Abide with me

Will Hall isn’t quite sure where he stands in the world of rules

Will Hall

What a lovely field of wheat to run throughInstagram: stevewilkinsonphotography

“Don’t worry son,” said my father, fatherlily, “rules are made to be broken.” 

This seemed like completely fucking stupid advice, and I thought perhaps I should take a Marlboro Gold or some illegal drugs out of my pocket and see whether he wanted to have a chat about piecing those rules back together. I didn’t, of course, partly because I’d run out, partly because I was nine. And crying. And my dad, after all, was only trying to be nice.

When Julie Etchingham asked Theresa May the genius question of what was the naughtiest thing she’d ever done, it played directly into the hands of the widely-accepted but seldom-discussed fact that we all, secretly, want to be seen as a bit bad. Not too bad, like a murderer, but not too good either, like the kind of person who’d snitch on a murderer. I’m all for not killing people, guys, but there’s no need to be a square.

You could see the panic set in across May’s face. She couldn’t say she’d literally never done anything naughty, but at the same time she couldn’t suddenly confess to something drastic like drunkenly crashing her sister’s car or seven counts of armed robbery. (For legal reasons, I need to make it explicitly clear at this juncture that that last bit is not true. She doesn’t have a sister.)

"I still dream of being the kind of cool, insouciant, devil-may-care legend who walks around with a look on his face that says: this bird can’t be caged"

In the end she went for the classic Fields of Wheat anecdote (a normally bankable two minutes on the conference speech circuit), and unto us a meme was born. She’s since taken that story, like one of her disgruntled farmers with his crop, out of rotation.

It got me thinking – cause I’m the kind of narcissist-with-time-on-his-hands who imagines being Prime Minister – what would I have said in that interview? 

I remember once being kicked out of lunch at my primary school for talking with a friend while the headmaster was trying to make an announcement. We were spotted by the deputy head, both told to leave and made to wait in the corridor, which gave us ample opportunity to continue our conversation uninterrupted. One-nil to the dreamers.

My fellow felon - Ben Harwood - was an old hand at sticking two fingers up to authority, and as such I found him terrifying. He’d broken more rules than he had noses (although to be fair he hadn’t broken any noses at that stage. We were nine), and wasn’t remotely fazed by our banishment. I, on the other hand, was. Up until that point, my idea of rebellion was starting a sentence with the word 'but'. But (still get the rush) it was also quite exciting. 

I remember staring at my feet as the whole school shuffled past and rubbernecked at the two garrulous banditti who had dared to rebel. I felt like a revolutionary. A chatty one. Mr Murray, the deputy head, was ludicrously angry, even within the school’s strict, God-fearing walls. I had only been whispering to my neighbour, I thought, not coveting his ox.

But what stuck with me the most was the way he especially scolded me. “Hall, I am disappointed,” he said disappointedly, “of all the people, I didn’t expect you.” I looked down awkwardly, trying not to cry and planning how to one day turn this into a column.

What he meant by this, of course, was that I was so boring and sensible and straight-and-narrow that he was shocked to see me, above all the other children, adopt a new life of crime. Ben, on the other hand, being a regular, barely got a mention. I’d spent all my life playing by the book only for a teacher to wrench it from my hands, turn to page one and read me the riot act. Meanwhile my old-timer cellmate was getting off scot-free.

It was that night that my dad doled out his advice that rules weren’t always that important, and that it wasn’t the end of the world to break them. However, by then – probably long before – I’d realised that I simply wasn’t made of the rebel’s mettle. My toes, fresh from the line, were kept firmly inside my pair of goody shoes, where I couldn’t put a foot wrong.

As I went on to secondary school, I tried and failed to be a little less deferential. I did do the odd thing wrong here and there, but it was always disappointingly vanilla like not handing in homework or turning up late. It was a weak effort, and always accidental. Every time I actively tried to be disobedient and stick it to the man, the man would laughingly shrug it off, as if to say “yeah sure, loser, I bet you don’t even inhale” in an American high school accent. I did once try to pull a sickie, but the stress of lying made me actually ill, and, as I sat in the nurse’s surgery, with a raging fever, I swore blind I could distantly hear the sound of karma laughing.

I desperately want to be someone who doesn’t give a shit about the rules, but I’m too wedded to the bastards that I fear it’s too late. In another world, I still dream of being the kind of cool, insouciant, devil-may-care legend who walks around with a look on his face that says: this bird can’t be caged. Unfortunately, my actual face seems to say “I love being told what to do”. (On second thoughts, I hope it doesn’t say that – I could be sending out completely the wrong message.) 


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So there I am. Despite my dad’s idiomatic efforts to assure me it’s okay to be a bit naughty sometimes (as long as there are no farmers around, Theresa), I am still destined for a life of boring conformity and tedious obedience.

And if I should ever have a kid of my own, I’ll be the first one to tell them to go ahead and break the rules. Just don’t for the life of me ask how