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.