This is an extract from a long poem, ‘Strike at Brockworth Comp’, which tells the true story of a pupil’s strike at Brockworth Comprehensive School in Gloucester in 1986. The following tells the story of the strike’s origins…
Before the strike itself, let me explain
The foundations, born in the rebel brain
Of Hagler, the legendary Hagler:
Brooding, huge, an academic straggler
With fists like pillows and shoulders like a car,
A kid whose whole purpose was to wage war
On school. It was Hagler who started it all.
It came into his head one day to call
Into being The Special Air Wankers,
A fuckabout SAS-type caper.
In those days (here’s a bit of history)
The citizens of Brockworth went crazy
For the Vietnam War. Rambo
First Blood went round on pirate video,
Twenty remixes of 19 were out
And kids bragged loud how they got their scars, cuts,
Tattoos in ‘Nam … Chelt-nam.1 What can I say?
You know what kids are like. It was a phase,
And it spawned this – Brockworth’s own SAS,
Special Air Wankers – SAW. The very best
Of Brockworth Comprehensive School’s marines,
An elite force formed by Hagler between
The Maths Block and the Science Block. Flattening
A coke can against his knee and grabbing
Some innocent in a headlock, he said,
Rubbing his knuckles on the innocent’s head,
‘SAS!’ – a random exuberance,
A restless whim that would soon influence
All of Gloucester. From here, Hagler’s mind hurried
Forwards, in the ways minds do, till he’d carried
That little outburst to its final version:
The Special Air Wankers – a conversion
Of the SAS into Brockworth’s world.
A force of nature, this new brainchild hurled
Itself into action: hyperactive, SAW stormed
The lunch-hour – belted through corridors, tore
Through bewildered classrooms, bouncing from wall
To wall, all yelling and elbows, stalled
Only by the sight of the tuckshop.
Distracted, the Special Air Wankers stopped
For dinner, joining the long queue for fries
And coke, re-assembling later outside.
But this pause marked a lull … saw a now what?
Crawl up SAW’s shoulders, that threatened to blot
It all out with its own aimlessness. That gang
Of eight or so, all worked up, who began
All that followed, frowned: Special Air Wankers!
They called again, buying time: Wankers!
Till from somewhere – Hagler? Presley?2 – among us
The Special Air Wankers found their purpose,
Evolved a mission. It came as a shout
From within SAW’s belly and it rang out,
It rang out through the corridors and walls,
Gave SAW meaning, reaching up like a call
From destiny: Strike! School Strike! School Strike!
It’s hard to describe what that moment was like:
Like some new kind of weapon discovered
By chance, or new door opened, or new word
Uttered for the first time. It was in the air
In those days (history lesson): the stare
Of Mrs. Thatcher bore down on us all,
On anything that walked, talked or crawled.3
Mrs. Thatcher and the Tories had been
In power for eight years. I was fourteen –
Couldn’t care less; but as everyone knows,
School teachers are, at heart, Communist rogues.4
They hated the Tories, and the Tories
Hated them: they fought about the birch, wages,
The unions … every five minutes the school
Shut down, the teachers in pickets, till some duel
In Westminster was won. It meant no more
To us than days off until the day SAW
Was born, when the one thing we understood
We took up: Strike Power. It was no good
Teaching us politics now – we’d learnt it.
SAW ran around yelling and telling kids:
Special Air Wankers! School Strike! Tennis Courts!
This was the moment, this the spark that caught.
We flamed through the school till the end of lunch,
Cracking up. And this is the point, this the crunch –
It was a joke. And now the truth is out.
The strike’s founders were just fucking about.
1) Chelt-nam: correct spelling, Cheltenham. Rambo – First Blood was the first of a trilogy of films made by Sylvester Stallone about a Vietnam veteran called back into action. The first film includes a famous scene in which Rambo sews up his own arm. I first saw it when a group of us skipped school one afternoon to watch it on pirate video at Presley’s house. 19 was sort of an Electro record by Paul Hardcastle about the Vietnam War. It sampled an American voice that sounded a bit like the intro to The A Team and said something like ‘In World War Two the average age of a soldier was 25. In Vietnam it was 19 – (scratchy effect) nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nineteen.’ There were a number of different remixes of this record and it was number one for a long time.
2) Presley was a major figure in Brockworth at that time, mysteriously knowledgeable and omnipresent. He had three much older brothers, knew everyone, and enjoyed an infallible street wisdom. He knew all about Punk and had PUNX shaved into the back of his head. His mind was about two generations ahead of the rest of us.
3) Mrs Thatcher – Margaret Thatcher, ‘Maggie’ – leader of the Conservative Party (the Tories), was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Her reign was characterised by a hostility towards Trade Unions and an enthusiasm for privatisation and private business. Her supporters claim she restored the UK economy and founded a new period of prosperity; her detractors believe she behaved callously towards the more vulnerable in society and that her philosophy – ‘Thatcherism’, a form of capitalism – introduced a culture of self-centred individualism and greed. Brockworth, throughout this period, had a Conservative MP.
4) Many teachers at that time were socialists and communists, philosophies opposed to capitalism and especially to Thatcherism.