Surf's up on the desk behind

24th January 2003 at 00:00
BRENDAN BARBER is the new leader of the TUC. This may not be earth shattering news, but, to me, it's relevant, because he sat behind me in school.

Until now, I'd thought of him, at admittedly highly infrequent intervals, as the tall, good looking guy, a junior golf champion, who got me into endless trouble in Latin and English lessons by his ability to reproduce, with piercing accuracy, the falsetto harmonies of West Coast bands the Association and the Beach Boys.

More than 30 years later, mention of declensions still conjures up lyrics from "Cherish is the word" or "Help me Rhonda". Reading old reports, my eventual success as an English teacher seems to have been based on dodgy ground, as it is clearly noted: "More attention to the set text and less to Barber's singing would have ensured a higher mark". Mr Blair, take note.

Brendan's appearance on the news over Christmas was a highlight. Whooping, I set off round the living room on a frantic lap of honour. I was deciding whether to pull my shirt over my head or slide along the shag pile on my knees, when the reaction of my loved ones intervened. Both of them were wearing that increasingly familiar look which hovers worryingly between contempt and concern.

"You're being embarrassing again," said 14-year-old son, with weary resignation.

"Well," I said, gesturing at the screen and trying not to sound too defensive, "look at him." It has to be said that the new union leader has the appearance of someone who has been well to the fore at negotiations when beer and sandwiches were on the agenda. However, they still looked puzzled.

I attempted to explain: "He looks like a 50-year-old man." Predictably, they chorused: "That's because he is a 50-year-old man." Then my son added, in a tone less sotto voce than I would have liked: "And so are you, Dad."

The point was, of course, that we tend to remember acquaintances as they were when we last saw them, and Brendan having aged just like the rest of us in the past 30 years was a small but welcome comfort.

Teachers are liable to remember generations of our pupils as forever young, which is a mixed blessing, as I discovered at church last week when the 40-year-old woman in the pew next to me pointed out that she had been a member of my first registration class.

So, this year's resolution is to cover the mirrors and keep on going, holding fast to the dictum that you're as young as you feel.

Ready now, Brendan? Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Barbara Ann . . .

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