Sunday, 16 September 2007

I am Spartacus

With thanks to trousers' recent post for prompting this memory.

Way back when I was just finishing my school days, a bunch of chums were thinking about how to make our final school assembly memorable. One lad, Tim, was rather keen on recreating the "I am Spartacus" scene. He had carefully gauged support for this idea, found that it was generally positive, and had lined up in the region of ten people with an agreed order to follow his kick off to the proceedings. Other people had confirmed that they would contribute if Tim led the way. It was hoped that the rest of year who were not in the know of what would happen would get the idea and spontaneously join in, until the whole year group had identified themselves as Spartacus in a glorious show of unity and solidarity, concepts which were strongly encouraged at my school.

How it would appear...

It promised to be a rather splendid and jolly caper. Our school assembly hall was an impressive thing with seating for, I would think, about 400 people. It had a balcony which swept from one side to the other in a graceful curve, and which would make the perfect location for a recreation of the famous scene. Picture it from the perspective of the teachers at the front of the hall - shout upon shout of "I am Spartacus", emanating from the fine body of students assembled in front and above them as they stood up to be counted. It would be memorable, indeed. The general consensus was that this would be a good and harmless giggle, and for the most part, we were good and harmless students.

The day finally came. A few hundred people were assembled in the hall. I had spent most of the assembly glancing at Tim (who had worn his red jacket making him easy to pick out from the gathered masses) and his line-up of cronies, not wanting to miss the moment that would be talked of for years to come, and would put our year on a par with those present for the famous flour assembly, forever remembered in the collective consciousness of the school and which still causes teachers there to glance nervously at the grille above their heads before speaking*.

By very nearly the end of what appeared at first sight to be a dull and totally forgettable assembly in which the teachers present no doubt said all the right sorts of things about moving on to a new stage in life and wishing us all good luck in our A level exams, there was a slight pause as one teacher finished his oratory and another one shuffled into place to begin, adopting his traditional posture of staring fixedly at his shoes with his fists jammed into his pockets.

A sharp intake of breath was heard. Then a flurry of activity, followed by the cry, "I AM SPARTACUS". Across the balcony, Tim was standing with his chest puffed out, arms flung wide and with a triumphant, if slightly wild, look in his eyes. All heads turned. In the few seconds of perfect silence that followed (which I recall passed almost excruciatingly slowly) Tim's expression metamorphosed into relief at having got this game started, then expectation for his number two to declare his hand, then hope, then beseeching, followed by disbelief, and after maybe a second of silence had passed following his declaration of Spartacus-ness, his face settled into something between fear, embarassment and regret, as he realised that his number 2 would not in fact be declaring himself to be Spartacus, nor would anyone else, and he was left standing up, alone, the centre of attention, and looking rather silly. With all eyes in the hall now fixed on him, Tim had nothing more to say. He looked down to the stage to find the teachers staring up at him with that expression of disapproving non-surprize which teachers do so well. Thinking quickly of how to rescue the situation, Tim followed up his outburst with a rather sheepish "Er, thankyou..." and hastily resumed his seat. Thus the exercise to recreate one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history had reached a hasty and premature conclusion.


Total silence.

We all feared for Tim, almost able to hear the cogs whirring away in the headmaster's head, rapidly considering how best to respond to this disruption, to establish authority and punish the offender. Perhaps rather fortunately for Tim, the response was taken out of his hands.

Hesitantly at first then, as it became evident that no immediate coup de grace would be delivered from the stage, uncontrollably, the silence cracked into laughter. Lots of laughter. Massive fits and gales of laughter from everyone in the room. Everyone, except for Tim, whose face had gone the same colour as his jacket. The laughter continued for perhaps a couple of minutes, until we collectively realised the need to breathe. Once the last smatterings of laughter had died down, the assembly then continued without any reference to what had just occurred, continuing as it had begun, in totally forgettable fashion.

Spartacus never quite made it into the collective consciousness of the school, but thanks to Tim, those who were present still remember their last assembly.

*The famous flour assembly in which a bag of flour was suspended above the grille over the heads of the speakers' platform during a speech day. A candle was lit under a length of string supporting the bag shortly before the speech day started, allowing the perpetrators to watch the fine floury dust shower the speakers from the hall and escape the hastily organised search that followed.


Pixie said...

What a great story.... poor Tim, I wonder if it blighted the rest of his life?
I can identify so well with him, I used to (less of the used to be here, tell the truth)be, and still can be the peson leading the charge, and looking back find myself on my jack, more times than i cae to remember.

trousers said...

Wonderful! And brilliantly recounted, as usual.

But Why? said...

Poor Tim, indeed. It was such an excellent idea, as well. The main flaw seemed to be his choice of seconder, whose vocal abilities apparently failed him at the critical moment. Or perhaps he never intended to follow and was instead merrily watching Tim dig a hole for himself. Who's to know?

I saw Tim not so long since and he seems to be doing well for himself, so it doesn't appear to have had a massive blighting effect on him, otherwise he'd have been master and commander of the known universe by now.

Glad you liked it. I enjoyed the remembering.

But xx

Pixie said...

YOu've got another award, come over and pick it up.

DJ Kirkby said...

Oh poor Tim! I cringed for him, great emotive post.

But Why? said...

I think everyone who had wind of the jape did the same that day. It was one of those moments when I wished I could freeze time and go back to change the past to prevent the impending consequences of what was happening in the here and now (the here and now which seemed to last for ever), but being unable to have an effect.
But xx

Rob said...

Hah! Brilliance! :-D

But Why? said...

Glad you appreciate it. I imagine it's the sort of thing you would not have been opposed to in your younger days....

Rob Clack said...

Haha! Very good, and so, so painful.

But why didn't you stand up and declaim "I am Spartacus!"?

But Why? said...

(Can I call you Rob C? You may have seen there is already a dude who lays claim to the 'Rob' moniker who frequents here. This could potentially confuse me (Nerd God I may be, but I am an Essex Nerd at that, and my brain is currently operating a last in first out policy on all new non-mission-critical pieces of information). Perhaps I can refer to Rob (other Rob) as Blogless Rob? Yes, that is preferable.)

Welcome. Thanks for stopping by. I could make a whole host of excuses, e.g. acute arthritis (but that would be a lie), but the reason is somewhere inbetween expecting Phil to stand up and declare his Spartacusness, being just the teensiest bit worried that no-one else would stand up, and also because it was exquisitely absorbing to watch proceedings go horribly and badly wrong. I had a very well-developed sense of schadenfreude as a teenager...

Welcome, again. I will now go and confuse myself by responding to your later message on my earlier post.