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Monday, December 20, 2004

'I heard it was because a man called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry' (Leave those kids alone: III) 

Okay, this is getting on to being slightly out of date but it's definitely an anecdote worth sharing. The clock winds back to the middle of November, specifically the week prior to Children in Need, and the action starts with me being asked to participate in the school's annual contribution to the charity. Keen as ever to be viewed as a team player - and thereby gain a good report - I accepted this rather dubious of invitations without asking what would be involved. Normally public humiliation is something I go in for in a big way, hence, I suppose, bloggage, but for public humiliation centering on Staff Karaoke, I'd usually prefer a bit more preparation time - get myself all good and ready to really humiliate myself, like. Being in the main a curious bunch, the teacher asked me if I had any ideas off the top of my head. I told them that perhaps I'd go as Nelly. Some of the younger ones sniggered at this. Did they perhaps, I asked, think that I as a skinny white boy couldn't cut it in the emulation of a large black man? Apparently they did. Hmmm, if I'm unable to get even the most tepid of support from staff, then what chance did I have of carrying it off in front of an audience of half the school; answer: very little. So I pondered who to go as, and what song to do on the way home. Sitting on the bus I assessed my theatrical abilities: can't sing, can't dance, can swear a bit. Sensing that it would be a good idea to exclude it from even the smallest of considerations, I left 'can do public nudity' off the list. Regular readers will understand that, as the living embodiment of the post-Scream-everything's-a-reference world, I started mental lists of the historical and the musical. Neatly fusing the Higher History syllabus and current rock trends, I resolved to go on stage the next week as the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and perform U2's Miss Sarajevo. I was inordinately pleased with myself until I realised that, in the time available, the chances of being able to gather the elements of suitable costume were practically nill. I consoled myself by embracing the public nudity option for quite some time but I restarted the process to go as someone I'd like to go as. Perhaps I was looking at it from the wrong side of things: which songs are good songs to do for an audience? ACDC's Whole Lotta Rosie with it's '38-42-56, you can say she's got it all' chorus wandered through my brain, but I sadly put this to one side, not wishing to have to do a lesson before the performance to explain to my tracksuit-wearing children who ACDC actually are. In the end I just decided to go as plain old Franz Ferdinand, reasoning that if would take minimal effort and that, in a certain light*, I suppose I could just about pass myself off as a reasonable immitation of Alex Kapranos, the band's lead singer. Lighten my hair slightly, a bit of make-up, camp it up outrageously for the crowd and Bob's your aunty. Piece of piss in other words.

Staff Karaoke is great fun. If you're a kid getting to laugh at your teachers for charity. If you're one of it's victims - sorry, forgot the party line there, willing participants - you have to embrace it, consume it, become it if you're to survive, never mind triumph. I was luckier than most taking part for the simple reason that after the end of this term, I don't ever need to go back to that school - my standing at the school was in no way at risk. Somewhere in the black beating pit of my soul I am a natural showman, and in the right circumstances - generally between the hours of 9am and 3.30pm - I love being the centre of attention. It's probably an overcompensation for my shy and retiring teenage years. Couple this with the upswing of my manic lifestyle and Staff Karaoke is something of a minor broblem at worst. We all had a rehersal on the night before the CiN festivities, which went well, with Friday being the main event.

I got up that morning and dressed mostly in black, and put a white tie and all the necessary make-up in my rucksack. As it was bitterly cold I arrived at work looking rather like a Gore-tex swaddled Johhny Cash and we all had a pretty relaxed morning with not much in the way of meaningful work achieved as the kids were toddling between various fund raising activities; the Home Economics department was doing a roaring trade in cakes, savouries and sweets made from fairly traded ingredients -a massive plus as far as I'm concerned - and more musical events involving the kids. A kind of mini-X-Factor was a bit of a hit and proved, surprisingly that has a good singing voice and is an expert guitarist, and then it was time for us to go and prepare ourselves for the main event. I emerged from the staff toilets - what luxury: acres of marble floors and raw silk toilet paper - in dire need of assistance with my eye make-up. having sucessfully lightened my hair to the desired shade with the skillful application of chalk dust, I rather took the sheen off this victory by stabbing myself in the eye with and eye-lining pencil. And I thought I was dangerous enough with a razor. Blinking through my tears I realised that I wasn't actually looking at Kim Wilde, but one of the art teachers doing an impressive imitation. I told her that if she stabbed the entire audience in the eye, then she'd stand an excellent chance of winning on presentation alone. She looked like she was going to stab me instead, but rather kindly offered to sort out my make-up for me instead. So she starts drawing on my face - at the time I suspected her of writing 'cunt' on my forehead - only to be called back into the ladies' to assist one of her colleagues. I suspect that they were doing something arcane with bra straps; they always are. But I digress. I looked at my watch; time was running out. 'You're just keeping me hanging on out here,' I shouted. 'It's almost time - we'll be on stage in a minute.' The door shoots open and Kim stalks out closely followed by Emma Bunton and the head of the music department, henceforth referred to here as Shirley Bassey. Kim takes the eyeliner and resumes the task at hand. She now adds 'shitstabber' to the litany of curse words on my forehead. 'You're always making jokes like that,' she says, 'you think you're really funny, don't you?' I tried, honestly I really did, but I just can't help myself. 'Funny how? Like a clown? Do I amuse you?' From the way they blankly look at me, I deduce that neither are Martin Scorsese fans. Thankfully George Harrison, the only hippy P.E teacher that I've ever encountered, apparently is and he laughs, saving me from possible consignement to a straitjacket. One of the sixth-years running the show summons us to the wings of the stage: it's nearly time. We've been given no indication as to which order we've to appear on stage. We wait. Although we look calm enough, I've done this sort of thing enough time before to know that, in our own private ways, we're shitting ourselves. Reverting to type, I seek comfort in Emma Bunton's cleavage. This is a mistake, as it's only after I've been shoved out onto the stage that I realise that they've selected me to go first. I'm this close to telling the little fuckers that they had better pray that I don't come back post-Christmas, when I realise that I'm not Allan anymore, but Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Mercury Prize-winners Franz Ferdinand and I am here to put on a show. Opening the Camp valves to full and selecting Maximum Cheese, I strut to the mic stand. They all seem taken aback, or perhaps just defeaned, when I yell 'hello____! How're you doin' tonight?' It's 2.30pm, it's full daylight and I have neither cigarettes, fuel, sunglasses nor a car. Hit it!

The music starts to play at maximum volume, FF's Take Me Out threatening to take the windows out and I start to sing. And dance. As no one runs shreiking from the room, I class this as a good start. As the song lends itself well to call-and-response choruses, that's what I do and the kids get into it as well, well hyped-up by the time I stagger into the wings passing Jake and Elwood Blues - by day the head of the Modern Languages Department and a Chemistry teacher - going the other way. They're fantastic, and even though I doubt that any but a select few will have actually seen the Blues Brothers, the kids seem to love it; maybe it was the whip they brought for Rawhide, I dunno. Shirley Bassey follows this duo and does live versions of several Bond numbers with a piano accompaniment. Baby Spice is up next and gives a good showing, but Kim Wilde is up next and she just blows them all away: she is Kim Wilde o Top of the Pops in the 1980s. Only George Harrison is left. He goes onstage with a beautiful semi-acoustic guitar and does While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This is good, but My Sweet Lord is even better and he has the crowd in the palm of his hand. I peek out and see lighters raised above heads.

The IT Department have created an electronic voting system - be assured, Scots readers, that your taxes are well spent - and it's coupled with a massive digital projector/screen combo and we're all called onstage to get the results. Jake and Elwood come third, Kim Wilde is second and the mighty George gets a well-deserved first place. The real winers, however, are all the children that will benefit from the £2500 that the school raised. The students eventually drift off home and we staff head off to the pub for stiff drinks to steady our nerves. On the way I discover that every year for the last five, Kim and George have been locked in a battle for victory in the Staff Karaoke match. I also learn that they all spend the best part of the intervening year creating costumes and practising, practising practising. I feel much better about my relatively poor showing. Losing, however, always has its upsides, namely that it is the winner who buys the drinks. As the drinks arrive, I reflect that it's been eight years to the day since a friend died in a car accident, and the countless thousands of pounds that his family have raised to honour his memory.

'Here's to you, pal.'


*i.e complete darkness