Saturday, 26 June 2010
Cortes and the Conquest of Central America
Or something. That's close enough to the title of the book I'm thinking about. And this isn't a review or an encouragement to rush out and buy it. This is about guilt.
This is a time travelling post. Imagine stepping through one of those wibbly wobbly time vortex things, stepping out again, and it is 1972. No punk for four years, no Channel Four, no Nutella. No lycra either, school uniform is green check dress with ties at the back which can be left loose for playing horses, although at 10 I am rather too old for this and am more concerned about the debate raging over which is better - The Osmonds or the Jackson 5.
I am in 4JX (Year 6) at Tetherdown School in North London, and my class teacher is Mrs Salter that is her in the photo, my Head Master is Mr Walters and Mrs Shelley is the deputy head who plays the piano for assemblies and school plays. Later on this year we are going to do Chanticleer and the Fox (I will be one of the chicken chorus)at Hornsey Town Hall, but that is another story.
We have come back to school after the long holidays, a very long holiday during which I have been in Wales and not at home at all.
I love school. My hand is up always up first, or nearly first, jointly with Linda Hoinville, (we are horribly competitive about everything, from spelling tests to making felt animals). The only hands that come close to being up as first as ours, are those of the Songaila twins and Malcolm Mantz.
All is well in my world.
Or it is until I walk to the office on an errand. On a table outside the office is a display of a project I did last year. I had bought the black art card from the stationer's in the broadway and cut the gold letters out of shiny paper. CORTEZ it said in fancy letters, AND THE AZTECS. It still, three months after I had done it, looked fabulous.
I was about to knock on the door, smiling smugly at my beautiful work, when the cold hand of terror gripped my insides. Indeed, I believe Eleanor Updale, in her new book, Johnny Swanson describes this feeling, as a 'klong'.
I am snapping my virtual fingers and, one two three, you're back in the 21st century. I had a 'klong' this week when I found I had double booked myself in to do two events, one in Dulwich, one in Mile End, at the same time. And of course there are worse things that can happen, one million times worse. But this was entirely my own fault and nobody else's.
Back in 1972, the klong was the result of something equally unimportant in the scheme of things. But the agony and mortification was almost tangible - even though nobody else found out. I remembered looking at the display,and that I hadn't returned the book about Cortez that I had borrowed from the school library and should have bought in before the holidays. It was too late now, I thought, a whole three months later, there was no way I could bring it back into school, not now, not so long after I should have. What on earth did I imagine the dire consequences would be?
So I said nothing. But I avoided thoughts of the Aztecs and the Conquistadores for some time, just as I will avoid thinking of Dulwich for the near future.