It wasn't hip to be square

11th August 2000 at 01:00
In the third of our summer series on adolescence, teacher Ian Whitwham is plagued by his shorts memory.

THERE was no sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll in Chalfont St Peter in the 50s. Nor was there at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. Celibacy, Tizer and the Beverley Sisters ruled. This was the time of Shirley Abicair and her zither not Jerry Lee Lewis and his piano. That was for adolescents. I wasn't one.

I never nicked hubcaps off Cadillacs nor did I hang out in the diner with the Loose Grils. I never had the Snake-oil Quiff or did the Cool Jerk.

The only dancing I ever did was around a maypole at Mrs Jeeves's Church fete - in shorts. The only haircut on offer was the Puddin' Basin - not the Duck's Arse. For six old pennies the village barber would attack my head with the Whirring Slug. This caused me to look like Friar Tuck, not Eddie Cochrane. Nicking hubcaps off stationary Morris Minors of a Sunday didn't seem overly cool. And Tizer, while jolly tasty, did not induce alternate realities.

As for Grils, they didn't seem to happen. Marianne Faithfull was rumoured to attend Wycombe Abbey. My deviant chum BJ Rumble claimed a sighting of her in late '62. But she was banned - all Grils were.

Just to be on the safe side we were forced to wear cartoon uniforms made by Can't Get Laid Probably Won't Get Ever Get Laid. These were classic grammar school: cap perched on Puddin' Basin like a golf divot; sandals by Sensible Footwear and garrotting by Windsor Knot. And always the shorts - you try doing "Hound Dog" in a wardrobe mirror in shorts.

An alternative to this was the garb of the second Chalfont St Peter Boy Scouts. This was a camp parody of my academic gear: a purple beret was perched on the basin in the style of an effete French poseur; garrotting was by Woggle; and then, of course, there were more shorts.

Clad in this garb, we sometimes danced beneath the moon on Gold Hill Common while Mr Lofty the scoutmaster sang "Wimoweh". It certainly kept that Marianne Faithfull off.

This clobber would have condemned Johnny Depp to celibacy. Photos of this era are rare.

Grils entered this school once in my even years - for a dancing class. This wasn't pleasure - more an adjunct of PE, etiquette classes or Outward Bound. Grils were required as partners for the fox-trot or the waltz. You might end up marrying one. Thus were our raging hormones squashed. But not quite.

The deviant Rumble - where is he now? - had gone AWOL and caught adolescence. He was wearing leather and Brylcreem and mixing with the Loose Grils. He led me off during geography to Mecca, the rock 'n' roll shop. The assistants had blank, ill faces and Duck's Arse hairstyles, and records on the Chess label. "Great Balls of Fire" was an epiphany.

Julius Caesar, The Beverleys and Racine were all wasting their time. We were soon bunking off to Soho to Dobell's jazz record shop where the assistants wore shades. We were hip to Kerouac and Coltrane and Muddy Waters; we were smoking Gauloise, wearing Mamp; S Hush Puppies and Longs, and acting pretty damn weird - but not sleeping with Grils.

It took all my teenage years to reach adolescence. But now I'm a teacher, I'm surrounded by it. They're on Planet Teenage. Someone stole their childhoods and they're in thrall to the inner-city furies, in my face and in italics.

There's Dave Mania who is well irked: he's just come back from an anger management course and needs to hit something. Coursework modules have rather plagued him of late and he is pondering a break-out from the inclusion unit.

There's Ronald Crumlin, his face concave and cancelled. A sweet and decent boy, he's got the shakes.

Ingrid Shriek conducts a crazed brainstorm on oral sex while Cordelia Swansong, wan and gone, abandons herself to The Smashing Pumpkins. Meanwhile, Goran, fresh from a war zone, seeks some kind of asylum in this mayhem.

They've all been stricken with adolescence since they were about eight. You've seen them in those tender, nodding documentaries - two moves ahead of the interviewer.

But which is better? No adolescence or nothing but? Still Waters or the Screaming Abdabs? We had more larks; they get more grief. And they're cooler. No shorts, you see.

Next week: Kate Figes on running away from home.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today