I can still remember my form teacher Mr Smith reciting Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If", the words rolling off his tongue and reverberating around the classroom:
"If you can
keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you..."
Oh, yes, I would breathe fervently, sitting at my desk with my chilly hands thrust up the sleeves of my jumper to keep them warm,
I would, indeed, keep my head. Promise!
Mr Smith was My Hero for two whole years in the top classes of Junior School. I am not sure he was aware of my Eternal Devotion as his favourite pupil appeared to be
a girl called Jennifer. Jennifer cried when Elvis Presley joined the US Army and Mr Smith laughed at her. Albeit in a kindly way. He sympathised with her in her distress and told her that she was "highly strung." I wasn't absolutely sure what "highly strung"
meant but, if it would mean winning Mr Smith's scholarly approval, then I too aspired to be strung highly.
Kipling's "If" was one of Mr Smith's favourite poems. Along with Henry Newbolt's "Vitae Lampada" -
"There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight..." If we could live our lives accordingly, we would not fall short, opined our teacher. I believed every word. Perhaps I still do.
I was thinking of Mr Smith
this afternoon when disaster struck as Mr B and I were driving to our friends Bob and Val's home for lunch. We were within sight of the sea-front when our (Usually) Trusty Chariot turned against us and ground to a complete halt, every light on the dashboard
flashing for good measure. It was extremely dramatic. What to do? Mr B didn't lose his head - it stayed firmly on his shoulders - but he did make it clear that It Was Undoubtedly All My Fault.
In true Henry
Newbolt fashion, I decided to "play up, play up and play the game." In other words, I called Green Flag and begged them to rescue me. They promised me they would but said it might take some time so I called a taxi for Mr B and sent him on ahead of me to alert
our hosts of our misfortune while I awaited the arrival of a Knight in Shining Armour. Who was called Peter, according to the reassuring text I received from Green Flag.
To while away the time I tried reciting
all the poems I remembered from my childhood. Then, when it became clear that my memory was on the blink (rather like my car) I sang a few of our Singing for Pleasure Choir specials in a strange, high-pitched voice which didn't sound a bit like me. After which
I decided to tidy out my handbag, clearing out all the old till receipts, empty envelopes and out of date supermarket offers nestling comfortably within. In the middle of which Earnest Endeavour, Peter arrived, a full forty-five minutes earlier than expected.
He was, indeed, a Very, Very Nice Man. Oh, sorry, wrong advert...
So in the end I kept my head. I waited and did not tire of waiting. I met with triumph and disaster and treated those two impostors both the
same. Rudyard would have been proud of me. Mr Smith would have been proud of me too, highly strung or not. With the help of Peter, who quickly became my New Best Friend, I was soon back on the road. To avoid further drama, my lovely friend Val followed me
home in my car then drove me back to her's for a delicious lunch. At the end of which she transported us both home as the sun was setting over Worthing beach.
All's well that ends well, I always say. I may
not have covered myself in glory exactly - as triumphs and disasters go my Unfortunate Incident was hardly the stuff of poetry.
However, to paraphrase the words of Lennon and McCartney - those celebrated latter
day poets - I got by with a little help from my friends...