A year ago, they said they were going to show the Law of the Playground on the television. I had my mum propped up on a broomhandle in front of the telly, with utterly clear instructions that she wasn’t to move a muscle. My cousin’s daughters had told people in school, basking in the tertiary cool that comes from having a relative you don’t talk to that much being theoretically linked to a TV show. The publisher of the book became so excited that the static charge on his jumper defibrillated everyone in the room.
And then they didn’t show it. My mother slumped to one side in a crestfallen fashion, my cousin’s daughters were nailed to a creaky door for telling lies about the telly, and the publisher came out of his megavolt rage to see that he was surrounded by death, and his painting of an inspirational dolphin had been turned into a portal leading directly to hell. Perhaps I should say “transmuted”. Turned seems a bit lame, considering it was a portal to hell.
But now, it’s totally happening. And you do know why I know it’s totally happening? Because Vic Reeves was just on an advert for it, because it’s on the Radio Times website, and most of all, because a teacher has written an article in the newspaper saying it’s a miserable and moronic show, of which everyone in the world should be ashamed. And his name’s Francis Gilbert, which sounds pretty fucking clever if you ask me. So I feel I should engage him in ULTRA-SERIOUS DEBATE. What do you say about the TV show, Mr Gilbert?
It is based on Jonathan Blyth’s The Law of the Playground website (www.playgroundlaw.com) and book which has gathered a cult following on the internet because it is choc-a-bloc with supposedly amusing schoolyard anecdotes.
Cough! Splutter! Supposedly amusing? I could talk about his three books, which detail his experiences as a teacher in a world that’s quite literally falling apart around his awful head, and I could say that they are supposedly thought-provoking, or that “according to so-called conventional wisdom, they’re not written by a booby-hat“.
Instead, I just stole the photo of him from his agent’s page. Now I don’t have a particular attachment to the Law of the Playground TV series, but this guy’s ragging on my book. And that’s like men in bio-suits from some shadowy government agency storming into my house and screaming “WHERE IS THE GODDAMN EXTRATERRESTRIAL WE’VE GOT PERMISSION FROM TONY BLAIR TO ROUGH UP YOUR DOG”. So allow me to put words into your mouth, Mr Glandpiss Bumsquirt.
“DOOOO! By dabe’s Fwancis Glibret. Look! I’m outraged! It just drives me so mad! I’m hopping mad, and I don’t care who knows it! You know what I’m going to do? if you don’t stop having children at me, I’m going to write book after book about how how my life has been ruined because a nation packed full of rapists and whores that won’t stop having children at me.”
What does he go on to say?
The website is much more successful because it can be dipped in and out of and it doesnâ€™t demand that you laugh: youâ€™ve got a moment to pause and reflect on each story.
Oh. Fair enough, I like you again now. In fact, I can quite imagine us being introduced at one of Madame Engadine’s wonderful parties.
SCENE SEVEN: MADAME ENGADINE’S DINNER PARTY
ENGADINE: Oh Mr Blyth, you absolutely must meet Francis. He simply abhors children, so I imagine he is gay. Perhaps you will fall in love.
BLYTH: Exquisite idea, Madam Engadine. It has been months since I fell in love properly. My last few encounters have been rather like getting soap out of a wall-mounted dispenser.
ENGADINE: Mr Gilbert sir, would you come over here? Is everything alright, my dear?
GILBERT: No. I’m utterly outraged. It’s the children, they’re just so hideous. Don’t you think?
BLYTH: Vile, quite vile. I hear that they trump, and then laugh at the trump.
GILBERT: That is not all. Sometimes they draw penises, for no reason at all. Then they laugh at the penises. Trumping and penises are not funny.
ENGADINE: I trumped on my dear husband’s penis last night, and I can assure you neither of us laughed. He said a bit of brown air went down his urethra.
GILBERT: I have vomited a million times.
[JONATHAN BLYTH (me) AND FRANCIS GILBERT MOVE INTO A BUNGALOW]
Of Francis Gilbert’s review of the LotP TV show, this is the paragraph I love most of all. I do, I love it, and it is what I’m going to make him say at our wedding.
I can testify from bitter personal experience that farting games are still very popular. In one of my classes, a troublesome boy emitted a loud fart while shouting at the top of his voice, â€œSafety!â€ â€“ the code word for this particular game. Immediately, there was a massed rush for the door as everyone tried to touch the door handle. A flurry of cussing ensued as the pupils screamed, â€œI touched the knob first! I touched it first! That means you get beats! Beats!â€ The boy who had done this, then turned to the rest of the gang and pummelled the arms of his peers. I learnt later the first one to touch the door knob was entitled to beat everyone else. I looked on in astonishment and dismay. My lesson on Shakespeareâ€™s language was ruined: another language had supplanted it, the school boy language of â€˜fartsâ€™ and â€˜knobsâ€™ and mayhem.
Farts and knobs! What IS this behaviour? It’s just so inexplicably childish! Gilbert goes on to say that this is distressing for everyone in the classroom, not just him. Distressing for the everyone running towards the door handle, Mr Gilbert? I put it to you – using the very evidence you have supplied me with, like the lawyer skillz I have gained playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – that your children were having a great time, and you felt stupid because all you had was blank prose and diamic pentameter to tempt them away with. Like some anaemic Milky bar kid, trying to coax lions away from a deer corpse with lightly whipped nougat. You flimsy gondola of piss.
This very thing happened in my classroom about 18 years ago. I didn’t get involved, I was far too respectful of authority as a child for that. But it was fucking brilliant. Safety? Doorknob? Beats? Do you not find it funny at all, that one act could have such illogical but undisputed consequences? Do you not find it positively… Kafka-esque?
SCENE EIGHT: FRANCIS GILBERT’S BOOK PUBLISHER MEETING
PUBLISHER: So, Yob Nation. This is the third book you’ve written for us, Francis.
FRANCIS: Yes, it is. It’s essentially the same thing, but with a title that’s more likely to make newspapers want to talk to me.
PUBLISHER: Good luck with that, Francis. Your joyless brand of adult-orientated outrage and the odd statistic will go down a storm in the Mail, I’m sure. But that’s not why we’re here.
FRANCIS: Oh? I was just going to recline in this chair and read Porphyria’s Lover. It’s my favourite poem in the world, it really is. It paved the way for Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, in a very real sense.
PUBLISHER: Coughbendercough. Please, put the poetry down. As I say, this is your third book, and that means you have to kiss the next person who comes through that door. Unless you can say the alphabet backwards.
[FRANCIS LOOKS UTTERLY DESPONDANT AT THE LACK OF LOGICAL CAUSALITY, PULLS ALL HAIR OUT]
I’m quite certain I have no idea of the complexities of the classroom mechanic, but from the simplicities of that paragraph, you come across like a whimpering mound of tit-jelly. If we’re going to be married, Francis, you’re going to have to pull your socks up.
SCENE NINE: AT THE BUNGALOW OF LOVE
GILBERT: Oh, darling, it was terrible!
BLYTH: Tell me! I long to feel the sting of outrage!
GILBERT: One of the boys said “knob” today. He said it very loud.
BLYTH: In a reference to the male genitals, Francis?
GILBERT: No, it was about a doorknob.
[BLYTH SWOONS. GILBERT CRAWLS ONTO THE BALCONY AND PLAYS THE LUTE, WEEPING]
And Mr Gilbert – if someone says to you “this guy on the internet says you’re probably gay because you’ve made a living out of saying how awful it is to be a teacher”, don’t run off and write a piece in The Times, about how you’re absolutely certain that the internet is now the cause of children being right little cunts. Just turn around and say “what, that bloke on disappointment? He’s 100% gay, and he doesn’t even hide it. What the hell were you doing reading an openly homosexual man’s gay blog, you actual bummer?”. And if they protest, saying “I’m not gay,” tell them that they’re just repressed, and anyway it’s reverse-day, so they just came out to the class.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got three books on Amazon to review.