A Kraken (of sorts) Awakes
Shortly after being thoroughly insulted, we were ‘marched’ for the first time. Now – this is awkward – before I move on, please understand that I am a reasonably coordinated person. I can drive a car without tying my legs and arms in knots, I can dress without a great deal of assistance, and I can even rub my tummy and pat myself on the head at the same time (or is that the other way round?). I was moderately proficient at several sports which required me to do more than one thing at a time and very involved in playing rugby. I’d therefore anticipated no problems in the area of working out how to move my arms and legs to travel forwards. Uhuh…
Having received some basic instructions, we moved across the parking lot in a wobbly single file. Most of us ended up looking down at our feet for some reason, as if we had no other way of telling what was happening down there. This provoked hysterical shrieking from our instructor. Of course, it just had to be me who made the basic – and utterly disastrous – error of trying to march. Perhaps I crave attention…anyway, the result of my inability was catastrophically funny to everyone except myself and Tendril.
“WHAT!…IS!…YOUR!…BLOODY…NAME!?” he screamed when we were safely out of earshot of the people in the buildings. Adding to my anxiety, we were by this time disturbingly close to where I’d parked my heap of automotive delight. In his own gentle and nurturing way he marched alongside me, seething noisily. It didn’t help. I tried to tell him that my body was no longer under my conscious influence – I really did – but with my neurology fully engaged in trying not to tie my legs into a pretzel, I was unable to speak. For a moment I considered bursting into tears and sitting down on the spot but decided that – despite the disaster unfolding below my neck – doing so was probably not the best way to start a career.
At first, it wasn’t too bad because I was at the back of the line and it only sounded hilarious to my colleagues, but after a short period of hopeless staggering about, Tendril stopped us with a high pitched shriek of “Class!…Claa-aassss…HALT!” We sputtered to a stop. Tendril made his way to exactly one point six-seven millimetres from my cheek. “WHAT are you trying to do?” he shouted into my ear, a second or two after the soft pitter-patter of halting feet had died down. While my left ear began to close up for the rest of my life, I computed the data and assumed that this was a rhetorical question and kept my mouth shut to await the next sarcastic volley. “WELL?” Oh; not rhetorical; “Trying to march, sir.” I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster. ‘Trying’ was the operative word; I was trying very hard, but I was failing in a manner that had reduced my colleagues to a giggling bunch of idiots. Trying wasn’t working.
Somehow – and I still don’t know exactly how I did this – before we had come to a halt, both of my arms had started moving forwards and backwards at the same time. As in: together. Try it – go on. Stand up and start walking with both arms held out in front of you, then swing them back together – and repeat. If you have just done so – and by the way, I hope that you aren’t reading this on a train or in the library – you’ll know that it’s a very difficult way to move about. Tendril was – rather unfairly, I thought – quite ignorant of the extraordinary feat of locomotion that he had been privileged to observe. I deserved a medal, not abuse!
“Is there something wrong with you then?” he said with a hint of desperation creeping into his voice, as a tiny drop of saliva landed on my earlobe. My brain, busily engaged in the middle of a protracted re-boot, located a suitable response from its mid-term memory cache. “Hay fever, sir!” Part of me (the thirteen-year-old class clown) rejoiced in the comic timing, and part of me (the almost-adult) quailed at the clanger that I had just dropped, not unlike an ACME anvil, onto my own foot. There was an unpleasant silence of the kind that usually hangs around between the time the condemned person looks up and notices the guillotine blade and the moment it starts to fall. The great man tried to work out what I’d said, allowing several of my colleagues to splutter, snort and unsuccessfully stifle their laughter. Somebody along the line sounded like they were retching.
My nemesis glared at me from underneath his slashed peak, seemingly lost for words, working out if I was mocking him. Somehow, probably as a by-product of my abject terror, I managed to maintain a deadpan expression. Had I intended to be facetious, I’d have never kept my face straight, but what had taken place instead was the equivalent of my brain surprising itself. His own internal battle continued for a few seconds as his spleen wrapped itself around his gall bladder and squeezed, whereupon a hoarse scream devoid of any actual words erupted from his shrivelled body. I braced myself for a bayonet between the fifth and sixth ribs. The man visibly took a moment to draw some deep breaths and control himself. “Right…we’ll start again, this time going back towards the building. Sort yourself OUT!” This last was aimed at the group as a whole, and then he turned to me with a snarl: “I don’t care if you’ve got St. Vitus’ bloody dance my lad, get your friggin’ arms swinging properly!” He sounded fragile, as if for the first time realizing the enormity of the challenge. For the first – and only – time, I felt a tiny pang of pity for the man.
Having turned us all to face in the right direction, he set us off once again: “BY THE FRONT, QUICK MERCH!” he croaked. I was rather pleased with myself for stepping off with the proper foot, but within three paces I was thinking furiously, listening to Tendril’s barked “’Eft, ‘ight, ‘eft, ‘ight…” and, fatally, trying to get conscious control of each arm. Trying is the bane of novice marchers. The result was horrific; a fuse – or possibly a valve – blew somewhere in my head and the brain went on holiday once again, leaving my body to try to make the best of a bad job. It failed. Both arms began to move together – again. We headed towards the buildings and pale faces appeared at classroom windows as we made our way towards them; faces which bore expressions of amusement, incredulity and, I swear, on some was fixed wonder and awe. Needless to say; within a very short period of time our meagre band, maintaining an entirely new variation on ‘single file’, came to a halt and dissolved into helpless laughter at my ambulatory failings. Tendril, beside himself with rage and for some reason taking my unintentional spasms as a personal insult, spluttered and croaked and was clearly bemoaning the fact that he didn’t have a suitable firearm with which to dispatch me, as he would a wounded animal…