Wrestliana – Clare Grogan

In the next few weeks, I’m going to post a few blogs containing sections cut from the drafts of Wrestliana. Writers are told ‘Kill your darlings’. These are a few of mine. They’re all about particular people – Malcolm Bradbury, Ali Smith, my family.

The first concerns boarding school.

1st October 1981, Top of the Pops.

Down in the recently flooded cellar of Culver House. The TV room. Each sofa smells of a different brand of damp. Choose the wrong seat and an older or a bigger boy will evict you, dead arm. I am towards the back, sitting on the arm of the sofa, near the stairs, quick escape if necessary. There are 21 boys, the youngest around seven years-old, the eldest in the upper sixth. Everyone rushes their homework to watch Top of the Pops.

Mike Read in a stripey shirt and shades. ‘All the way from Scotland for the programme are Altered Images and here’s their new single and it’s called, “Happy Birthday”.’

Clare Grogan.

I’m not sure I’ve ever adored anyone so completely so instantly.

Clare Grogan in some bizarre kind of broad-brimmed straw pith helmet.

Watch the clip now. Have you ever seen a singer who seems so completely unabashedly delighted to be in a band, to be in a band! making their debut!! on Top of the Pops!!!

And Clare Grogan is so tiny.

Here was someone dancing, happily, and then not getting hit afterwards. That was important to me.

Everything about her seemed perfect, including her joy.

Compare the freedom of Clare Grogan’s movements to anything you’ll see in a video nowadays.
Alan Lomax’s liner notes to Shirley Collins’ L.P. Sweet England begin, ‘Perhaps the most elusive of sounds is the voice of a young woman, alone the kitchen or garden, singing an old love song.’ Clare Grogan, miraculously (although she’s clearly also showing off and flirting and taking the mickey out of herself), was dancing just as she would ‘alone in the kitchen or garden’. I couldn’t do that, but I was glad someone could do it.

And I can still remember how all the other boys in the smelly cellar started laughing at her, sarcastically, because she was so silly and awkward.

It was catastrophic how open to being mocked Clare Grogan was. No-one should allow themselves to appear so silly. I wanted to protect her, intervene. I cared.

Around me arms flailed, like her arms were flailing, and voices fluted, like her adorable voice. And I thought, ‘That’s it for me.’

I cared more.

Here was openness and trust; someone being who they wanted to be, gleefully, unpunished. (I needed to see it, to give me hope.) Here, I now understand, years later, here was youth as youth should be allowed to be.

It was Clare Grogan’s vulnerability – it was the atrocious total vulnerability – the atrocious making-vulnerable-of-the-self, that must have been it.

My imaginary rescue.



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