Smoking Sherbet Dips

Just a usual day at the office. Our columnist has one of his school days flashbacks, and we’re on the phone to the lawyers… again

Illustration: Sean Coen

It was as Mr Clebb gaffer taped electrodes to the hippo’s nipples that I realised I wasn’t learning as much from music lessons as I’d hoped. The comprehensive school I attended was mostly normal: teachers in pastry-crumbed sweaters, skinhead scallies smoking sherbet dips behind the bike sheds, and that boarded-off room next to the science lab that sometimes oozed purple smoke.

Mr Clebb’s music classes were in North Block, an annex of the school built from Sellotape and asbestos. He was a total space cadet, a constant diet of hash cakes and Fairy Liquid numbed any pain from the compasses we javelined into the back of his head.

Clebb was into “alternative” education: the syllabus was as alien to him as, well, the room that oozed purple smoke. I shouldn’t have mentioned that room, it’s not the point of this column. Ignore the room. Forget I mentioned the boarded-off room next to the science lab with the purple smoke and the muffled screaming.

Back to Clebb.

Instead of learning about staves and octaves, he spent the first term teaching us how to build a theremin from distressed cats, miming the entirety of his Timmy Mallett ballet, and performing his pongy signature piece ‘Orchestral Manure In The Dark’. Clebb fought the system by attempting an instrument pyre, but he just ended up with a four-foot stack of trumpets gleaming with lighter fluid. He would have known brass wasn’t combustible, but like the rest of us, he lacked the nerve to go anywhere near the science labs.

You’re thinking about that room again, aren’t you? Look, the purple smoke, the screaming, the dark mammalian shadows that seeped from the gap under the door, all that is a distraction. I’ll edit this bit out at the end. Don’t let me forget.

In Clebb’s last days before his dismissal, we assumed his occasional cries of “armadillo harp!” or “badger horn!” were some kind of Tourette’s. Turns out he was percolating ideas. It was a Thursday afternoon. He’d stolen a hippopotamus from the zoo. How he suspended it from that pulley system, I have absolutely no – wait.

You’re still thinking about the purple smoke room, aren’t you? Look. You’re fixating on the wrong thing. This is pointless. You’ll get the rest of the story when you’ve finished pondering on the room, the smoke, the shadows, the screaming, the horror, the horror…

And THAT is why I’m a magazine columnist and not a successful musician. Thanks for nothing, Mr Clebb.

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