At some especially ignominious point in the nineteen-seventies, a group of tortured children stood on a creaky school stage and sang Jimmy Crack Corn. Their regimented faces formed an eerie pointillistic pattern of skull-like, rictus grins and anxious, unblinking eyes. So fixed were the children's expressions that they could momentarily have been confused with Mardi Gras mannequins, rudimentary animations whose cut-out chins were over-zealously manipulated by means of a very simple yet imprecise pull-tab mechanism; or perhaps with a collection of clockwork dolls in some festive store display, their lower jaws synchronised to clatter up and down to the tune of a manic advertising jingle.
Yet there was one small boy who refused to smile or sing-a-long, who truly did not care about Jimmy and his wretched corn. Instead of mouthing the words while staring at the back wall, his gaze was drawn to the view through an imaginary window behind Principal Himmler's head: it was Constable's great painting "The Hay Wain," except a suspension bridge had been constructed over the Stour, upon which a deceptively benign King Kong was playing pooh sticks. The pooh sticks he was using were Principal Himmler and his repulsively sinewy wife, Mrs Himmler, who taught music education.
You would not probably be surprised to learn that the school where these events occurred was my alma mater, and that the small boy in question was myself. At that time in my life, around the age of five or six, my parents did not own a hi-fi, and so the only music I was aware of was intelligence-insulting juvenilia such as Jimmy Crack Corn, Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam, Puff the Magic Dragon and an extremely tedious ditty about somebody or other being commanded to row his boat ashore. Consequently, I always firmly believed, at least until my late teens, that an interest in music was evidence of serious mental defectiveness. These days I am afraid that my young nephew, currently the same tender age as I was then, might grow up with the same misguided prejudice that I struggled with, which is why I am buying him the complete works of Alban Berg for his birthday.