Frogs Legs and Dragon’s Teeth

Non-fiction

It’s the title of a Bellowhead song, but forgetting that, it’s a story.

When I was at school at Brentwood in Essex – a poshish school for people who wanted to be able to become richish people – we started a literary magazine called the Black Frog.

The youngest writer for it did this really quite simplistic story about a football game but fuck me if it wasn’t an excellent little story. Didn’t discount it for it’s simplicity: it talked about emotions in an honest and accessible way and made for about 3-5 minutes of solid entertainment. This was a story by some 12 year old or something, whose main character was called John Jackson and played football. And it was good.

That magazine, in the year that me and the kids presided over it, gave birth to significant and honest writing talent in a bunch of private school kids who should’ve been playing video games and studying Latin. Or skiing internationally. It was a beautiful thing.

The name came from a probably incorrect story I heard about “Brentwood” being translated from old English or Saxon or whatever into the modern English “Frog Wood”. Of course it’s more likely Burnt Wood, since things like charcoal burning used to be a significant industry and so that’d be a better reference point than a high concentration of frogs.

Didn’t matter. Everyone liked Black Frog enough to pick it as our name.

After the storm to get an issue out at open day though, not much really happened. Not so far as I’m aware. There just weren’t enough people interested in organising it onward, because basically it was in a private school known for grades and sports. Some pissy little rag full of childish dribbling wasn’t going to impress anyone except the English staff. And to be honest most of them seemed pretty underwhelmed.

It was like everyone knew that after our year there just wasn’t the longevity in it. There weren’t the students. It was a student mag see, even if we had a presiding teacher helping us to get the money and the publishing date. Without keen and real kids doing it, no-one was going to assemble under the banner. So it just faded away into the desperation for Oxbridge training, required reading, homework and A-level prep. Stuff that would get you to uni and maybe some high payed job, but that did fuck all for your craft. Barely anything for your soul.

That taught me: if you don’t go and drag people out of the shit-filled foxholes they’re hiding in, you’ll never get what you want. You’ll always be serving. Serving people who themselves are enslaved by some idea of another person’s wealth. It’s a mess. And for a moment with something so stupid and small as a magazine meaninglessly named Black Frog, we put a cut into it. We threatened it with change. But as we left the mess drowned and swallowed that threat hole and, as far as I know things just changed back.

Same happened with the uni writing rag. A serious publication “the Parturient”, and one that I had much less to do with organising beyond the name. It was an expression of our hope and joy as first years in a completely new learning institution (New College of Humanities) but as the years went on people realised they had to get their degrees or go. A labour of love, the first and a few second years kept it going to at least fourth issue I think before it was wrapped up, same way as the Black Frog, through lack of participation. No-one cared anymore. So it just disappeared, like it had never happened in the first place.

The new cohorts, you see, they only looked at it as a notch on their CVs. They weren’t in the meetings at the beginning where we read our hearts out to a loving community of co-authors. They didn’t stay back for the Christmas viewing of Inception that went into one of the most casual and memorable parties I’ve ever been at. They just saw the dying embers of the results of those brilliant early days, and no-one’s yet had the strength to guide them toward something different.

They got the arse end of our happy beginning, where we were told or realised, harshly, that uni wasn’t different. It was just an A-level plus that gave you so much more freedom and so many more exams. So at the end you work out those after-school moments of free expression, creative freedom, drunken drugged sexed liberty and licenciousness, were probably not going to be permanent. Instead they’d be the isolated uni years, and the rest of life would be working harder and more “passionately” than school ever was, now at earning a wage. At surviving on your own. At kids who’d eventually do the same. At retirement.

And that was adulthood. A little death.

So I left in 2nd year and now I’m trying to set up this site, this blog, this magazine. The newest attempt at using the skills I’m supposed to have, to create, inform, emancipate. Dragon’s teeth in defence of individual freedom. A roar of fire in the face of liquid employment drifting along the aqueduct to retirement.

A voice as absurd and powerful as frogs legs in sauce:

Bullshit.

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