and fading bluebells to Hampstead Heath. We picnic under dappled boughs. We sip cranberry juice and pretend it's wine. Ned plucks morbid ditties. Teodora recites some Bulgarian verse.

We discuss Negative Capability and Beauty and Truth. Rhapsody and Seth lurch off for a Keatsian dip in a pond. If you can't do this kind of thing at 17, when can you do it?

We are probably precious poseurs. Foppish clots. Thank heavens Dave Mania's not here. He would set his dogs on us - and any bleedin' nightingales.

And so might the examiners. "Come in Year 12 - your number's up. Time for testing." Evening falls. Our lovely day must end. It's back to school and back to that curriculum.

"Philosophy will clip an angel's wings!" said Keats. So will Mr Killjoy with his assessment objectives.

He'll have us by those modules.

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