My parents insisted. I had to go to school. My thumb was badly bruised. I would be no
good in the exam. But still they insisted. I knew it was going to be the worst day of my
life and at school there had been plenty of contenders.
Back then I was rather large. Jelly Man was my nickname. I loved sport but my weight
prevented me from being any good. Running was the worst. We had to run round Morden
Park and our sadistic PE teacher would, every five minutes, slipper the boy who was
last. That was always me. If the desired effect was to make me run faster then it was
That day, with my thumb throbbing, it was cross-country running in the morning and in
the afternoon I had my recorder exam. Yes, back in 1961, at the age of eleven, my
school still made us play the recorder. I was quite good but the teacher was the hateful
Mr. Morgan. How someone like him came to be responsible for supposedly instilling the
love of music on young impressionable minds is beyond me. Every lesson was a case of
face the music rather than enjoy the music.
We still had to wear shorts in our first year and due to my size my thighs were always
chapped, not good for running, and my over tight shorts were always splitting. Quite a
coup for those looking out for a ‘fatty’ to taunt. You probably get the picture.
The cross-country run was worse than usual. Apart from getting a slippering 5 or 6
times I also managed to slither into the little steep-sided stream we were meant to
leap over. More ammunition for the bullies and the fall didn’t do my bruised thumb any
good. Despite the fact I was behind everyone else they still managed to find out about
my moment of embarrassment.
Briefly I forgot my troubles as I tucked in to my school dinner. The main course was
horrible but the butterscotch tart was as special as ever.
I stood outside the music room trembling. All I could think about were my chapped
thighs, my throbbing thumb and my impending solo in front of Mr. Morgan. I fought
back the tears as I entered the room. Somehow, I summoned up the courage to speak.
“Sir, I don’t think I can play. I’ve hurt my thumb”.
“Show me, boy”.
I held out my left hand.
“That’s nothing get on with it”.
I had been told I was good enough to take up the clarinet but that day I played the
recorder badly. Mr. Morgan showed his displeasure. I slinked back to my seat.
As I sat down Mr. Morgan said, “Henshall, how did you hurt your thumb?”
Should I tell him the truth? No, that way more bullying lay.
“I caught it in a door, Sir.”
I didn’t tell him it was me who squeezed my bedroom door closed on my thumb over and
Mr. Morgan will be dead now but I wonder, as I write, whether he knew how frightened
we were of him. Probably. I never did take up the clarinet. We couldn’t afford one.