Return to Horror High

The school I spent nearly six years of my life has changed beyond recognition, but I’ve changed too. For years I wrote books for young adults, but somehow against the odds successfully switched the writing adult fiction. But while I wrote books for teenagers, I found myself touring, hitching my way around schools across Scotland. A few years ago, I was invited back to my alma mater to promote a book that wasn’t very good. Once there, I came upon a police van leaving the premises. Then to the library, where I spent most of my time when I should have been in P.E. class with everyone else. It still had the same carpet it had over a decade earlier. Well, I thought, this is interesting.

Sometimes I think about those years, but not often, certainly less so as I get older. Today, however, something happened. My friend was talking about his new role in a musical. Oh, I said, what songs are you singing? He rattled off a list of songs from musicals I’d never heard of in my life, until he finally got to one song I knew. Beauty School Dropout from Grease, he said. If he mentioned other songs afterwards, I didn’t hear him. Instead, I remembered. A flashback threw me across the years, all the way to high school, until I was back in the Assembly Hall, which doubled as a theatre and torture chamber every Parents’ Evening. It isn’t that I hate Beauty School Dropout. Not at all. In fact, I love it. Whenever I see Grease on TV (usually near Christmas), I watch until that song. When my school chose Grease for the 1998 annual musical, I only wanted to hear that song. For one year only, Grease was the word. Well, that and ‘Prelims’. I was learning to type in Office And Information Studies, a skill that really did help me over the years. My teacher was a lovely woman whose name we’ll chance to Mrs Welsh. She was many things. Good at typing, quick to laugh, and often slightly sardonic.

Why don’t you take part in the school show? She said one afternoon while I was getting my work marked. I explained I couldn’t possibly be in the school show. Me? I replied, slightly unsure of why she’d started on me about the new show. But I can’t act. In reality, the thought of being in front of everything made me want to piss blood in fear. Worse, learning all those lines would be impossible. Besides, I could never recite someone else’s words. Only my own. Also, and most importantly, I had a singing voice like a hairdryer being hurled into a hot tub. You’re such a drama king, she told me, thinking that alone gave me the qualifications to be onstage in the show. Then, the words that would haunt me. I can’t wait to see Beauty School Dropout. Once uttered, they couldn’t be taken back. I was set for a moment of trauma that would haunt me years later, while having tea with a friend in a musical.

Frankie Avalon Beauty School Drop Out HD – YouTube

Grease was a big deal. The previous year we’d put on The Wizard of Oz and I’d covered it for the local newspaper, who paid me in tea and cake. Posters went up around the school, designed by a girl who would later become one of the most significant people in my life. The art department got involved, the head of the department helping out, giving us something to talk about other than his hairline, which had long since receded to the back of his arse. He was probably the age I am now. These things astonish me, like I’m the only person in the world who has aged. He wasn’t the only teacher to take part. The head of Drama was there as was our dance instructor, who also taught Maths (which we all know stands for Mental Abuse Towards Humans). I’m not saying they used the show to recapture a long lost time, but they were very enthusiastic.

Friends tried out. Some were rejected, others managed to land a role. Classmates were excited. The Pink Ladies were cast and The T Birds were assembled from all the best singers our year had to offer. Lance (not his real name) was a curly haired charmer who allegedly made himself taller so he could become a pilot. He could hold a tune, which meant he was immediately cast. The lead singer of Randy, our obligatory Britpop band, surprisingly didn’t audition. Or maybe he did. The details are hazy like the band’s music. Then there was Johnny (not his real name), who got the lead role, much to everyone’s shock and horror. He’d later go into acting, appearing on an EastEnders advert and lots of theatre. His Casting Call Pro page lists all his accents, which I always imagined were delivered in the style of Chandler from Friends. Finally, there was Cassie, who got the role of Sandy, which she approached with Streep like intensity. I was gobsmacked, because I thought Melanie from Sixth Year would have won the role. She was the subject of bizarre urban legends, the kind told in toilets during break, or at the wall while waiting for the queue to go down in the lunch hall. Melanie, it was said, always got a lead role. She was there for Grease. She was there for the Wizard of Oz. She was even there for Calamity Jane (a real calamity) long after she’d graduated. I sometimes think she’s still there at the new school, performing a lead role. I doubt even the hurricane that swept Dororty out of Kansas could snatch Melanie away from the school show.

Sixth year, meanwhile, were attempting to have their own Saved By The Bell moment with a yearbook they needed us to pay for. Your names will be in it, said the project co-ordinator. What about our photos? asked someone else from the fifth year. No, it’ll just be our photos, was the response. Their attempts at turning us into a prototype Kickstarter for their own ends came to nothing, like their yearbook. I wished nothing but excrement and misery on them all, because back then I was very insecure and easily rattled by aggressively enterprising people. That was my era of weeping over the prospect of turning sixteen and paying council tax.

On the night itself, I turned up to the Assembly Hall with a notepad and pen, ready to give the show my most cutting review. The world would know my bitchy brilliance, or at least the people who read the Cumbernauld News. Actually, Grease was good. Everyone did a good job. I watched, waiting for my favourite song. Frenchie, whose head seemed on the verge of tilting off her neck during any chorus, was ready to perform. But who would be the Frankie Avalon of the night? I couldn’t wait to find out. Then the spotlight shifted, landing on the middle of the stage, and two figures appeared, both dressed like they were going out to dinner with friends at The Beefeater. Maybe they did afterwards? I recognised them as two teachers, one of whom gave me a bad grade a few years earlier. To this day, I still don’t know how two members of the teaching faculty managed to snatch a role in the school show. My jaw might have dropped, but my ears remained in place. A friend seated next to me (I didn’t have many friends) looked at me but said nothing. He knew. This, we understood, was trauma – the sort that cost a lot of money to erase. But time worked just as well as an expensive therapist. I forgot. Years later, long after the school was flattened, replaced by a modern new building with a state of the art theatre next door, I suddenly remembered. Or did I? Sometimes I remember it differently. With the musical in a few days time, the one my friend is rehearsing for, I’m keen on hearing songs from an audience full of people. I’ve missed that feeling of being somewhere with people singing their hearts and souls to strangers. More than that, I can’t wait to see how Beauty School Dropout is handled. Now one question. The only question I need to ask myself.

Will Melanie get the lead role in the musical?

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