Emancipation of Gordon Spanner
It was on the morning of his first birthday that Gordon Spanner began to act
Mary, his devoted and dim mother, picked him out the cot
and crooned soft wishes through his tufty hair.
‘Who’s the most beautiful baby that ever lived?’
Gordon veered his blue gaze towards her and replied
calmly, ‘I am’.
Mary’s eyes widened. She stood gawping at her plump-ball
of delight and then bolted upstairs to the bedroom with Gordon clamped to her
‘John! Gordon can speak. On his birthday, too.’
Her husband’s form shifted under the covers. ‘Let me
guess. Was it “mama”?’
‘No, it was “I
am”. The words “I am”. He was answering a question.’
Of course he was, thought John, yawning.
After showering, John trotted downstairs to see Mary
looming over Gordon’s highchair, enunciating ‘ma-ma’. He was in time to hear Gordon say ‘Mother’ beautifully and well.
‘Did you hear that, John? That’s a proper word,’ Mary
cried. ‘He’s going to be clever.’
When John returned from work that evening he caught Mary
trying to coax a da-da from Gordon who was having none of it and insisting on
On seeing the man in question, Gordon smiled and
chirruped, ‘Father, how nice to see you.’
Both parents froze. Sausages popped in the pan as they
stared in astonishment, Mary thinking of her son’s brilliance and John
wondering where the hell it came from.
Each day after, Gordon vomited forth a bellyful of new
words. The strangeness of it all was that his accent was elevated, softer and
of a clearer timbre than his parents. He had somehow sailed over their thick
haar and smashed consonants to arrive at the style of an early-days BBC
‘He’s a bit bloody posh, ain’t he?’ stated Uncle Harry,
after listening to Gordon’s views on the snack served up at the Baby and
Toddlers group that day. ‘And precocious. He’s not natural.’ Uncle Harry liked
to speak candidly and the more extreme his views, the more candidly he spoke.
Gordon’s second birthday was celebrated at the kitchen table with fish and
chips from the local chippy. Gordon and Mary were perched at the table – Mary
icing a chocolate extravaganza of a cake and Gordon organising the smarties
into a G. John walked in from work.
Gordon licked some icing off his fingers as he
scrutinised John. ‘Oh, it’s you, Father. I thought it must have been Weary
Willie, the state of you.’
The diction was flawless and the fledgling sarcasm spot
on, an accomplishment that went unappreciated by John who stood in the doorway
holding the pokes of fish and chips and agog at being likened to the town
At the age of six, when picnicking in the local park, Gordon’s eyes trailed the
movements of the warden collecting litter.
‘It must be terrible to do that. Picking up dirty things.
Why is he doing that, Father?’
John did a handsome job of explaining how the working
class should earn a rightful wage, and take pride in it, no matter how
demeaning the task. ‘Like me, for example. I sit at a desk doing hard sums and
if my sums are correct then Big Boss Lady gives me enough money for food and a
holiday to Scarborough.’
Gordon swivelled a pair of hard eyes up to his father.
He had found the speech coarse, but worse, he thought the sentiment
distasteful. ‘You do witter on.’ For the next few months he christened his
father John the Yawn, much to the glee of Uncle Harry.
Each morning Gordon took to observing John leaving the
house with a pressed shirt and middling mood and returning ten hours later, a
lone line of greyness stooping under the glow of the lampposts. (For years
Gordon supposed his mother switched them on so his father could find his way
home. She did everything else for him.)
‘How was work, Father?’
‘Fine. Same as yesterday.’
‘Are you boss yet?’
‘No, I’m what’s called middle management, we’ve
discussed this before.’
‘But that was last week. Don’t you want to be in charge
of everyone and not do dull stuff?’ Gordon was maddened by his father’s
John was maddened by his son’s depressing questions.
‘Christ, son, it’s me who does the dull stuff, as you call it. If nobody did
the dull stuff where would we be? We can’t all be boss.’
Not you, thought Gordon, but I can. With determination
as obtusely strong as his, he knew he would never heel to Big Boss Lady. He
understood the way out for him, the way to escape from his colourless and
unremarkable world, was education. He glued himself to textbooks and frequented
the library so often that the librarian, a pudding-faced besom who cosseted the
books as if she had written them herself, was irritated enough to consider
Gordon also irritated Uncle Harry who harped and
bristled on each visit.
‘Watches too much bloody television. Takes after those
snooty presenters with their la-di-dah voices.’ Uncle Harry glared at his
nephew who sat cross-legged, playing solitaire chess.
‘Shoosh, now. He’s got ears,’ mumbled Mary, her head
bowed into the ironing.
‘Pr’haps he’s queer. He sounds like a queer.’
Mary stopped ironing. Now there was a
possibility. Had something gone amiss in the womb? Was Gordon growing up to be
The notion their son might be a mincing, lisping
lightweight tormented Mary and John. After many fretful nights of hard discussion
they vowed to purge all sissy nonsense by dragging Gordon to football, either
to play, where he was to excel at crunching into opponents, or to watch, where
he enjoyed effing and blinding with the other spectators, albeit in tidier
No, homosexuality was not the problem. It was Nana Betty
who sniffed out the truth on the day an eleven year old birthday-boy Gordon
requested horse riding lessons, ‘Or an annual membership for Hound and Hare.’
‘Jesus Christ, he’s fricken’ upper class,’ stated Nana
Betty in disbelief, rocking out of her slouch on the settee and trying to spit
off the words from her tongue. Case solved. It made sense instantly: Gordon’s
passion for grammar; a severe bent towards anything regal or tweed; an interest
in violent sports. Mary and John, a stolid working class couple with no
intention of straying from their rung on the ladder, had given birth to
‘I suppose we should be relieved we know what’s wrong
with him,’ mooched Mary, ‘But what is the cure?’
‘There’s no bleedin’ cure, Mary, love,’ cried John,
thinking if he was a woman he would at this moment be bubbling into a hanky.
They could do nothing but watch as the taint of
superiority swarmed over their son like a virulent birthmark. The bottom of
their Parent’s Love Barrel was scraped daily for forced resolution.
‘We’ve brought him up for eleven years and managed,’
Mary uttered, sitting in the coffee-coloured front room sewing a button onto
one of John’s work shirts. ‘We shall protect our son from the bullies. We shall
protect him from those that snigger, whatever the cost shall be.’
‘He goes up to the big school in August, Mary. They’ll
tear him apart,’ John snapped his newspaper. ‘I would take away all his
brightness and brilliance if he were just a normal boy. He’s my son, but dear
God, what a trial he is.’
But Gordon was not torn apart at the big school. His
excellence and brutality at football saved him from the persecution of the
hormonally charged boys. His sweet manners and looks attracted the feral girls,
and his dedication to studying won over the teachers. The only problem person
was Stuart Morton: Patron Saint of Bullies.
‘Oh, look, it’s Poof-finder General,’ Stuart would sneer
in the corridor behind Gordon. ‘Find any poofs to bum bash, you fag?’ And then
he’d push his flat pancake face right into Gordon’s. He wouldn’t actually hit
Gordon as he knew of Gordon’s demon slide football tackles, but the threat was
Gordon suffered these jibes with polite, good grace but
back home he would treat himself to an evening of cutting out photographs from Country
Life magazines and collaging them into dream lifestyles.
‘One day I shall be like you. No, not like, I will be
you,’ he told a debonair rider, bracing for a jump.
And that day came closer when Gordon stepped through the portals of an elite
university. He almost sobbed on hearing his own magnificent, strangled vowels
drip from the mouths of other students – students whose teeth had never had
occasion to chew their way through a battered sausage from the local chippy.
I shall stalk and charm these students, thought Gordon.
I shall smoke pot till dizzy and drink till politically adept.
Sex, too, was more thrilling, for who could fail to
orgasm with someone who knew how to say, ‘Shall I go on top?’ in Received
‘He’s got worse,’ sniffed Uncle Harry during the
holidays. ‘It’s like he’s got a rod up his arse. We never had the chance of
going to bloody yooni.’
Perhaps he believes stupidity and hardship should be
congenital, fumed Gordon, who appeared to be lying flop-haired and easy on the
settee, smoking a cigarette. In reality he yearned to be out and away from the
pig-shit shade of wallpaper and the uncle-creature who sat condemning in the
‘D’you see the way he ponces about with that fag? All
airs and graces and wafting all over the place.’ Uncle Harry pranged his own
cigarette between puce-coloured lips and sucked hard.
As intended, Gordon heard these comments and winced, but
not because of his uncle’s views, rather because of his diction.‘Waafting’
instead of ‘wofting’?
Gordon survived the long break and breached the
university gates like a drowning swimmer gasping for air. He sought out his
roommate: Hugh Featherstone, of the speckled forehead and prim pointed nose.
‘God, Hugh, that break was interminable. My family is
awful. Does that sound snobbish? I’d hate to be thought of as a snob.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t,’ laughed Hugh. ‘I am and love being a
snob. Made it into an art form. I too have an awful family. Like pissed sheep
with woolly brains. Except my sis, she’s all right. Has complete disdain for
anyone who resides below the line of the Better Bred. Simply doesn’t see their
purpose, unless they’re wearing a uniform.’
‘You must introduce me.’
Hugh lolled on the chair by the window of their room. ‘I
shall and soon.’ He lit a cigarette. Once a column had grown, he casually
dipped a hand and tapped the ash onto the carpet. Gordon had never thought to
flick ash onto a carpet. His mother’s eyes would have popped out of her permed
head at such a sight. I must sever those parental ties, he promised himself.
‘No, Mother, I have to finish this essay. If I don’t I may be expelled.’ He
knew the idea terrified his parents and for two whole terms they left him in
peace. At the end of the Easter holidays, as he was writing at his desk, the
door opened and Hugh appeared, light shining behind his glorious thin, red
‘Good God, are you actually studying? I thought that was
a ruse.’ Hugh clasped his long fingers to his heart. ‘Stop at once. I’ve
brought someone to see you.’
Gordon rubbed his eyes and looked up. A Rubenesque
beauty was holding forth an elegant hand. His heart crunched in adoration.
Hugh gave a lordly sweep of his hand. ‘Meet Miranda. The
only member of my family not to be mentally or physically unsound, gibberingly
doolally or deviant.’
‘Oh, you’re the deviant one, Hugh,’ trilled this
Lust oozed within Gordon and only innate charm prevented
him from gushing like an American. Miranda was a fleshier, pinker, gigglier
version of Hugh. If a young Gordon had collaged his ideal woman from magazines,
Miranda Featherstone would have been the result.
Gordon shadowed her, determined to grind into her china
white bones and then demand her hand in marriage. After their first time
sleeping together he stated, ‘You shall marry me.’
‘I must have been good,’ laughed Miranda.
She had been. Her thighs were rock solid from years of
riding and he had had to wrestle her into submission.
The wedding date was set for one year after graduation.
Gordon would have been delirious with success were it not for the unavoidable
meeting of the parents. He had so far fenced Miranda and Hugh’s queries
regarding the Spanner family but now it was showtime. And what a circus-led fiasco
it would be. The thought made him sick. He decided on trickery. The wrong time
was printed on the Spanner invites and when the clan eventually huffed and
puffed through the doors of Lord and Lady Featherstone’s grand estate, the
actual ceremony was over. Lady Featherstone stared open-mouthed at the
Spanners’ knicker-high outfits, and was that really someone wearing Army
fatigues? Uncle Harry and Hugh spent the wedding meal eyeing up one another in
‘Good God, does that man actually share your DNA?’ asked
Hugh over a shared cigarette. ‘He’s been glaring at me and muttering the word
‘poofter’ for the last two hours.’
The evening consisted of both families keeping to their
trenches on either side of the ballroom. Uncle Harry hissed out obscenities
through barred teeth and Mary and John didn’t dare violate the dance floor. The
night was as flat as the non-alcoholic drinks served up by the Featherstones
after Gordon had insisted his family were strict temperance folk. At eleven
o’clock the Spanners fled from the mansion in search of the nearest pub and the
Featherstones broke out the champagne.
‘Perhaps you were switched at birth, darling,’ suggested
a stunned Miranda.
‘I don’t belong to them, but they just won’t let go,’
But six months later a chink of freedom appeared.
Gordon was returning from a rugby bash and happened to be driving through his
old town with a fiercely full bladder. He stopped the Range Rover and hurried
into a pub. The gentle click of pool balls and sharp mix of sweat and beer
greeted his frantic entrance. Toilet duty done, he was making his way out when
a voice shouted over, ‘Fuck sake, if it’s not ponce boy Gordo.’
Gordon chilled at the greeting. It was Stuart Morton,
stuffed into a booth and surrounded by wan-faced cronies. It was amazing the
ravages a few years could make: crusted skin, mottled teeth and the sneers and
leers sagging that bit lower.
‘Stuart. What a treat,’ Gordon clenched out.
One of Stuart’s number creaked out of the booth and stood in front of Gordon,
his fusty breath rolling in and out.
‘Fucking treat, my arse,’ croaked Stuart. ‘Think you can
slime your way into my pub and slime your way back out?’
Gordon stayed silent.
‘Slopped off to some high fallutin’ yooniversity and now
think we’re not good enough to kiss your backside.’ Stuart’s glottal stops
Gordon braced himself and then smoothly said, ‘You’ve
never been good enough to kiss anyone’s backside, Stuart. You are a cunt.’
The ‘c’ was like cracked ice and the ‘t’ a crisp and
clean finish. There was a moment’s silence while everyone stiffened. Stuart
blinked, trying to reshuffle the words around, wondering if Gordon had indeed
been stupid enough to insult him. Once this was processed, he launched across
the table, intent on extracting a pound of elitist flesh. Gordon did lash back
but this only brought forth the other yobs.
As he went down in the scrum,
Gordon caught a squint of a patron at another table. It was his father, bone
white and dumbstruck, and the squint had been long enough to see his father
bend deep behind a newspaper.
Gordon relaxed and let himself be crushed; knowing that any claim from his
colourless and unremarkable previous life had just been puffed into the ether
and was now falling around him like tickertape.