Beasts of Stanger

Bests of England in song

David Maine and I were great friends. In fact, he was more like a brother. David lived with us—his dad died, leaving his mom alone to raise David and his sister Jeanette, and then David’s mom died when he was in Standard 8. My parents kind of adopted him as their ward so that he’d be able to finish his schooling alongside the five of us.

If there was mischief to be had, we would have it. David and I.

It was a school day. We were at Stanger High, my dad (Mr Aitchison) was the principal and our English teacher was late for class.

Where was Mr Sträuli? Not that we weren’t having a great gab… but, well, I did have my guitar with me and I’ve always wanted to sing “Beasts of England and Animal Farm was tantalisingly open on our desks. I mean, it was Matric and we were practically done with school anyway…

Sometimes, in life, coincidences collide in one calamitous beautiful moment that presents opportunity on the shiniest of silver platters.

I picked up my guitar.

The book describes the tune as a combination of “La Cucaracha” and “Oh My Darling Clementine”–I struck a chord and started to sing, darlings and clementines replaced with the noise of beasts and the sound of revolution.

David thought this was excellent stuff and encouraged everyone to sing along.

I morphed into Old General – loud and proud – and my subjects bellowed in brays and neighs in a glorious racket to the tune of the rebellion. We exaggerated every note and syllable of the full seven stanzas until we heard Vice Principal Sträuli bulldozing his way down the corridor. We knew we were in for it.

Throwing the door aside, red faced and furious, Sträuli bellowed, “Vot iss going on here?”

Dead silence.

(We were scared of old Sträuli.)

“Vho iss responsible for zis?”

And because I’m sitting there holding the guitar – everyone looks at me: “It was Claire Aitchison, and David Maine as well”. Thrown under the bus.

And we got detention.

It was totally worth it. Although, where the heck was Sträuli in the first place?—The more pertinent question if you ask me.

Storyteller: Clare Paterson

Author: Andrea Zanin

Clare Paterson grew up in Durban but moved to Joburg in her twenties, and is currently teaching history at Saheti. Her three children and 10 grandchildren live in England; she misses them lots but enjoys visiting her family and jolling around London and the green pastures of the UK. And she still knows the words to “Beasts of England”.

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