Imagine for a moment if there was no Bible. There’d be no commandments, no parables, and no beatitudes. Imagine if instead, our book on how to be good human beings was Grimm’s Fairy Tales (this just a thought experiment. I’m not suggesting that we abolish the Bible).
We’d have Jack and the Beanstalk instead of David and Goliath (okay. I realize Jack isn’t a Grimm tale), Cinderella instead of Esther, and maybe Rapunzel’s tower instead of Babel. Some people have even suggested that Snow White is about resurrection.
Little Red Riding Hood would teach us to be cautious with whose advice we listen to. Goldilocks might tell us not to go where we’re not supposed to go, and Faithful Johannes could teach us about loyalty and devotion.
The Grimm’s tale that speaks to me though is ‘the Musicians of Bremen.’ The story concerns four animals who are all condemned to death because they’ve become useless on their respective farms. They each leave their farms, meet up by chance encounter, and turn themselves into a powerful alliance.
A couple of years ago, my younger brother, Simon, told me, “David Philips still remembers when you punched him in George Street.”
I did punch him. I regretted it the moment my knuckles touched his cheekbone, and I’ve regretted it every day ever since. For a few weeks I’d been part of David Philips’ group of friends. I’d always been a loner. This was the first time in my life I’d had friends. We played football together in Hove Park, we went to League games together, and we played a football board game called Subbuteo.
I even became a Man. City supporter.
But I was total fraud.
In the depths of my soul I hated football.
The moment my knuckles hit David Philips’ cheek, I was expelled from the group, never to be reinstated. I even walked the length of George Street alone. I didn’t blame them. I would have shunned myself.
I didn’t care for football, but even so I’d enjoyed the pick-up games in the park. I thought maybe my expulsion was temporary. I took my football to the park the next day, and searched all the usual spots for their game, but they weren’t there. I went the next Saturday, and I still couldn’t find them. I phoned a couple of them, but they were always too busy to come to the phone.
One useful thing the group had taught me was smoking cigarettes. Maybe I was at the park at the wrong time, so I bought a pack of ten Number 6, sat in the park shelter and smoked while I waited for the crew to show up. I never put two and two together, but they were probably playing their pick-up games somewhere else, specifically in order to avoid me. After all, nobody wants to play with a psycho.
While I sat and smoked, I watched a small gang of skinheads competing to see who could spit the furthest. I also noticed some other kids my age, playing on the swings and the Jungle Jim.
I stubbed out my cigarette, and went and asked the friendliest looking one if he wanted to kick a football around with me. He said, “Not really. I don’t much like football, but I’ll take a cigarette off you.”
He told me his name was Neil, and we sat on the roundabout and discussed a line in the Jimi Hendrix song, Purple Haze. He thought the line was, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy…”
I thought it was, “Excuse me what did that kiss disguise…”
We both agreed it was a brilliant record, even though we were both probably wrong about the line.
We were joined by another kid, Nick, who also hated football, but loved tanks, so the conversation drifted from Hendrix to tanks. I told him my dad had driven a tank in the war, and he thought that was impressive.
We were joined by a third kid, Dylan, who asked me for a ‘smoke,’ and then another kid named Rick. I can’t remember if Rick smoked or not, but he had strong opinions about music.
The next day I went back, and this time I didn’t even take my football. The same boys were there. We sat on top of the jungle Jim, and talked about music and tanks––and then girls. As we talked I realized we were all different ages, and mostly went to different schools. None of them knew each other––or maybe just by sight.
It turned out Rick played the drums, and Neil played bass. I was just learning guitar.
We were all loners, but we formed a band. We didn’t call ourselves the Bremen Town Musicians, but that’s exactly who we were.
In the Grimms tale the ‘musicians’ never actually play any instruments, and they never get to Bremen, but they do scare away a gang of evil bandits.
I’m probably just being a romantic here, but I like to think that as a loose group of not very scary 12-15 year olds we really did keep the playground free of skinheads.
They came back once––in force––then left for good, but that’s a different story.