I wasn’t sure how to categorise this little number – memoir or fiction? The people, places and background are all real enough, but I can state with certainty that the scene recounted here never happened and is therefore, technically, fiction.

But memoir – in its most literal, most French sense – simply means to remember, and there are thirty 38-year-old British men who can recall these events with varying degrees of clarity. Thirty men who’ll say “Oh my God, yeah, with the…” and then pause, and wonder, and conclude: Urban myth, or whatever you call a myth that stayed on school property.

So yes, it’s a memory of a time when something didn’t happen, except in our heads. This event didn’t take place in my last year of school, which was –

 

Nineteen eighty-nine!

The number, another summer (get down!)

Sound of the funky drummer…

…and of willow on leather.

There’s a grey area, a ten year fogbank. I was at the same school from eight to eighteen; junior, senior and Sixth Form. A decade in the same building; it all seems vague and flat. Surely something happened in that time, other than a few changes of classmates, teachers and uniform.

A long-established British public school – echoing dormitories, regular cold showers, canings and buggery. Or…

Yes, it was a boys’ school. Yes, it was fee-paying. No, it wasn’t boarding. There was no school song, there were no initiation rituals, Nuremberg Rallies or sticky biscuits. There were traditions left over from its origins as one of Henry VIII’s cathedral schools; four houses, which were only used in sporting events. First year seniors were Removes; second years were Shells. Other than that, not much. The place wasn’t exactly progressive, just oddly realistic, to some extent, anyway. We fell somewhere between St. Custards and Grange Hill.

There was a consensual feeling of superiority, and…not fear, but certainly a mistrust of otherness. There was an acknowledgement of an outside world in which people weren’t necessarily British, white, middle class or male but there was no need to be unduly concerned about it. Not smug, but certainly complacent.

While we lacked the variety of the US high school as documented in The Breakfast Club, we settled into fuzzy-edged social strata, with the Rowing Club, party crew, computer geeks, lunchbreak smokers, Oxbridge groomees, irredeemable nerds and just-us-lads all blurring together. Nobody really bothered anyone else; even the Bad Boyz were alright, jokers more than bullies. They just messed about and smoked more.

Now and then, the fog lifts.

Wob was a good lad. Technically he was a Bad Boy, always hovering on the edge of expulsion, but he was friendly and funny, and he was in my class for most of that ten-year haul. His finest hour came one morning at the swimming pool, as Viv, Arnie, Sim, Bowie, Baz, Chaks, Charlie, Bob, Diggs, Doddsy, Gray-ham, Fletch, Muth, Hughesy, Kempy, Knowlesy, Wob himself, Lewis, Mort, Pooley, Cam, Kev, Space (hello), Teas, Rab, Nathe, Ash, Cass, Worm and Farmer Willy lined up along the side, all transfixed by the large turd sitting on the bottom of the deep end.

On the other side of the pool, Mr. Bamford was similarly mesmerised. Picture a white Australian Lionel Ritchie, staring at a submerged log.

Wob ran into the changing room. “Bruce!” shouted Bamford, “Where are you going?”, but Wob was out of there. “Didn’t think he’d be so sensitive,” he told the rest of the class, but everyone’s attention was still held by the brown trout, drifting lazily against the white tiles. Nobody moved; nobody spoke.

“Well,” he began, “Looks like swimming’s off for-” and Wob burst back out of the changing room, clutching a huge wad of toilet paper. “Got it!” he shouted, and leapt in.

I should mention that Wob was not short for Wobert, but Wobble. He was tall too. The impact of a 200 pound schoolboy hitting the water shook the class out of its trance. Cheers, whistles and shouts of Wob! Wob! Wob! began as he waded down towards the six-foot end, holding the mass of bogroll aloft.

Bamford just shook his head and watched, grinning under his ‘tache, as Wob approached the stool and plunged below the surface with the toilet paper held out ahead of him. There was even more cheering as he disappeared and the water swirled in his wake and then, after a few seconds, sunbeams pierced the clouds and heavenly choirs sang as a hand emerged from the pool, wrapped in translucent soaked paper and clutching the Turd Excalibur.

The woefully crumbling dump rose from the water, followed by Wob. His expression told us that he’d made an error of judgment, and he knew it. He paddled furiously to the side, holding one hand aloft, and laid his rank burden at our feet.

 

Cheers, Wob. This story is as full of holes as a hole-filled metaphor. The distance from the pool to the toilets, for instance, much too far for even a fast mover like Wob to make a return trip while the rest of us stood around doing nothing. And I was in the same class as Wob, I loved swimming – yet I was told the story. If it had happened I would have been there. And Wob wasn’t a complete idiot, and certainly wouldn’t have leapt into the swimming pool to save a drowning poo.

But hey. I have no truck with the idea of the truth being subjective. It’s absolutely absolute; shit happens, or (as in this case) it doesn’t. Stories are another matter, though. There’s a scene in No Country for Old Men which I suspect was written by a Coen, not McCarthy: Carla Jean Moss asks Sheriff Ed Tom Bell “Is that a true story?”

“Well,” he replies, “It’s certainly true that it’s a story.”

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Formerly a professional modelmaker, STEVE SPARSHOTT turned to writing after brain damage sustained in a 2003 road accident removed much of his physical function. Typing with the three middle fingers of his left hand at a blistering fifteen words per minute, he has had work printed in London literary magazine Smoke, and various academic publications have featured his design-related social criticism. He has reviewed films for Screenjabber.com and Nude Magazine, and because his life just isn't difficult enough, he's writing a memoir called Get Well Soon. He is well chuffed to have an essay called Fin in the Nervous Breakdown compilation The Beautiful Anthology.

25 responses to “Depth Charge”

  1. The central portion of this text is an extract from my work-in-progress book Get Well Soon, but the surrounding musings on memory and story are there to make it a TNB-worthy stand-alone piece.

    I realise that some of the phrases used are particularly English; if you’d like anything clarified, just ask.

  2. Matt says:

    Nice one, Steve.

    Man, this takes me back. There was a schoolyard myth when I was in first or second grade that a particular kid had taken a crap in one of the urinals in the boy’s restroom. It spread like wildfire; everyone (including some of the faculty) believed this kid had done it, even though there was absolutely no evidence to that end. Just mentioning it could move this particular kid to hysterical tears.

    • While Wob became a hero. He actually got expelled in the end, for an unrelated assault (which, sadly, really did happen) and I don’t think the swimming pool myth was presented as defence evidence.

  3. Can anyone tell me if the No Country line was originally in the book? I really laughed at that.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’m pretty sure. Almost all the dialogue in the movie was in the book.

      I got as far as ‘Grange Hill’ before I realised that this post would probably have at least 50 comments of questions and explanations…

      Great post. I think my favourite part is just the list of names… proper British names/nicknames!

      • I really don’t relish trying to explain the public/private school business. You’ll be one of the few TNBers to understand that I was a POSH KID.

        I was lucky to be called Space or Spacy rather than Sparshit (for instance). Those names are all real, except that Wob was actually known as Flab. We weren’t a very imaginative bunch.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          ha. posh kid!

          I’m not posh and never have been, but people at school thought I was because I talk proper and all that…

          We Brits aren’t really that well known for our ability to assign imaginative nicknames.

          I think Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is the pinnacle of our imagination.

          I remember the old Man Utd team that had Becks, Scholesy, Keano, Giggsy, Coley, Yorkey…

          The cricket team aren’t much better: Straussy, Belly, Colly, KP, Swanny…

          My nickname at school was ‘Irwin’.

        • Isn’t it? Hm? Ryany Giggsy-Wiggsy? Marvellous!

          I know a bloke who looks like The Small Faces’ Steve Marriot, who’s called Itchycoo Mark, but my favourite is a guy whose hero is (or was) Malcolm X; he bought glasses as close to those X wore as he could get, but didn’t really achieve the look he wanted – less Malcolm X, more Eric Morecambe. So for a while he had to put up with being called Morecambe X.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I love both of those. Morecambe X. Brilliant.

          I wonder how many other TNBers will get that…

          I wrote a post about a week ago that I then didn’t post because about 90% was about cricket.

        • Well, the active NZ massive would get it. Probably more than me in fact, I’m not at all sport savvy, although I’ve been gathering information on the upcoming Superb Owl foot-ball game in the US.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          True— and the Aussie in our midst…

          I only know enough about cricket to understand who’s winning. Well, not winning exactly because in cricket nobody wins or loses until the end…

          That’s about the depth of my American football knowledge too. I was really into it for a short while, but I’ve gradually lost interest now I rarely get to watch it. I’ll be watching the Superb Owl though. The Who are playing the half time show…

        • Hot favourites are the New York Dolls v the Boston Stranglers.

  4. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Steve,

    Did you actually remember all thirty of your class mates’ names?
    If you did, I have to say I am really impressed. I can probably only come up with a dozen or so names of my high school class. But then, I hated every minute of high school.

    I’ll look for that line, but it’s a pretty long book. Do you have any idea how long into the novel the line might be?

    • I think there were actually two classes of 24, but most of the names up there were from mine. I pinched a few from the other class, but yes, I can still recall the register pretty well.

      Let me have a look at the No Country screenplay…

      …it’s about 3/4 of the way through. I haven’t read enough McCarthy to know whether or not he ever displays that sort of humour. I thought it was hilarious, along with “Did I ask you to sit?”, “No sir, but you struck me as a man who wouldn’t want to waste a chair.”

  5. Greg Olear says:

    True or not, it’s a great story. If a tree doesn’t fall in the forest, but we all recall that it did, how loud a noise does it make?

    And I love the line about the white Lionel Ritchie.

    Vive le Wob!

  6. Simone says:

    I thouroughly enjoyed reading this, Steve. It reminds me of a book by John van der Ruit called “Spud”. It’s a classic South African boarding school story, told through the diary of ‘Spud’ Milton in the early 90’s.

    Favourite line:
    “There was even more cheering as he disappeared and the water swirled in his wake and then, after a few seconds, sunbeams pierced the clouds and heavenly choirs sang as a hand emerged from the pool, wrapped in translucent soaked paper and clutching the Turd Excalibur.

    “Brown trout”… Ha! ha! ha!

    • I was really running out of expressions towards the end, and I didn’t want to start repeating myself…actually, that’s not true, I know as many faecal synonyms as any juvenile thirtysomething Brit, but some are too regional, some too specific (in size, consistency etc) so I stuck with ones that were pretty universal. Glad you liked it!

      Spud sounds great, and if it’s full of early ’90s cultural references I’ll love it.

  7. “His expression told us that he’d made an error of judgment, and he knew it.”

    That’s so perfect, Steve. Well told, amigo. Well told.

    Some day I’ll tell the tale of ‘Wrong Hole’ McCubbin. the nickname that the school never forgot.

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