Friday, 16 January 2015


"Okay, get into pairs," said my pretentious year 7 English teacher, "and we're going to look at a poem together." Predictably, I was left partnerless; I silently declared to do poetry analysis on my own - yet again.

She handed out the poem, which was named Two Shaggy Trainers - it was, of course, illustrated with two shaggy trainers, but since most people didn't get past the title, it was a bit of a pointless illustration. There was a general titter running its way through the classroom, stopping with my bully for the year, who took it upon himself to stand up - either temporarily forgetting the accepted convention of raising one's hand to attract the teacher's attention, or just wanting to be subversive. At the other end of the classroom, somebody who may have been a friend at one point (had he not been absolutely crazy) also stood up, just because he could.

"Miss," said my bully, "could you read out the title of this poem?"
"Uhm, it's right there," said my teacher, "Two Shaggy Trainers."

My bully sat down, laughing a little too much for someone whose crowning achievement was getting a teacher to say the word "shag". Our geography teacher said "shit" a lot, and the deputy head was heard to say "fuck" a few times too. But everyone was about 12 at this point - "shag" was probably the funniest word IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

"Miss," said somebody else, raising his hand, "what does the word 'shaggy' mean?"
"Zoinks!" said somebody else, in a passable imitation of Casey Kalem.
"Does anyone want to explain?" she replied, keeping her cool. I diligently raised my hand to give what I thought was a reasonable definition.

"Okay? Enough chit-chat. Discuss what the author of this poem's focus is and how the words he chose work together. In pairs. Go."

The crazy one threw himself headlong into a stack of lockers in the corner of the room.

Eighteen years later and I'm still struggling to remember an occasion upon which I've used the word "shag" to refer to sex. I've used almost every other euphemism under the sun and I once made a list of them with about 49 other people - it filled two pages of A1, and would have gone on had we not been running out of time. But saying "shag" doesn't really appeal to me. It doesn't feel right in my mouth. I've no objection to the word, really; I just think there are better ways to refer to sex.

I mean, shag is also a type of carpet or loose tobacco. Or a bird also known as a cormorant. And, as an adjective, "shaggy" can be applied to trainers.

Not that anyone stopped laughing enough to do any poetry analysis.

Except me. I'd finished already.

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