Secrets and lies
It is a universally acknowledged truth that excited young boys cannot keep a secret.
When we first moved into the village, a delightful lad of about eight used to come into my Studio and we’d natter away (I did check with his mum, Abbie, that this was OK). The lad, Ryan, had some issues, particularly at school. The poor kid was bullied. I think he viewed the Studio as a type of safe haven.
But I made him laugh and he made me laugh (he’s bright and cheeky) and I listened to his woes and gave whatever meager advice I could.
He asked me what I did, apart from teaching guitar, and I told him that I was a secret agent/ assassin.
Not very wise, perhaps, but he was excited about it and full of questions (‘Andy, can I come with you on your next mission?’ ‘No, it’s too dangerous!’). Stopped him worrying about school, anyway.
I did swear him to secrecy telling him that the whole point about a secret agent/assassin is that it’s meant to be secret.
He swore that he’d tell no-one – ‘not even mum’.
Ryan came round later while I was creosoting a garden shed and he demanded that he help me. Manfully hiding my doubt about what sort of ‘help’ he’d be, I told him to go and ask mum if that’s OK, and to change into old clothes.
Later, while wiping the creosote off the windows that Ryan had generously daubed, he spotted a power drill in the shed and excitedly shouted, ‘Andy, is that a machine gun?’
I said, ‘Oh, my God, you’re not meant to see that. It’s top secret.’ ‘Can I have a go on it?’ Ryan asked.
‘No. It’s very dangerous and you mustn’t tell anyone about it. Do you understand?’
Again, Ryan swore on his life that it would remain a secret: ‘I won’t even tell mum,’ he again added gravely.
Early that evening Abbie came round and both of us trundled our lawnmowers up the lane to mow the church grounds. She paused in the conversation to say, ‘oh, I forgot to ask. How’s the machine gun?’ She smiled and added, ‘I suppose you need it for the assassinations.’
‘It was a power drill,’ I said. ‘Well, I’d worked that out,’ she answered.
‘I told him to tell no-one,’ I said. She said, ‘He came running into the house and immediately shouted, “ANDY’S GOT A MACHINE GUN!” I think the whole village heard.’
But then, I knew that would happen. Bless him.
I’ve got form with kids. I used to be head of the education department (the ‘department’ was one assistant and we shared a photocopier) at Fort Newhaven in Sussex. It’s one of the forts, like Nothe in Weymouth, built
in the 1860s to stop a French invasion. Not that the French had any intention of invading, hence the forts’ nickname at the time – ‘Palmerston’s Follies.’
Essentially, my job was to give school parties a tour of the place and it was very enjoyable. We had vast amounts of artifacts, from a Churchill tank to rifles (de- commissioned) and steel helmets and WREN’s caps. I allowed the children to handle the stores and they loved it.
We had an ex-army sergeant working, and I’d get him to parade the children; boys wearing steel helmets, girls wearing WWII ladies’ service caps. It was hilarious. When the old guy bellowed ‘right turn, quick march’, half the kids would turn left (their steel helmets wouldn’t move) and there was much enjoyable mayhem – their teachers loved it, too.
As more schools visited I got a bit wilier. I’d meet them off the coach, gather them around, tell them they’re to call me ‘Andy,’ not ‘Sir.’ And I’d ask who’s the naughtiest boy in the class.
With a lamentable lack of group loyalty all the girls (it was always the girls) would point at one kid (usually skulking at the back) and shout, ‘Lee!’
I’d ask the girls how naughty Lee was. ‘Very!’ they’d shout.
So I’d get Lee come before me. I’d take a good look at him (bit of theatre here) and say, ‘Lee, they tell me that you’re naughty, but I don’t think you are. I think you’re a responsible young lad. And I’m going to
prove it today to your teachers and your class. In fact, I’m going to trust you with my life.’ Big moment coming. I’d take a WWII hand-grenade out of my sagging jacket pocket (much excitement from the kids) and say, ‘you know what this is, don’t you?’
I’d pass the grenade round so they could see it was real (they’re extraordinarily heavy), telling them ‘do not remove the pin,’ and explain how they work. Then, holding the clip firmly, I’d remove the pin. I’d hand the grenade (obviously de- commissioned, but they didn’t know that) to Lee and tell him not to let the clip ping off.
On every occasion the naughtiest boy in class would follow my instructions and behave impeccably (usually bombarding me with intelligent questions) during the tour – his classmates keeping their distance.
And at the end,
I’d carefully take the grenade, replace the pin and say, ‘Lee, I’m proud of you. You’ve proved yourself to be a very responsible young man,’ and his class would look at him in a new light. Needless to say, the naughtiest boy absolutely loved it.
Once I started this, school visits shot up, and the kids would often return with their parents, pleased to see me and show me off.
But the best thing was that very often teachers would phone me a week or so later to tell me that the naughtiest kid’s behaviour had improved, often significantly.
So, my advice to head teachers: get some grenades in.
(The N.U.T. may have a different view on this – but I did this in 1985. It was different then – we were more robust).
I received some nice comments about a piece I wrote about teaching blues, rock, pop guitar in a previous issue, so I’ll add a bit more. I planned to teach my lovely student, Laura (10 years old) a couple of new chords based around the open D chord. This sounds very complicated but it’s not, and the variations are used in a thousand songs, so bear with, digital reader.
They are D sus 4 and D sus 2. Everyone reading this will recognise them. For example D and D sus4 are the intro to Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Bung in a Bb, C and G and that’s the whole song.
I expected the entire lesson to be spent on this. But Laura just got it straight away. My heart swelled. I looked at her dad, Damien, who shook his head disbelievingly. He said, ‘I don’t know D sus2’ (and Damien’s a good guitarist).
So I said to Laura, ‘Now, what we can do for D we can do for A’. And I showed her A sus4 and A sus2.
And she got that. Straight away. She played them cleanly, moving her fingers with precision.
No fret buzz, no damping of strings. Just perfection.
Damien said, ‘I don’t know A sus4 and A sus2.’
Laura proudly smiled and looked at me keenly.
I said to her, ‘Laura, when you get home, dad will ask you how to play these new chords’
She said, ‘shall I show him?’
I said, ‘not straight away. You say, “Dad, I’ll need to build my strength up to show you these chords. Maybe if I had some chocolate, I’ll have the stamina to show you”.’
She nodded sagely, a delighted gleam in her eye.
Damien laughed and said, ‘Andy, my girls don’t need any lessons in manipulating me. They’re doing it fine by themselves.’
by Andy Palmer