North London, 1966. No time to lose. I bunked off school, withdrew all the money from my Post Office savings account and took a 29 bus to Denmark Street in Soho, where I bought an acoustic guitar and a book called Play in a Day: Bert Weedon’s Guitar Guide to Modern Guitar Playing. It said in the Introduction that it would enable me to play ‘simple vocal accompaniments’ and, at 5 shillings, that would do very nicely.
The cause of this sudden depletion in my net worth had occurred the previous afternoon. I’d cycled home from school to find my mother and father in their armchairs waiting for my arrival. She was tearing pages from last week’s Radio Times, scrunching them up and tossing them into the kindling box, while he drew on his unlit briar. I took a seat on the sofa and prepared for the worst.
‘You are now 16 years of age,’ my father said. ‘In a few weeks you will walk out through your school gates for the last time.’ There followed a comprehensive litany of my scholastic failures, rounded off with, ‘Your mother and I are concerned about your future.’
They were right to be concerned. Unless it was a fact about cars or my favourite American thriller, or anything whatsoever to do with Shelagh Spaul in Form Five and my unrequited longings, it was most likely to sink in but never resurface. Consequently I came bottom of the class in everything. I coped by developing a nice line in role-play and by pretending to myself that I had exceptional hidden talents and could, whenever I chose, become a Nobel-winning novelist, say, or a jet-setting musician, or an artist living in the south of France avec lovers and châteaux.
Fortunately, I had recently sat through an entire sixth-form production of The Winslow Boy so I knew how to handle parental interrogation. I rose to my feet, put my hands behind my back and strolled to and fro in front of the hearth. ‘You needn’t worry, Father,’ I s
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