Gotta See Jane - R Dean Taylor
A summer break, swimming and eating in the garden ahead of tapping away on the digital ivories, but I'm back. Knocking around in my head has been another song by one of the lesser lights of Motown, R Dean Taylor.
When I was one of the posh but sad twelve year olds orphaned by my father's overseas career, I wound up in a twentieth century version of Dickens' Dotheboys Hall - a remote school in the Scottish Highlands named Aberlour House, which housed young boys aged from 7 to 13. I was subject to some pretty vicious bullying, the cruelest of which were conducted by a pair by name of Rennie and McLean. Apart from making my life hell in the daytime, the worst bit was the victimisation which continued into the night, and made the possible relief of my bed and sleep into yet another arena where I played mouse to their merciless cats. A particular "prank" that still haunts me was their practice of firing paper darts with pins in their points at me. These would penetrate my blankets and sheets and often draw blood. Of course I couldn't complain to anyone in authority about them as I would be named as a "sneak", shunned by all and sundry and bullied even more.
I tried to ingratiate myself with this pair when, after a term of this, I discovered that I had Scottish ancestry on my mother's side. This backfired as it turned out that the Thompson lineage which I thought would be my salvation was an offshoot of the Campbell clan, arch enemies of the Clan MacDonald of whom both Rennie and McLean were apparently members and who consequently blamed me personally for the massacre at Glencoe. This meant that they set about continuing my persecution with renewed enthusiasm culminating in a series of incidents where I was often found in the small hours either sleepwalking , or asleep, far from my bed in dark corners of the old building that housed us.
We had two Matrons, both about forty, one a buxom spinster called Miss MacAlum - we called her Miss Mack - who was famous for her cherry disposition, broad Highland accent and warm all-consuming hugs, a vital blessing in our motherless kingdom. The other Senior Matron was a Miss MacLeland, a tall, angular lady with a "gammy eye" as we called it (possibly glass), and something wrong with either her right foot or leg or both which meant that she walked with a an upright stumping limp and was consequently known as "Stumpy" behind her back. One night I was found wandering asleep and terrified in the dark by Miss Mack who took me to Miss MacLeland who kept me in her room till dawn. I don't know what I told her in that no man's land between dreams and wakefulness but it may have had something to do with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of MacLean from our midst some three or so weeks later.
After this my life was much easier. Rennie, bereft of his partner in crime, left me alone. If one is looking for psychological reasons as to why the pair might have acted like this, one might look no further than the fact that, prior to being at Aberlour, they were both enrolled at the age of 6 at its feeder school, Wester Elchies, which had been closed down four years before due to its state of very gothic dilapidation.
Perhaps a year after MacLean's departure I was persuaded by two friends to make up a party to cycle the eight or so miles to Wester Elchies so that Rennie could see his old home. I would be doing him a favour as he needed a certain amount of fellow students to accompany him to be permitted to go, and this seemed to me to be good insurance against a renewal of further unpleasantness. I was still wary of him though and also was not at all comfortable with my ability to mount a bike with a high crossbar, let alone ride it for 20 miles. They solved this problem by borrowing a Mini Moulten, a bike with a low crossbar and I was persuaded to go, against my better judgement.
On the way there I lagged behind, and I was aware of Rennie's growing impatience as they had to periodically wait for me to catch up on the narrow, granite highland roads. We picnicked at the stately ruin of his former school, although it was securely boarded up so that we could do little more than look at it. On the way back I Iost control of the Mini Moulten speeding down a steep hill while trying to catch up with the others, went off the road and smashed into a fence, hitting a post with my head while somehow narrowly missing its barbed wire top and attached fence. I staggered across around, a handkerchief clutched to my bleeding head for about five minutes until the others finally returned to look for me, and I remember Rennie, as I took the by now completely red kerchief off my forehead, exclaiming "Christ, you can see the bone". My friend Ricky had the presence to cycle helter skelter to the nearest farmhouse, a couple of miles off, and I recall been driven there by a farmer on a farm truck to await an ambulance. At hospital six stitches resulted (that was a lot in those days). I was advised that I was lucky, and that half an inch either way would have meant blindness in one eye or death respectively).
So I wound up the the "San", with a big bandage covering most of my head, and there I stayed for around two weeks while they watched over me, worrying, I now presume, in case there were any other concussive side effects that might kick in while the stitches mended. When I say "they" I mean the two matrons, but mostly Miss MacLeland. I don't know how you wound up being a spinster matron in an isolated prep school in the middle of the Scottish highlands, miles away from anywhere, but I remember that someone who I had previously thought of as a cold, remote and even slightly scary woman revealed a tender, compassionate side. She found me one of those old red transistor Roberts radios which I kept beside my bed and she allowed me to play Radio One on it, all hours of the day, unprecedented at Aberlour. One time I felt ill and she cured me by holding my waist tightly, causing me to vomit copiously. I remember the firm tenderness of her hands on my stomach to this very day. Later, when I left the school, I said goodbye, but still have a vague sense of guilt that I didn't give her the reciprocatory farewell that I truly meant.
Don' get me wrong. My prep school days were not all homesickness, loneliness and bullying. Things levelled out and I remember plenty of happy times, camping, fishing in the streams, climbing tress and so on. Idyllic at times even. But I still can't get over the the folly of parents who trusted complete strangers to act as surrogate parents to bring up their children. Why have children in the first place if you're just going to pay someone else, whom you hardly even know, to raise them? Thank goodness for the Miss MacLellands who somehow slip a bit of genuine love into those young people's lives for no other other reason that they want to, or even maybe need to. For me, at that moment with my mother over four thousand miles away, she made the difference.
Curiously, the only song that I recall from that period of hospitalisation was "Gotta See Jane" by R Dean Taylor, written by Taylor, Eddie Holland and a Motown jobbing writer, Ronald Miller. Maybe it's because the potential for Taylor to go skidding off the road which is so graphically illustrated by the squeeling tyres in the intro echoed my own crash. Maybe it was the iteration of lonelines that pervades the song. But the rest is pure Motown, the terrific but regular bass line that taps out the rhythm of the windshield wipers, the aching desolation of the violins, then the fabulous full-on attack of the funk brothers ensemble going hell for leather offset by Taylor's seemingly disembodied vocal. The words are desperate, yet yearning and tender, full of regret for the fact that he sacrificed their love for his corporate life:
"the frantic pace, the constant chase to win the race,
it's not a part of me,
I've got to find what I left behind
.....I've gotta see Jane"
and off we go, into the night.