Friday, September 23, 2011

The Ghost Of Wayne Inglis

Looking back on it now it’s probably far more common than it felt at the time. The death of a fellow school pupil.

It was, I think, sometime near the end of my penultimate year at North Leamington school – so probably round 1984 – and I can remember the headmaster handing over proceedings for that morning’s assembly to Mrs Mordecai, our Hobbit-like French and Religious Education teacher. If he thought Mrs Mordecai would bring a more gentle ambience to proceedings he’d obviously never seen her in action during double French.

She delivered the news in a calm, measured, almost BBC manner.

Wayne had died at the weekend. Our sympathies went out to his parents and to his younger sister who would not be attending school this week.

And that was it.

No details. No explanation of how, why and where. Just that he’d died.

I remember feeling very shocked. Benumbed. Which struck me as odd because although Wayne was in my form we weren’t mates. We weren’t enemies either; he wasn’t that type of boy but he existed outside my tight knit circle of friends and I outside of his. He’d always come across as a little strange. Blonde and oddly Germanic looking. A neck that was slightly too long. In fact, for all he was not excessively tall, everything about him seemed slightly too long. Legs, arms and shoulders were all odd, awkward and angular. He had a smutty sense of humour that, because of the way he exercised it – huddled and whispered – seemed slightly unwholesome. He brought a key-ring into school once that, due to simple thumb operated mechanics, featured a couple that furiously copulated. He was that type of boy.

A bit strange but harmless. A bit of a joke really. But not enough to impinge much on anybody’s radar.

I can remember some of my peers laughing as we were dismissed from assembly. They found the news funny. I’d like to think it was down to shock but, no, they genuinely found it funny in that unfathomably cruel way teenagers have of misconnecting with the world and everything that isn’t actually about them personally. One girl actually voiced the opinion that she was glad he was dead because she never liked him anyway.

I through her a disgusted look but that was as far as it went. I was a shrinking violet and she didn’t care anyway.

Days later a few more details leaked out. Apparently Wayne had recently taken part in a charity parachute jump. He must have been so enamoured of the experience of floating down to earth that he’d tried to recreate the process in his bedroom with his parachute and a leap from the wardrobe. I kid you not. But for his resultant death it reads like a script from Some Mother Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Who knows if that was the true reason? We’ll never know. What was known was that Wayne was found tangled up in the parachute chords. He’d effectively hanged himself. I think the circumstances were such that it was plain it was not intentional.

It had a sobering effect on my school year for about 2 weeks. Until after the funeral, I suppose. Only his closest friends went. And then it seemed to get forgotten. We broke up for the summer holidays and when we came back we were 5th years with O levels and school leaving to look forward to. We had moved on.

Unlike Wayne. Unlike, I suspect, his parents and his sister.

I often think of Wayne now. It’s a minor sadness that nevertheless touches me deeply. I often wonder what he would have become if he had lived. What he would have done. Who he would have married. I can’t quite see him as a serious grown-up person doing a proper job at all.

In my mind he’s still playing with that blessed key-ring and giggling quietly to himself.



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35 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Tragic. It's worrying how many children seem to hang themselves accidentally. Games are fine, but why do they have to put things round their necks? Maybe they should be shown pictures of real hangings to warn them off.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

Steve, this has brought back a similar memory for me. A girl in my class called Nicola died in a car crash on her way to school one icy morning. I remember initially the Head coming into our form (4th form, same age as you) telling us about the crash and that Nicola was hurt and in hospital. An hour later she came in again and announced that 'Nicola was at peace'. All our class were very upset at the news, though I remember one girl hadn't realised Nicola had actually died until later that day because of the nebulous 'at peace' message!

I often think of her and wonder what would have become of that young girl with white blonde hair and round, smiling face.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: not sure that would work for all teenagers. Some of the boys at my school had very macabre senses of humour at the best of times... showing them pictures of hangings would have only added a new and more dangerous element to their already extensive bullying repertoire.

Trish: yes, these experiences are sadly all too common. I guess it's just the law of averages at the end of the day but that doesn't make it any better. All we can do is count our blessings that it is not us or ours.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

I remember the shock of the random death of another 13 year old - a cricket ball stopped his heart at lunchtime. He was a promising sportsman, impish and popular, but his life just snuffed out. Later There was a 16 year old suicide - how could the librarian with such a beautiful smile have been unhappy, I remember thinking. And then my own brilliant classmate, a top scholar nationally, hit a truck on her beloved motorbike at the age of 17. Life does seem like a lottery, doesn't it.

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: both a lottery and startlingly fragile... and inesteemably precious.

Nota Bene said...

I remember the first death in our year at school. A notorious thug came off his motorbike and flew through the air until he posted himself in a letter box. There was no real sympathy for him at the time, but can't help thinking now of a life wasted. Last year another classmate died, and that affected me...we sat next to eachother in geography, and had been 'Facebook' friends in recent years as he lived in America.

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I know how you feel about the more recent death. About 3 years ago I heard that one of my old classmates had dropped dead whilst jogging. He was a nice guy. The fact he was the same age as me, a very real contemporary, made the news all the more poignant.

the fly in the web said...

Mr Fly, very ill for years now, was shocked to find through one of those reunion sites that ten per cent of his classmates were already dead...he just kept asking himself why them and not him.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: your school friends always seem young and undying... the side effects of memory, I guess. It is always very sobering to discover the frail reality at reunions.

Suburbia said...

Such an awful thing for his family to live with.

There was a girl in the year above me who was knocked off her bike by a lorry as she was cycling to school. I have never forgotten her, even though I was only vaguely aware of her. Her name was Clare.

Makes me think how lucky I am

Steve said...

Suburbia: indeed, and just how chancy life and survival are. There but for the grace of God...

Dicky said...

This is a lovely post that reminded me of something in my past.

I was waiting to speak to my daughter in her school one day when I spotted a plate up on the wall. It was in memory of R. Elliot a teacher who died in 1984. I was at the school then and remembered Mr. Elliot with great fondness. He was a top guy and an excellent teacher. Strange how you totally forget someone who had a big influence on your life, so quickly.

Steve said...

Dicky: but then again you never really forget them when they are brought back to your thoughts so quickly. Everybody is there... just waiting to be remembered.

Mark said...

Very peculiar how these tings can affect us. I have lost a number of friends (not all close) to cycling (to cars hitting them actually) to drowning and falling - and last week an ex-colleague committed suicide.

The mountaineer Jo Simpson wrote an autobiography called This Game of Ghosts - though not quite the same as what you're describing it touches on some similar themes.

Steve said...

Mark: from other people's comments it would appear that travel is one of our most dangerous pastimes.

helen Codd said...

This is exactly how I feel: I knew Wayne from the age of 4. His family knew my parents well. You're right- it was such a shock. I've never been sure how much of an accident it really was, and I think schools deal with this kind of news far more sensitively now.
Thank you for posting about this- it still haunts me.

Steve said...

Helen: bless you. It's lovely to hear from someone who was also there and who remembers. We took our eldest boy to the new North Leamington school on Tuesday (it was their open day). The old building we knew has gone and has been replaced with (I have to say) a fabulous college like mini campus. The facilities are wonderful. All traces of that ol' tower block are long gone... but I caught a view over the fields to Park Hall and it all came flooding back and, just for a second, I felt the old building around me. I often think of Wayne but I guess Tuesday night shone a much brighter light on him.

I hope you and yours are all well. Thank you for commenting.

Helen Codd said...

Hi Steve,
It's strange how the 'old days' are coming back so much: i'm fb friends with Tamara Lucas-as-was, and Ben Purcell (who is now Ben Payne). I too was shocked and upset when Robin Corcoran dies, even though I last saw him in 1987. Tamara and I were best friends in 1983-4, then fell out massively, but now can't even remember why ;)
Thank you again for posting. I now live in Lancashire, so I won't experience my daughter going to NLS, but I can imagine how it felt for you. Neither of us 'fitted in' at the time but we have good lives now (and I am in awe of your writing and blogging: I have written and had published 2 academic books but I really want to write crime fiction).I hope you and your wife and boys are fine too: your posting got it so 'right' and reassured me I'm not the only one who still remembers. x

Löst Jimmy said...

I think it often hits people long after the event while others as soon as it happens. A friend of mine took his own life just after leaving school. He made a trivial mistake but no doubt to him it was enormous, such a tragic way.

Clippy Mat said...

It's good that you remember him. That's all that matters really,
You have a good heart. :-)

Keith said...

There are three guys from my year at school who have since died, ( suicide, illness and, yes, motorbike accident ) It is odd how somehow, they are still out there, living a full, proper life and you don't hear from them because you have just fallen out of touch, like so many others, and not because they have fallen further than that.

Steve said...

Helen: I remember Tamara - and remember her as being a very gentle and kind girl. Robin was a great guy - and news of his death really did sadden me. The worst thing was not realizing he'd stayed so local. I've lost touch with everyone from Manor - the only person who has stayed around is Tris but he went to Park (however, our association goes right back to Junior school). Steve Fox and Steve Harkin both moved away though I have occasional email contact with Steve H - living and working in Nottingham. Steve F I last heard was working for the fraud squad in Maidenhead. That was some years ago now. Yes, neither of us fitted in and I remember my time at North Leam with great ambivalence because of it. I don't think I particularly fit in now but something wonderful happened in my late twenties: I stopped caring so much. Life got much more enjoyable after that and I started to actually live! Congrats on the academic publications - as for the crime fiction, go for it. I've nearly finished my second novel now and will be getting both it and the first onto Kindle in the new year. Still chasing the dream...!

Löst Jimmy: I think suicides bring a sense of tragedy all of their own and far more unanswered questions and a very personal sense of regret.

Clippy Mat: thank you. It's amazing how long our school days stay with us.

libby said...

Reading this and the comments, made me think about people from my teenage years who had their lives cut tragically short......one beautiful girl who was knocked down outside the college and a lad who hanged himself........so very very sad and both are brought back to my memory when I hear certain records....how lucky we all are to be here instead of them.....destiny/fate/whatever.

Steve said...

Keith: you're so right. It is not down to location or proximity but rather the tightness of the circles we all move in.

Libby: makes you realize that school very often teaches us lessons that are well outside the curriculum. It feels wrong that these tragedies should occur but, of course, life is sadly just not like that.

bigwords is... said...

Awful, just awful. Must say this is quite a sombering blog post to reenter the world of blog commenting after being too busy to scratch myself. I hope it is not reflection of you feeling blue. xx

Steve said...

Bigwords is: no, don't worry, I'm fine. Firing like a spitfire. This post just took me by surprise but is not indicative of any depression or lasting moroseness!

TimeWarden said...

I can't understand how anyone could be pleased that someone of their acquaintance had died, however much disliked. There's many a person I can't stand but I wouldn't wish them ill. I hope the girl you mentioned learnt the error of her immature comment!

The Sagittarian said...

When I was 9 a close family friend's daughter died of cancer, Brigit was her name...later that year another family friend's daughter had a brain anyurism but lived, albeit she is blind, but she's still alive with kids of her own. Lottery indeed.

Steve said...

TimeWarden: Lord knows. After leaving that school after the final exams I never saw her again. I don't consider it a loss.

Being Me said...

"Everybody is there. Just waiting to be remembered."

Absolutely. Beautifully put. This post (and your commenters) have given me something to be thankful for: Through my entire school years, there was not one student death that I can recall. Not even in another year. I find that quite astounding, now I know more the fragility of life.

Steve said...

Being Me: I think these happenings aren't as rare as we think but also, thankfully, not as common. Some are avoidable, some are not. Most seem bitterly pointless and sad just because the those involved are so very young and full of so much potential. Life is very fragile, even in those whom you would consider it should beat the strongest.

missbehaving said...

This really made me think about the people I`ve known, my own age who are already gone. I spent this summer with my friend, her teenage son took his own life, if only they could comprehend the devastation they leave behind.
And when I was in JHS, there was a family of five boys, one weekend there was a car crash and the parents were killed, those poor boys were forever the kids with the dead parents. I can`t remember their names but I sometimes wonder what became of them.
Schools here do not deal with things any better than they did in the UK 30 years ago unfortunately.

Steve said...

Missbehaving: I guess institutions, like individuals, always find such events hard to deal with. All these stories... make me really count my blessings and realize that you have to value what you've got while you've got it.

English Rider said...

I remember returning to school one September to be told that a classmate had been swept off a rock by a wave and was drowned. I had been so impressed by his artistic ability that, even now that I no longer recall his name, I can visualize his impressionistic painting of Kew Gardens, transforming random splotches of color into a landscape of trees and flowers.

Steve said...

English Rider: it is amazing and comforting to realize that we all touch each other's lives in ways that we can never imagine.