Go on, open it...
O my readers. O my sweet, sweet readers.
... How I have neglected you! If you were wondering (oh tell me you were wondering!) what I've been up to, why not peruse this slideshow, chronicling my recent frosty trip to Belfast.
But onward to the main feature.
THIS BIT COMING UP IS THE MAIN FEATURE
(Although obviously you'd have realised that in any case, as a result of the searing rhetorical pitch to which I have built. Yes, you know, a searing pitch. If you think that's a mixed metaphor, you obviously haven't played rugby on hot coals.)
Now, I've written before about crushing embarrassment. You might've thought that was self-revelation enough. But, since I didn't give you a Christmas present, I thought I'd belatedly treat you to another horrifically wretched anecdote from the Intellectual Hooligan's past.
This one is a crippler, I promise you.
In order fully to appreciate the Wagnerian intensity of my humiliation at the blunder which I will proceed to describe, it is necessary that you exercise your powers of empathy.
That you put yourself into the position of a 12-year-old boy.
He's an introverted little mite, not one given to rambunctious attention-seeking. He sits in the second-to-back row in his classroom; studiously, conscientiously he works.
Seldom does the mini-hooligan raise his hand to answer a question in class. Seldom does his piping voice, merely beginning to quiver with the onset of adolescence, rise above the hubbub of the classroom.
This innocent young child, o reader – he is your protagonist.
'Who can write down the names of three states in America?'
Such was the gauntlet thrown down by our Form Tutor, Miss D—. Every week, y'see, we'd have a single 30-minute 'Form Period', during which we'd dwell upon social, pastoral or otherwise extracurricular topics. Class debates, quizzes, that kind of malarkey.
So we all set to work, scribbling down our three states.
'Okay – so mark your own answers. Call out your states, and I'll tell you if they're right or wrong.'
Predictably enough, lots of people were able to propose American states:
'Washington!' came the cry. 'California!' 'Texas!' 'Maine!' 'Florida!' ...
And so it went on. Mini-hooligan had notched up a total of two ticks so far. But one state remained on his list. One state that nobody had yet called out – birthplace though it be of no fewer than eight US presidents.
And so it was that Mini-hooligan – despite his quiet nature – raised his young voice to make his own contribution to the communal test-marking process; to cry out the name of this (thus-far unnamed) state:
If only that had been the word that had come sailing out – ringing through the suddenly quiet classroom air like the chime of finest crystal. If only it had been those exact syllables that had caused the students sitting in the rows in front to swivel in their chairs and turn their slow, unbelieving necks in my direction. If only it had been the name 'Virginia' that had caused my teacher's jaw to drop in perplexed dismay.
But it was not the name 'Virginia'.
Instead, o reader, it was a word superficially quite similar but – in crucial respects such as meaning – radically different. It, too, began with a 'v' and ended in an 'a'. Many of the intervening letters were also in common. BUT NOT ALL OF THEM.
The result: the normally softly-spoken, 12-year old Intellectual Hooligan proposed (not, I might add, tentatively, but rather with a certain air of triumphant confidence) the name of the 51st state of the USA:
They say that time slows down when one teeters on the brink of death. And they are not lying. Because during the seconds that followed my devastating exclamation I became piercingly attuned to continental drift.
The faces of my classmates – some grinning, some disgusted, all astonished – stood frozen in front of me.
And – most horrendous of all – the face of my goddamn teacher, her eyes wide with incredulity, lips twisted into a hideous, horrified snarl of dismay. The most sickening, terrifying thing I have ever seen.
This, friends, was my very own Vagina Monologue. And I present it to you in a spirit almost of atonement, of absolution.
Pass on my sorry tale, o reader. Pass it on! (Seriously, do. There's a bunch of links at the bottom of this page that allow you to do this very easily.) For it is only by the sharing of this heavy burden that I (like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner) may grasp – however vainly, desperately, hopelessly – at release, at relief —
— At atonement.