It was the sixties – to be exact, the summer of 1969; the sputtering embers of that hot, fervid decade. Of course we didn’t know that at the time. The ‘sixties’ is a later invention – a social, political and cultural inferno that, safely over, has been elevated to the realm of untouchable saintliness. It's what happened to Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon. Now they are celebrated but ‘at the time’ they were a menace to J Edgar Hoover and all things decent. They became truly good only by being truly dead. Like the ‘sixties’.
I was 15 in 69. A schoolboy at Stirling High School. A not very good schoolboy, shortly to be expelled. Bob Dylan had just been installed as the soundtrack to my small existence and the rest was fitbaw. Or not quite. In the evenings, through the medium of my family’s crackling black and white telly, the revolution was, indeed, being televised. Berkeley, Vietnam, the Sorbonne, Martin, Malcolm and ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. A single blow to the top of the TV (you had to synchronise vertical and horizontal hold) and this world came into our wee council hoose. I lapped it up. Then, one day . . .
She was from Wisconsin. A student teacher doing one term at Stirling. Blonde, early twenties, bespectacled. Let’s just call her ‘Missconsin’. Our regular teacher introduced her then left her to it. It was Modern Studies, period 1, a Monday in May. Ooh the smell of napalm in the morning.
She walked into it. I’m sitting there with the rest of the class – all pictish, proletarian and slightly perplexed. A real American in front of us! Well if that don’t beat all. She introduced herself geographically – ‘Wisconsin is the dairy state. Lots of cows’.
Then, ‘Ah come from a town just a horse-ride from Milwaukee.’ That’s what she said, a ‘horse-ride’!
Then she gives us the patriot riff. My country. Big country. Beautiful country. Powerful country. Space age country. Why, just the best darn country in the world.
Then she reaches into her bag on the desk, plucks out a picture frame, walks across the classroom and places the frame on top of the tannoy speaker. She turns to the class and says, with a big smile (what immaculate dentistry), ‘This is our president’.
That’s how I come to find myself staring into the droopy, bloodhound visage of Richard Milhous Nixon.
I could practically hear a smile rippling through that classroom. My classmates sat back, pens and pencils were laid down and I heard someone behind me say ‘YES!’
See, they all knew what was coming – knew that there would be no work done this period.
In retrospect, someone should have warned her. Given her a hint. The ‘revolution’ had only reached Stirling in a heavily diluted solution but, darn it, someone had to keep our end up. I had taken to discussing ‘contemporary events’ with certain teachers. Invariably that meant that the normal educative process was suspended. I could keep it going for an entire period. I was the darling of my classmates. I even got free ciggies at the smoker’s union. Missconsin was, well, what yanks would call a slam dunk!
I’ll give you the staccato version of the duet. I put my hand up. She went for it.
IMPERIALISM- FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY - SELMA, LYNCHING - MY PRESIDENT IS A GREAT MAN- NAW HE’S NO - HE IS - HO CHI MINH - COMMUNISM IS EVIL - AGENT ORANGE, BURNT WEE LASSIES - WE PUT MEN ON THE MOON - CHE - THOSE STUDENTS SHOULD BEHAVE - THEY ARE BEHAVING - JOHN WAYNE - SITTING BULL - ELVIS - LENNON - BOBBY DARRIN - WHO?
Some of my fellow pupils had their heads on their desks. Some extra zzz's courtesy of yours truly! I was at least two ciggies up!
SLAVERY, PANTHERS - DR KING WENT TOO FAR - KHE SANH, THE KLAN - LAW AND ORDER IS THE AMERICAN WAY - MUHAMMAD ALI - HIS NAME IS CASSIUS CLAY - CUSTER HAD IT COMING - OUR BOYS, MARINE CORPS - HENDRIX - JUST NOISE - DYLAN - GENE PITNEY - WHO?
GENERAL MOTORS - JANIS JOPLIN - OH COME ON! - OLYMPIC GAMES, CLENCHED FISTS - TRAITORS TO THEIR COUNTRY.
Then the bell goes. End of period 1. We aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm!
Thursday evening. Same week. I slip into school easy. (Always clubs and night classes on.) I sneak upstairs. Modern Studies. The classroom is unlocked...
Friday. Period 1. Modern Studies. Nothing is said but I know all eyes are fixed on me. When Missconsin arrives she simply stops, hesitates for a moment, and steps over the glass and paper debris at her feet. ‘Good morning class’ she says as she removes her spectacles, wipes them on her sleeve and puts them back on. No one says a word. We're just waiting. Then she walks over, picks up the twisted portrait frame, and very slowly and deliberately, she pushes all the broken glass into the corner with her foot. Then she bends down and picks up every torn fragment of the picture of her president and places them in the bin.
She looks at me and smiles. That big smile. Behind her glasses I can see a wee twinkle in her eyes. She goes to her bag and pulls out a clone, a replica. The next moment I am, once again, face to face with 'tricky dicky!'
Then I realise, Missconsin doesn’t just want to win - no - she wants FULL SPECTRUM DOMINATION. A hard rain was gonna fall.