I’m starting to do some background research for the story School Lane, a true story about a man I met who was had been in the Hitler Youth and objected to being called a Nazi. I wanted to find out more about German villages and the Eidelweiss Pirates so I turned, as you do for everything these days, to Google. All I wanted to do was find some pictures that would show me a German village, so I could imagine the mood of it in my head. Richard Curtis played one song over and over again when he was writing films, so I thought I could allow myself this one small indulgence. I don’t do this a lot. Honest, guv. It was just the once. For research. For this book and that. To see what was there. That’s the only reason I was looking at pictures like that, straight up, as they used to say on The Sweeney.
There were, as you might guess, a lot of photos of Aryan maidens. I presume they were, anyway. They put me in mind of a story I heard from a man who used to fly P51 Mustangs out of Leiston airfield in WWII. After the war he got a job as a press photographer on a newspaper, back in the days when things in small American towns were much the same as they were in James Stewart’s film Harvey. I know this country. I drove around the MidWest in a Chevrolet. I didn’t watch attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, it’s true. But I did see Nancy-Jean practising on the football field with the squad in the rain, one Saturday morning in Indiana. That was a long time before anyone had the idea they didn’t want to be one, like Ms St Vincent. Still, she was 30 when she sang that and the other girls were getting a little embarrassed.
You need to focus
One day he had an assignment to go and photograph at some girls High School out in the nowheres for some sporting event or other back in the mists of time. All the girls lined up outdoors, some twenty or so cheerleaders asked to stand stiff and straight in the Florida sunshine. Being young girls they started fidgeting and chatting to each other and he couldn’t get exactly the picture he wanted. It was just turning into one of those days.
Eventually he had to ask the teacher if she could ask the girls to please stay still so he could just click the shutter and get the job done. Pleasant though it was looking at cheerleaders that fine morning he had other stuff to do. Certainly, the teacher said.
“Stand still girls, the photographer wants to focus.”
No-one ever owned up to being the cheerleader who said, “What, all of us?”